Luang Prabang is a sizeable town that is yet to achieve city status, located in northern Laos, a region that is mountainous. Situated 700 metres above sea level, the town feels cool during early morning and night, especially during northern hemisphere winter. Due to its French Indochine flair, Luang Prabang is ideal for professionals, architecture and colonial heritage enthusiasts, epicureans, culture buffs, culinary connoisseurs, natural landscape lovers and fans of textiles and fabrics. Below are 8 things that travellers can explore when being at Luang Prabang.
Food, accommodation and transport in Luang Prabang are notably pricier compared to Vientiane and the rest of Indochina. Things are mostly priced in United States Dollars (USD), so travellers should change their currency into USD before arriving in Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang’s must experience
1. Visit the various Buddhist temples
Being part of the predominantly Buddhist Indochina, Luang Prabang is replete with ornately gilded temples such as Wat Mai (formerly the temple for the royal family before the Prabang Buddha temple was built on the grounds of the new royal palace that is now the National Museum)
- Wat Sensoukharam (‘Temple of Happiness’ that houses Luang Prabang’s tallest Buddha)
- Wat Xieng Thong (considered the prettiest and an important reference to Buddhist architecture that was completed back in around 1560).
- Wat Visounnarath (the oldest temple completed in 1515, incorporating design elements similar to Angkor and used to house the Prabang Buddha).
- Wat Ho Pha Bang (the Prabang Buddha temple on the grounds of that served as the last temple for the royal family, also home to the most sacred Buddha image believed to be from Sri Lanka 2,000 years ago).
2. Visit the Royal Palace Museum
Royal Palace Museum was constructed by the French in Beaux Arts style for the use of the Luang Prabang royal family since 1904. This museum offers the glimpse of how life was like for the royal family during the French colonial period. Be sure to catch the quintessential frescoes that depict Luang Prabang typical life back then on the walls of the reception room painted in 1930 by female French painter Alix de Fautereau, who later assumed the name Alix Ayme after she remarried.
3. Climb up Mount Phousi
To get their bearings, travellers are encouraged to climb up Mount Phousi on the first day to understand Luang Prabang’s topography and the locations or directions of the places they intend to visit. This is also one of the best places in Luang Prabang for travellers to catch the beautiful sunset.
4. Catch the procession of the monks at dawn
One local scene that is unique to Luang Prabang is the procession of the monks taking alms from devotees who kneel or sit by the roadside.
Do take note on these:
- Since this is a solemn and religious affair, travellers need to keep their distance away from the monks if they are not participating in the alms-giving.
- Do not intrude the procession and use flash when taking photos of the procession.
- Travellers should find themselves a comfortable spot to observe the procession while the monks receive alms from the devotees.
5. Take the Nava Cruise along the Mekong River (navamekong.com)
Taking the cruise along the Mekong allows travellers to witness life along the river, besides visiting Xang Hai Village to learn how Lao whisky is produced and Pak Ou caves (locals called Tam Ting) where thousands of Buddha statues are placed by worshippers as reverence. The whole cruise, which also includes lunch on board, takes around four hours to complete. Travellers are bound to find the cruise relaxing and enlightening at the same time.
Note: The Mekong River is at its highest level in September due to rain (rainy season is from June to early October).
6. Learn the art of weaving and dyeing Lao silk at Ock Pop Tok (www.ockpoptok.com)
Founded in 2000 by Englishwoman Joanna Smith and Laotian Veomanee Douangdala, Ock Pop Tok (which means ‘East Meets West’), is now one of Laos textile and artisan institutions that strive to conserve, innovate and propagate the Laotian textile weaving heritage. For an educational and uniquely Lao experience, we recommend that travellers join Ock Pop Tok’s half-day silk under the guidance of expert dyers and weavers. Travellers should also have lunch at the chic Silk Road Cafe, also within The Living Crafts Centre, which overlooks the tranquil Mekong River.
Good to know:
- Same as the belief among Sasak people in Lombok, Lao women need to learn how to weave to get married.
- The Ock Pop Tok project helps to popularise and conserve the Lao silk weaving craft by employing and training 400 women in 11 provinces across the country, providing them income at the same time.
7. Visit Luang Prabang Elephant Camp (luangprabangelephantcamp.com)
During ancient times, Luang Prabang used to be called the ‘Kingdom of a Million Elephants’ since historically these animals have been crucial in transporting goods and humans. Today, however, many are now abused, starved, and overworked at the logging camps. To rescue these elephants, a successful Lao businessman Mr Sisombat Douangvilaykeo founded the Luang Prabang Elephant Camp to restore the dignity of these poor creatures by feeding, taking care and training them to recognise their mahouts’ call. Travellers can get the chance to bathe these elephants, besides admiring their majesty, when they visit the camp.
8. Visit Kuangsi Waterfall
Traveller’s Luang Prabang experience of is not complete without visiting the gorgeous three-tier cascading Kuang Si Waterfall, located 30 kilometres south of town. The waterfall is surrounded by wonderfully lush greenery and the water is collected in turquoise travertine pools that travellers can swim in.
Note: Travellers who come between March to May should take note that there is less water flowing that time due to the dry season.
Other experiences that travellers can relish when being in Luang Prabang:
- Observe or join in the Bachi welcoming ceremony as to experience Lao filial piety since it involves village elders bestowing blessings to travellers.
- Learn about how Laos endured heavy bombing by the United States of America during the Vietnam War, making it the most bombed country per capita in the world. Visit www.uxolao.org
- Avid golfers can tee off surrounded by amazing northern Lao landscapes at the 18-hole Luang Prabang Golf Club. Visit www.luangprabanggolfclub.com
- Visit the morning market (Talad Tha Hua May) to witness and even taste interesting local produce and incredibly unique delicacies.
- Shop local handicrafts at bargained prices at Phanom Handicraft Centre in Ban Phanom.
- Zipline through the Green Jungle Park using Green Jungle Flight and enjoy Hoi Khua Waterfall afterwards. Visit www.laogreengroup.com
- Loiter and shop at the Night Market.
- Dine at the atmospheric cafes and restaurants around Luang Prabang.
Those who seek halal certified restaurants in Luang Prabang may check out the following establishments:
- Chennai Restaurant, Xieng Muan Village, Khem Khong
T: +856 20 5518 0477 / +856 20 9574 6407; E: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Nisha Restaurant, Kitsalat Road
T: +856 20 9826 6023 / +856 071 900 116
AirAsia now flies four times weekly (Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday) to Luang Prabang from Kuala Lumpur (KLIA2). Visit www.airasia.com to book a flight to Luang Prabang today. For ground handling, travellers may browse www.louangprabang.net for info and arrangements.