Luang Prabang

Introducing Luang Prabang

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Luang Prabang (ຫລວງພະບາງ) slows your pulse and awakens your imagination with its combination of world-class comfort and spiritual nourishment. Sitting at the sacred confluence of the Mekong River and the Nam Khan (Khan River), nowhere else can lay claim to this Unesco-protected gem's romance of 33 gilded wats, saffron-clad monks, faded Indochinese villas and exquisite Gallic cuisine.

Filled with gold-plated Buddhist temples, old colonial homes, and the smell of frangipani, a visit to Luang Prabang is a little like stepping into a time machine back to old Indochina. Set in Laos's northern mountains, at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers, the city reflects an intricate blend of French, Chinese and Vietnamese influences, and was in recent years named a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO, which called it "the best-preserved city in Asia." Travel to Luang Prabang, and you won't find a city totally lost in time, though: You can even (respectfully) participate in some of the everyday sacred traditions.

Over the last 20 years Luang Prabang has seen a flood of investment, with once-leprous French villas being revived as fabulous – though affordable – boutique hotels, and some of the best chefs in southeast Asia moving in. The population has swollen, and yet still the peninsula remains as sleepy and friendly as a village, as if time has stood still here.

Beyond the evident history and heritage of the old French town are aquamarine waterfalls, top trekking opportunities, meandering mountain bike trails, kayaking trips, river cruises and outstanding natural beauty, the whole ensemble encircled by hazy green mountains.

Luang Prabang is Laos's religious and artistic capital, and its combination of impressive natural surroundings, historic architecture, and friendly inhabitants make it one of the region's best stopovers. The abundance of ancient temples led UNESCO to declare Luang Prabang a World Heritage Site in 1995, and since then it's been bustling with construction and renovation activity.

But the charm of Luang Prabang is not exclusively architectural—just as appealing are the people, who seem to spend as much time on the streets as they do in their homes. Children play on the sidewalks while matrons gossip in the shade, young women in traditional dress zip past on motor scooters, and Buddhist monks in saffron robes stroll by with black umbrellas, which protect their shaven heads from the tropical sun. Some 36 temples are scattered around town, making Luang Prabang a fine place to explore on a rented bicycle or on foot. When you need a break from temple-hopping, there are plenty of appealing eateries and fashionable boutiques. Waking early one morning to watch the throngs of monks make their alms runs at dawn is highly recommended. Your hotel should be able to tell you what time to get up and suggest a good viewing spot.

Locals may approach you to buy food from them to serve to the monks, but this is not wise. The locals often give packs of unsuitable rice or other junk to turn a profit. Speak to someone at your lodging or a reputable agency in town about how best to donate to the monks.

Top things to do and see

Kuang Si Waterfalls

The Kuang si Waterfalls are approx. 30km out of town. These falls are beautiful all year round and have great swimming pools and picnic areas, plus a rescue centre for local Asiatic moon bears! Hike up to the top of the falls for a great view.

Following the road down south a magnificent waterfall offers a day of discovery and perfect place to hang out in the sun. The waterfall is about 30 km away from town and offers small food stalls as well as the protection project for small bears. An Asian tiger is hold there within his huge open air cage. An amazing sight. Tuk-Tuks as well as normal cars offer services to and from the waterfalls as it is the most famous attraction out of town. Biking tours and trekking arrangements can be combined with the waterfall visit as well as multi-day tours with trekking and home stays. The perfect way to explore the Kuang Si waterfalls is on a 3 hour hike...read more on this tour idea.

Another tour that includes the Kuang Si waterfalls can be viewed here. It combines a short Mekong Cruise on the Mekong and adds the waterfall experience to it, a great day activitiy out of Luang Prabang.

Rice Experience - Living Land Farm 

The Living Land Farm is a working organic farm run by local farmers where you can learn how rice is traditionally harvested. This is rated Luang Prabang's #1 activity on Trip Advisor.

Attend an Alms Giving Ceremony 

A major spiritual attraction is the morning alms ceremony, or Tak Bat, where long lines of monks stream through town collecting their daily food from locals. It's a beautiful sight, but unfortunately often disrespected by tourists who invade the monks privacy for a 'good photo' - if you go, please dress respectfully and take photographs from a discreet distance. 

Wat Pa Phon Phao

A forest temple famous for the teachings of Ajahn Saisamut. When he died in 1992, his funeral was the largest that Laos had seen in decades.

It’s Santi Chedi (Peace Pagoda) was built in 1988. This large yellow stupa contains three inside levels plus an outside terrace   with a view of the surrounding plains. The inside walls are painted with many Buddhist stories and moral admonitions. You can easily reach this temple with a bike or tuk-tuk. It is on the way to the Luang Phabang Airport .

Ban Panom Weaving Village

This village, populated by Thai Lue (a tribe with its origins in Southern China), is well known for cotton and silk hand-weaving. Most of the women come into town for the popular evening market in town, but at daytime you can see them waeving with silk and cotton. Beautiful scarves and newer patterns can be seen in Ban Panom.

Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre (TAEC)

You are interested in the ethnic cultures of Laos?  

Than visit the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center, which features information and exhibits of clothing, handicrafts, baskets and religious artifacts from 7 different ethnic groups of northern Laos.  The Center has a museum shop where you can buy a community handicraft and the Patio Cafe where you can browse books on anthropology and culture while sipping an espresso grown in Laos. Guided tours and seminars are also available.

For the museum buffs, the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre (TAEC) is a fantastic place to learn about the different tribal groups of Laos. The centre aims to preserve ethnic Lao culture and diversity.  

Climb up Phousi Mountain

Phousi Mountain looms in the middle of town and is the perfect place to watch the sunset over the Mekong. There are a lot of stairs but view is worth the climb! 

Tad Sae Waterfalls

During wet season, Tad Sae Waterfalls are a great place to go if you want to combine ziplining with your waterfall experience and there are a number of biking, rafting, and trekking tours around the area too.

Crystal clear waters cascade over multilevel limestone formations, forming pools surrounded by tropical trees and plants. An ideal place for swimming and relaxing and also a great place to get away from the crowd. The nearby river and the lush green surrounding is just another beautiful place around town that cannot be reached by road. You might use a boat from Ban En or book one of the day trips that might include Trekking and Elephant rides.

The fantastically located Lao Spirit Resort & Zen Namkhan Resort is just a few min. away from the waterfalls and can be accesed by small local boats on the Nam Khan river. Visiting Tad Sae also offers you options on local Elephant Bathing and short 30 min. Elephant rides, but also a Tree Top Zipline and others. Many of our highly rated Daytrips around Luang Prabang include a visit to Tad Sae Waterfall.

Places to stay around Tad Sae are Lao Spirit Resort, The Zen Namkhan Resort, local home stays and the Shangri Lao Tented Explorer camp. We arrange individually designed tours from all of these locations.  If you base yourself in one of these superb resort, you truly base yourself in the heart of some great adventures around Luang Prabang...

Learn to cooking like a Laotian

Learn to cook delicious Laos cuisine at a picturesque lakeside cooking school. 

Silk Dyeing and Weaving Class

Learn about how silk is produced and turned into the beautiful clothing and handicrafts you find in the Night Markets on the main street and make your own souvenir. 

Go Trekking, Cycling or Kayaking

Get out and explore Luang Prabang's stunning landscape, dense forests, picturesque river systems, and colorful ethnic diversity. 

Royal Palace Museum

See how Lao royalty lived and don't miss the vibrantly mosaiced temple on the grounds.

Pak Ou Caves

If you're travelling on a Stray pass you'll travel by private boat to Luang Prabang and stop at the famous limestone Pak Ou Caves en route. Pak Ou is an important pilgrimage site for Lao people, and here you will see thousands of Buddhist images that have been placed throughout the caves over hundreds of years. If you're not travelling with Stray you can take a short boat ride to the Pak Ou Caves from Luang Prabang.

This is an all time favorite,...travel by boat about 25 km upstream from Luang Prabang on the Mekong River to the famous Pak Ou caves (Buddha Caves), in a limestone cliff at the mouth of the Nam Ou River. Already the boat ride on the mighty mekong is a special Lao travel experience and the landscape around the cave is simply unique. These two caves are crammed with a huge number of Buddha images of all styles and sizes. Both caves are accessed by stairs. The lower cave, known as Tham Ting, is naturally lit and offers wonderful views over the Mekong and the surrounding landscapes. The upper cave, Tham Phum, is deeper, - bring a torch or rent one there. After a visit to the Pak Ou caves, take your time to explore a nearby village, or eat at one of the riverside restaurants just across the Mekong on the other side.

Whisky Village near Luang Prabang

Ban Xang Hai means jar-maker village. At one time that was the industry here. Now the jars are brought in, and the small community fills them with the white whisky (Lao Lao) made in the village. Archeologists have excavated pots beneath the village that could be 2000 or more years old. If you want to try some of the finest and strongest Lao Lao shots you should go there not to early in the morning.

Henry Mouhot Gravesite

Grave of Henry Mouhot - French explorer in Luang Prabang - Laos This is the tomb of the French explorer who showed the famous Angkor Wat to the world. Henry Mouhot perished of malaria in 1861, and the French erected a tomb over his grave six years later. The last entry in his journal was ‘Have pity on me, oh my God’. Neglected for decades, his engraved tomb was found by foreign aid staff in 1990. Today it is a nice half day trip along the riverbank of the Nam Khan and mountain bike tours as well as kayakers pass by for a short stop while exploring Luang Prabang nature. Tiger Trail also combines this site with some other adventure package tours around Luang Prabang

Eating & drink

For those (eternally) summer nights in Luang Prabang, take a walk through the vibrant night market, get a cheap feed at any of the 15,000 kip ($2 USD) vegetarian buffets, or visit the BBQ stands for delicious meaty skewers and sausages.  Grab a seat at the benches where ever you can fit and chat with backpackers and locals enjoying a cheap delicious dinner. 

After dinner head to the bars along the Nam Khan side of town. Icon Klub is your destination for art nouveau style and impromptu slam poetry nights, while Lao Lao Garden, Utopia, and Hive Bar are big with the backpacker scene. Curfew for these bars is at midnight, but the party doesn’t stop then! The two nightclubs Dao Fa and Muang Sua are the spots for a real Lao party, and there’s always a tuk tuk driver waiting to take you out to the infamous the Bowling Alley - the one place in town that stays open until 3, and a big magnet for the backpacking crowd. Bowl a strike, cheers your neighbours with a cold Beer Lao, and see if you can still manage to get up at 5 for the morning alms giving ceremony!

You can see more Luang Prabang travel guide at here.

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