Where To? Laos
How long? 5 Days
Thoughts: Breathtaking Beauty, Ancient Traditions & Bustling Atmosphere
13 WoW – Laos: Luang Prabang
I arrived in Luang Prabang immediately noticing the far from rural atmosphere of the busy bus station. Spotting shops opposite the bus station, I immediately knew what my next purchase would be; a sim card!
Relishing the luxury of having data on my unlocked HTC, I found a hostel close to the center and solicited a tuk-tuk, negotiating a fair price and using google maps to check my route.
It was a 15 minute ride and I was soon at the hostel of my choice, Lakang Thong, only to find that it was full! I was then re-directed to the “brother hostel”, Lakong Thong 2, where I shared a room with none other than the two Japanese guys I had met on the bus from Sa Pa and one girl I had also seen on the same bus.
Keen not to waste any time, I set out to explore Luang Prabang.
So, what is in Luang Prabang?
Luang Prabang topped it as my favourite city in SE Asia, and here’s a little snippet…
The Bamboo Bridge
A bridge built solely of bamboo and rubber which creates a connection to the other side of the Nam Khan river. A local family re-builds this bridge every year after the high levels of the river washes the bamboo away.
A small fee of 5,000kip will get you a ticket to use the bridge and cross to the other side where you will find a small village, a temple and a lovely little restaurant.
Mount Phou Si
Mt Phou Si meaning “sacred hill” is a mini mountain (100 – 150 meters high) in the center of Luang Prabang and is located between the Mekong delta and Nam Khan river.
There are amazing views of Luang Prabang, the surrounding mountains and the two rivers from the very top. On the way up you will see several religious shrines and statues, and there is a mini temple atop the hill where you will see monks doing their daily rituals.
Word of advice: Do not let a broken flip flop discourage you from climbing!
Temples & Tak Bat, the Almsgiving Ceremony
There are many beautiful temples in Luang Prabang which you will see nearly everywhere as you explore, in addition to this there are many monasteries where monks young and old reside and learn from one another. I met a monk who had been in the monastery for 5 years!
One ancient and sacred ceremony in Laos, and indeed Luang Prabang, is the Almsgiving ceremony. This is a Buddhist tradition where monks leave their temples at dawn to collect alms from the faithful and devout Buddhists lined along the street, kneeling on their mats, with baskets full of sticky rice and other offerings.
A transfixing ceremony to witness, it is worth waking up early to see this. The ceremony normally starts at about 6am and you can spot the monks in their brightly coloured robes doing their procession along the main street, Sisavangvong.
The rise of tourism in Luang Prabang threatens to reduce this sacred tradition to another tourist attraction, so I’d urge you to be respectful of this and only join in if it means something to you.
Day & Night Markets
If you are a foodie, Luang Prabangs day and night markets are the perfect place for you to spend your time. With food as far as the eye can see, the day market usually sells ingredients and fresh produce, whereas the night market sells an array of aromatic, hot, Laotian delights.
Also in the night markets, you can get your fix of retail therapy with the trinkets, clothes and ornaments that the local market sellers have to offer.
Try mini coconut pancakes if you want a sweet, hot, freshly made treat, or have a smoothie made to refresh yourself as you wander through the market.
Pak Ou Caves
A place of Buddhist worship for more than a thousand years and by far one of the most intriguing caves I have ever been to, the Pak Ou caves are worth a boat ride to visit. The tickets you purchase once you step off the dock will get you entry into two caves, one immediately up the stairs and embedded in the limestone cliff ahead of you, and the other a little higher up into a deeper and darker cave that you will need a torch to explore.
What makes these caves particularly unique, is the 4K+ Buddha statues of various shapes and sizes as far as the eye can see and on every surface you could possibly balance a Buddha on.
Not far off the Pak Ou caves, and along the same river you will gain access to a unique village in Luang Prabang; the whisky village. This little village called Ban Xang Hai has made a name for themselves distilling and selling rice whisky to locals and tourists alike.
On arrival, you will be invited to taste any of their large selection of whiskies, some with snakes and scorpions preserved in the translucent orange-tinted alcohol. But if you explore further, you will also see silk weaving mills selling locally made silk scarves. Explore a little further again and you will see a beautiful temple just a little way into the village.
Kuang Si Waterfalls
The only place I had to blink twice to make sure I hadn’t died and gone to heaven, I don’t need to say much but let the photos speak for themselves.
It was a breathtaking moment where I thought, “this can’t be real” but it was!
Kuang Si (or Kuang Xi) Waterfall is the biggest naturally formed waterfall in Luang Prabang. It drops down three tiers ending in a 50-metre drop into the most stunning turquoise pools and then continues to flow downstream. You can choose to swim in these exquisite paradise pools, or you can find one of the dirt tracks to climb all the way to the serene lagoon on the top where you can swing on the rope swing that sways inches above the refreshing water.
My only advice; don’t attempt to climb in flip flops!
There is so much more that Luang Prabang has to offer for every type of traveller, an array of restaurants from the affordable to the fancy, multiple cafes to enjoy breakfast, lunch or even just an ethical hot beverage, and a selection of bars for those boozy nights!
If you are there for luxury, they have romantic sunset cruises on the river and pricey five star spas to indulge.
Beware of the elephant tours, many of them are not the well-respected elephant sanctuaries but instead are money-making tourist traps where the elephants are badly abused to break them down to submission for tourists to ride. Look into the tours before you book them, you don’t need to look far to see how mis-treated elephants are for the sake of tourists.
Luang Prabang was probably my favourite place in Asia, if not only for the incredible Kuang Si falls, then for the rich culture, deep-rooted traditions and historical features.
Next stop: Vang Vieng!