With a fusion of rural and urban feel, Luang Prabang’s alluring ambience and stunning surroundings make you want to stay awhile longer…
Where is Luang Prabang?
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.
Lying beneath the temple-topped Phu Si Hill, a backdrop of craggy mountains and thick lush jungle green creates a memorable and picturesque backdrop.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.