Luang Prabang | Laos’ Best-Kept Treasure
Barefooted monks in saffron robes against the creeping daylight, a cityscape of colonial aesthetics and ornate temples, sparkling water gently cascading into piles of boulders, and the fiery sky harboring on the mountains hemmed by the river are the lingering dramatic images of Luang Prabang.
Peacefully nestled on the north central region of Laos, Luang Prabang has to its name a parade of significant attributions on its nation’s history. Foremost, it was the royal capital of the 14th century Kingdom called Lane Xang and was the hub of its religious development. Being at the convergence of Nam Khan River and the Mekong, it was also a significant trading post in the Silk Route that propelled its economic prosperity.
Today, Luang Prabang remains a part of the major economic routes and holds an important presence in the Southeast Asian tourism circuit. Whether flying in from key international airports in nearby countries, sailing on its river from Thailand or taking overland bus rides from Vientiane, Hanoi and Cambodia, the city of Luang Prabang is truly within direct reach.
UNESCO lists Luang Prabang as a World Heritage Site for its conserved architectures that blend both the French and traditional Lao aesthetics laid out in a colonial masterplan. Its fusion of design elements such as solid bricks, woodworks and layered roofs framed by champa blooms create a townscape worthy of its international recognition.
|Wat Xieng Thong Temple is the most iconic Luang Prabang style religious architecture.|
|Wat Pah Ouak built in 1860 sits at the foot of Mt. Phou Si. It also houses ancient frescoes.|
|The Haw Kham Royal Palace Museum is one of Luang Prabang’s city landmarks.|
Buddhism plays an immense influence in traditional Laotian architectural styles. Wat Xieng Thong, built by King Sai Setthathirat I is a classic example of ancient temple constructions that served as design inspirations for many of its other temples and palaces throughout Laos. Layered roofs in beehive patterns and elaborate woodworks characterize these Luang Prabang cultural elements.
|Free the Bears Rescue Center provides homes for largely endangered Asian pandas.|
|Kuang Si Waterfalls is the biggest and the most beautiful waterfalls in Luang Prabang.|
Beyond the radiance of its sapphire-washed temples and colonial buildings, Luang Prabang is also endowed with splendid waterfalls and lagoons perfect for a day of easy treks and cold dips. Bivouacking with elephants is also a popular activity as mahout or elephant handling camps abound just outside the town, after all, it was once called The Kingdom of Million Elephants. The endangered Asian pandas also found home in the Kuang Si Waterfall complex, where they are nurtured in a conservation sanctuary.
|Alms giving ceremony is held everyday on the streets of Luang Prabang. It usually starts at 5:30AM.|
|Lao people are known to be devout followers of Theravada Buddhism.|
Nothing comes close to catching a glimpse of Buddhist traditions than mornings in Luang Prabang. At the break of light, hundreds of monks parade around the town for their daily collection of food donations from the people in the community. This long held tradition of alms giving ceremony shows symbolic connections of mutual dependence, humility and spirituality.
|Phat Phet, curried pork spiked by kaffir lime leaves.|
One thing that this heritage town also boasts is its perfection of Laotian table arts. Here, excellence in food is a legacy taken seriously. Must tries are O-lam (vegetable stew), Phat Phet (pork curry) and Laab (minced meat salad).
|Aside from handwoven textiles, best finds in Luang Prabang market are Lao coffee & tea.|
|Handwoven and embroidered textiles are the most distinctive Laotian handicrafts.|
Luang Prabang is never it without the famous Lao handwoven textiles. This exquisite handicraft is an age-old tradition and has already grabbed worldwide recognition for its unique patterns and arduous process. At night, the center of town becomes a universe of these priceless pieces and a great time to feast on shopping.
|Fragrant champa flowers or plumeria bloom all year round in Laos.|
The bucolic character of Luang Prabang highlighted by its panoramic townscape, ageless traditions and gentleness of people make it an idyllic travel destination in this part of Asia.
- Luang Prabang is accessible through the following:
- Direct bus from Chiang Rai, Thailand & Hanoi, Vietnam
- 2-day boat ride from Chiang Kong, Thailand (sleepover in Pakbeng)
- Direct domestic flights from Vientiane & Pakse
- Direct international flights from Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Jinghong, Hanoi, Siem Reap
- Most of the backpacker inns are on the backstreets of Ban Hoxieng. Price range is between $25-$30 during low season. Landmark is Joma Café.
- Mid-range and luxury hotels are found on the main streets of Historic Quarter like in Ounkham Road, Sisavangvong Road and in the riverside area. Price runs between $50-$100 on low season.
- The city is best taken on foot and bicycle.
- Outside town attractions can be accessed by tuktuks and private mini-van hires.
- The town is generally quiet. Do not expect party zones and smoking in public places is regulated.
- For the usual backpacker budget, Luang Prabang is very pricey. Set aside about $50/day budget.
- Lao people are very conservative. Please observe proper dressing especially when entering temples.
- Excessive public display of affection is discouraged.
- If you are not offering anything during the morning alms giving, please keep a fair distance from the monks and the ones making offer especially if you are taking photos.
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