One of Asia’s most captivating cities, Luang Prabang sits serenely on the mighty Mekong. The glittering temples and shophouses of the old town have been UNESCO-listed since 1995; with a rich heritage, enduring French legacy and traditional character, wandering the peaceful streets is like a step back to times gone by.
There are many temples and wats spread throughout Luang Prabang, their red roofs and golden flourishes visible down every street. Whilst half of the fun is stumbling across them during your wanderings Wat Xieng Thong is a must. The oldest and most magnificent wat in the city, its main temple, exuberant in its wall decorations inside and out, was built in 1560. Make sure you seek out the beautiful ‘tree of life’ mosaic whilst exploring the tranquil compound. The religious ceremony of Takbat, held every morning at dawn, sees the Luang Prabang’s resident monks walk through the streets to collect offerings of food from the locals. The uninterrupted line of saffron-robed clad monks is a timeless sight.
At the heart of the city and housed in the former Royal Palace, the collections of the Royal Palace Museum display all the trimmings of the former Lao monarchy from traditional musical instruments to classic cars. The building itself is a blending of French and Lao architectural design which you can admire along with catching a glimpse of Laos’ most sacred Buddha, the Pha Bang.
Towering above the old city, ascending Phousi Hill will give you fantastic views over Luang Prabang and rivers to the mountains beyond. Popular at sunset but quieter and more atmospheric at sunrise, stand beneath the golden spire of That Chomsi at its summit and admire all the beauty of Luang Prabang and its surroundings.
Where the Mekong meets the Nam Ou, an hour from Luang Prabang by road or 1 hour 30 minutes by boat; you’ll find the Pak Ou Buddha Caves. Used to store Buddhas that can no longer be used for veneration because they are damaged or outdated, the caves are full of hundreds of images of Buddha in all styles and sizes. A visit here, especially when done by boat, can include a stop at one or two of the local villages set along the banks of the Mekong.
About 35 kilometres from Luang Prabang, Kuang Si offers an easy day of relaxation in a beautiful natural setting. This multi-level waterfall set in picturesque jungle, the river tumbles through a series of brilliantly blue pools by which you can lounge and, in the lower pools, take a refreshing swim. It is also possible to climb to the top of this 60 metre falls but please be aware that it is quite steep and can be slippery. Spend a little more time visiting the Kuang Si Butterfly Park, to admire the colourful local species, and Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre, a sanctuary for Asiatic black bears (Moon Bears) rescued from the illegal wildlife trade.
The Ock Pop Tok Weaving Centre is a social enterprise located just outside Luang Prabang. Set up to teach visitors about the textiles, crafts and culture of Laos whilst also giving local artisans a place to work and sell their products, the centre also runs a number of initiatives to benefit the local community. On a visit you can take a class or simply watch and chat with the artisans whilst they work before browsing through the excellent shop.
This delightful hotel in Luang Prabang is the former residence of Prince Souvannaphoum. The rooms combine colonial architecture with contemporary décor and the hotel staff provides impeccable service. Relax in the pool or at the Angsana Spa which is set amid the picturesque garden.
Located in the very centre of Luang Prabang, next to the breathtaking Wat Xiengthong, the boutique Xieng Thong Palace was the last residence of the Laos Royal family. Rooms elegantly capture the spirit of Laos and there is a spa, outdoor pool, bar and restaurant.
Set on a hilltop on the edge of Luang Prabang and offering the perfect blend of Laotian culture and French colonial charm, the La Residence Phou Vao offers breath-taking mountains views and an unforgettable ambience of tranquil decadence.
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The world’s largest and most populous continent, Asia is a vibrant and rambunctious fusion of ethnicities, cultures and customs; an incomparably rich and turbulent history showcased by mindboggling feats of architecture and engineering; a geography that encompasses towering peaks, unfathomable gorges and paradisiacal beaches; and a biodiversity that is so abundant that you’ll be reaching for your wildlife guide.