Laos: Around Luang Prabang

With a fusion of rural and urban feel, Luang Prabang’s alluring ambience and stunning surroundings make you want to stay awhile longer…

Luang Prabang, Laos, SE Asia

Where is Luang Prabang?

Luang Prabang, Laos, SE Asia

Nestled in a valley between the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers, which almost surrounds the city, Luang Prabang is also in the centre of the spectacular mountainous region in northern Laos.

You are assured of some of the most magnificent scenery that Laos has to offer on your travels to this region.

Luang Prabang

Lying beneath the temple-topped Phu Si Hill, a backdrop of craggy mountains and thick lush jungle green creates a memorable and picturesque backdrop.

Mekong, Nam Khan river, Luang Prabang, Laos, SE Asia
Serene river life

Visiting Luang Prabang back in 1989 when this was a mere sleepy village (not sure if it was classed as a city in that decade), it’s hard not to compare the changes during this 2014 visit. Dirt roads are now replaced with bitumen and boast a plethora of cars, which were non-existent in 1989. Back then, wooden traditional boats or bikes were the preferred and cheapest mode of transport.

Luang Prabang, Laos, SE Asia
French Colonial influence

A hint of European architecture is thrown into the romantic mix with a medley of traditional wooden Lao houses. Many colonial buildings are a legacy of when Laos was part of the French colony of Indochina. Still, Luang Prabang exudes a certain charm and grace in this small tidy city, with a lovely feel.

Check Alluring Luang Prabang – Northern Laos for where to eat and sleep while in Luang Prabang.

What to see

The surrounding area holds mysterious caves, sparkling waterfalls, sanctuaries, and many more alluring sites to explore. Although, this also depends on the time you spend in this ancient capital of the Luang Prabang Province. Why not take in a little sightseeing of the 33 gilded Wats?

Alms Ceremony

Reading a lot about the Alms Ceremony, which occurs at around 05:30 every morning or at dawn, decide not to attend this ceremony that dates back to the 14th-century. In addition to this parade being mainly a tourist spectacle, the government forces the monks to continue this tradition of collecting alms (money, material goods, or food given freely to people living in poverty).

Apparently, the reason for the monks’ resistance to the ceremony is that they sometimes became ill from the food offerings, which tourists buy from local merchants. The merchants take advantage of tourists by selling food that’s not fresh.

Monks, Luang Prabang, Laos, SE Asia
Morning monks – Alms ceremony

Ruthlessly, the government threatened to replace monks with Laypeople clothed in saffron robes, just to keep this lucrative tourist attraction going. After all, some tourists come to Luang Prabang only for this ceremony.

Phu Si Hill

From Th Sisavangvong (opposite the Museum), walk up the many stairs that take you 100 metres up the Phu Si Hill to the That Phu si and Wat Tham Phu Si (20,000K entry fee at the time of writing). The remarkable and serene 24-metre gilded Buddha awaits you patiently, at the top of Phu Si Hill.

Phu Si Hill, Luang Prabang, Laos, SE Asia
Phu Si Hill’s dramatic Buddha – an opulent rest stop!

The panoramic city vistas from this vantage point ensure that the hordes of local and foreign tourists hang around for the sunset. Or understandably, are up early and come to this spot for a peek at the dazzling sunrise.

Phu Si Hill, Luang Prabang, Laos, SE Asia
Luang Prabang vista from Phu Si Hill

The view over Luang Prabang is worth the trek up the steep stairs or if you go the back way, this is an easier way up as it’s not so steep but takes a little longer.

The Mekong and Nam Khan romantic riverfronts

A stroll along the picturesque Mekong riverfront proves very pleasant and a relaxing way to laze the afternoon away. Make sure to stop at one of the plethoras of cheaper restaurants overlooking the water, as this is a definite must.

Mekong, Nam Khan river, Luang Prabang, Laos, SE Asia
Mekong boat hire

The ambience is soon broken by the many boat drivers approaching you (similar to the Tuk Tuk drivers) offering return trips of hour-long rides up the Mekong to various Wats and tourist villages.

Riverboat trip

If you are interested, it is just as enjoyable doing a peaceful boat trip for several hours, without all the bells, whistles, and hard sales.

Mekong, Nam Khan river, Luang Prabang, Laos, SE Asia
River transport

Managed to hire a boat for 2 people for 90,000K, while other more expensive trips started at 180,000K for 2 people. Bargain hard as locals are definitely used to tourists with pocketfuls of cash.

The delightful journey glides you along the Mekong (or Nam Khan) for an insight into local and authentic river life.

Night markets

Great for souvenirs, crafts, and just wandering around, beware as these markets have become tourist traps. Sadly, many of the items for sale are now from China and not at all sourced locally. Check any labels before buying, unless you have fallen in love with a must-have item.

Book Exchange

Pop into this lovely colonial house and speak with Ruth who has been living in Laos for 16 years and has many stories and facts to share about changes in Laos.

The proceeds from second-hand books go to helping local children learn how to read, so an admirable cause for the community.

UXO Laos Information Centre

Admission is by donations, this centre is a must to learn about the perils and legacy of the second Indochina War (Vietnam War). The information centre also provides an explanation of how Laos is trying to clear unexploded ordinances (UXOs) left behind by this tragic legacy that took place from 1955 to 1975. My partner tried to volunteer at this centre but again, was knocked back – it feels as though SE Asia isn’t serious about clearing land mines.

Nightclubs and bars

Luang Prabang offers many nightclubs and bars, which is certainly a massive change from the sleepy almost village-like city of decades ago. Actually, in 1989, nightclubs did not exist in Luang Prabang. This city caters more and more for tourists and I can’t help but wonder whether Luang Prabang is losing its identity.

For an unusual and surreal experience, visit the Hive Bar & Smokehouse and also Utopia (read my other post for the experience), which both are a surprise, and never expected in a country such as Laos.

Don’t forget to stop by my article on Alluring Luang Prabang – Northern Laos for where to eat and sleep while in lively Luang Prabang.

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more images. More blogs on Laos at Image Earth Travel.

Luang Prabang, Laos, SE Asia
Dusk from the Nam Khan Hotel balcony

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10 responses to “Laos: Around Luang Prabang”

  1. TasView (Tone) Avatar

    Lovely photos on your blog and your text is engaging and helpful. It is a shame to see places changing to cater for tourists, it is happening here too! They come to see something different but everywhere will end up the same and full of cheap Chinese rubbish while places lose their local identity. Following your blog for more 🙂

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Tony(?)

      Appreciate your following my blog and just popped over to yours to check out your great drone photography.
      Thank you for your kind words. I’m a tad old school and don’t indulge in PP only the occasional straightening, dust removal, and contrast but mostly don’t even do that as I find it tedious. 😉
      Any tips you can share are greatly appreciated.

      It is a shame when a country caters for tourists so much that it loses its identity and makes you wonder why tourists bother to visit just to experience their own culture in a different country.

      I’m in the process of digitising my travel journals and digging out my photos to suit – very time-consuming, especially as I’m working long hours in full-time employment.

      I’ll make it your beautiful part of Oz one day…


      1. TasView (Tone) Avatar

        Thanks for the reply and follow, I understand time constraints and a job getting in the way of your passions, us humans are really quite stupid 😉 I try harder nowadays to get things right or very close in camera to save time editing but I have more time of an evening than the day so I often feel rushed taking photos. Happy travels, Oz and Tasmania are worth the trip, in the meantime, I hope I can bring a little of it to you on your screen 😀 Cheers.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        I live in QLD but originally hailed from NSW, just never visited Tassy.

      3. TasView (Tone) Avatar

        Ah!! I was taken in by your exotic overseas images! Well, you all ready know how good Australia is! Us Tasmanian’s really only go on holiday elsewhere very occasionally, just to remind us how good it is HERE!! 😀

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        I started travelling in 1985 and got hooked so I have loads of countries to write about yet. 😉
        Ha, ha, I’ve heard that about TAssy…have a good one!

  2. Rebecca Cuningham Avatar

    Your tremendous photos give me the feeling that I’ve visited the country. Thanks for these great images of Laos.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for your very kind words – you’ve made my week! 🙂
      I’m happy that you can share in my travel experience as Laos is an amazing country to visit and would love to return.

  3. Yetismith Avatar

    I so enjoy your photographs of SE Asia. That last one is a stunner.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for your lovely feedback!
      I’m happy that you enjoy my photos, especially the last one as that was a quick snap. 😉

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