Luang Prabang: The Land of Temples and Rivers
Laos is full of lazy river towns where you can lose yourself in hammocks for days. You’ll overhear people moaning about having to leave or frantically cutting out places they’d planned to go just to spend a bit more time away from the bustle of the Southeast Asian tourist trail. Luang Prabang isn’t quite as relaxing as Don Det, Nong Khiaw or Muang Ngoi, but its mix of history, culture and stunning river views makes it one of the nicest (and most popular) towns in Southeast Asia.
A great place to get a feel for the history of Luang Prabang is the museum located inside the former royal palace. It’s a good place to go to escape the afternoon heat and the stories of kings and conquests make for interesting reading (the Wikipedia page on Luang Prabang is worth a look). A slightly more strenuous journey is required to reach the top of Mt Phousi, but it’s definitely worth it. It’s really only a 5 -10 minute walk so don’t be put off, and the views at the top are pretty amazing. This part of the city is set on a peninsula where the Mekong and Nam Khan River meet, and you could spend a good hour or 2 just looking out over the rivers and talking to the monks (and trainee monks) who are always eager to practise their English. The ones I talked to on my last trip were from small villages around 6 hours from Luang Prabang and it was nice to hear stories of life in rural Laos.
There are so many temples in Luang Prabang and some people might get sick of them after a while, but they are usually pretty small and don’t take long to look around. The museum (and the accompanying temple, which is one of my favourites) only costs a few dollars, as does Mt Phousi, while some of the smaller ones are free.
One of the best things to do in Luang Prabang is go for dinner or a few drinks at a restaurant by the river. The views are great and most of them aren’t any more expensive than the restaurants on the main street. I usually went to the Mekong side, but there’s a restaurant on the Nam Song side called Utopia that you should check out. It’s a little Garden of Eden and the 2 times I went there it was full of people, but you could still find a quiet corner to relax in. There’s also a volleyball court if you’re after a bit of exercise.
It’s also worth doing a boat trip on the Mekong River – a lot of people do the trip to the Pak Ou caves and I hear the trip is far better than the destination. I did a sunset cruise (not as fancy as it sounds) and we even stopped off at a floating petrol station to buy a few Beer Laos.
The streets of Luang Prabang
A popular activity in Luang Prabang is the alms ceremony. Monks walk the streets with bowls and locals give them donations, usually food. I’m not a big fan of things like this; it seems weird for hundreds of tourists to point cameras at people who are just going about their lives. I’d get annoyed if a bus full of people started photographing me on my way to work every day (not that I work anymore), and I hear it gets pretty crazy and that tourists often aren’t all that respectful.
The streets of Luang Prabang are perfect for an early morning (or late afternoon) stroll, but it gets extremely hot in the afternoon so you might be better resting in one of the many cafes and restaurants, some of which are found inside old colonial houses. The French influenced Luang Prabang more than most places in Laos and it gives the streets a unique style and atmosphere.
Kuang Si Falls
These are the coolest waterfalls I’ve ever been to and I even wrote a full post on them not so long ago. Read it here and let me know if you’ve been to better waterfalls in Southeast Asia!
A trip to Luang Prabang: The Details
Luang Prabang is a windy 9 hour bus ride from Vientiane, but the good news is that it’s probably the most scenic bus ride I’ve been on in Southeast Asia. You can also fly from Vientiane and several other places in the region. Accommodation is pretty cheap but if you want to splash out there are some awesome places to stay. My family stayed in a guesthouse by the river for around $30 a night and it was really nice, while I paid around $7 and wished I was richer.
I’ve been to Luang Prabang on 3 different trips and have loved it every time. It’s one of those towns that are just nice to be in, and I’d definitely recommend setting aside at least a few days to explore it (and the surrounding area).
Have you been to Luang Prabang? What is your favourite town in Southeast Asia? Let me know!