Tucked high on the banks of the meandering Mekong, Luang Prabang is Laos’ most beautiful destination. Pagodas and temples are everywhere, saffron–robed monks meditating in their halls after collecting alms each morning. Throw in thriving markets, a UNESCO–protected old town and lush countryside and this is the perfect place for relaxation.
Luang Prabang is relatively small, meaning most people stroll from temple to temple. Rental bikes are easy to come by if you want to get around quicker. And if the searing heat gets too much, you can always hail a tuk–tuk. Just remember prices are usually per person rather than per trip.
Luang Prabang has more than 30 temples and shrines. And the 100 metre–high hill of Phu Si is home to the very best in town. The golden stupa at its summit provides the perfect vantage point for spectacular sunsets over the surrounding hills, with sweeping views of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers to match. Be sure to stop in at the beautiful Wat Pa Huak as you climb to the top, its carved wooden Buddha a counterpoint to the sometimes brash statues found in other temples.
Each morning at dawn, monks pour out from their respective temples and file through Luang Prabang’s streets collecting offerings from locals and tourists. While arguably one of Laos’s greatest experiences, it’s essential that visitors avoid taking pictures close up and keep a respectful distance if not giving alms.
When dusk approaches, head down to the banks of the Mekong and hire a boat or join a tour to see the sun go down over the water. The surrounding rain forest coming to life provides a an awe–inspiring soundtrack.
For those who want to learn more about Luang Prabang’s nearby tribal culture, the excellent TEAC museum, housed in an old colonial mansion has some fascinating artefacts and primers on the area’s wider history.
The waterfalls of Kuang Si, 30km outside of town, are a popular tourist hotspot. However, locals prefer the water at Tad Sae, just 16km away, but only reachable by boat after a short tuk–tuk ride. It’s worth the effort, with plenty of space to have a picnic and opportunities to take a swim in the turquoise water.
If you’ve rented a bike to get around town, be sure to take it out into the surrounding villages. One day tours can easily be arranged to take you to meet hill tribes and see a side of Luang Prabang that’s easily missed.
Luang Prabang’s status as one of Asia’s hottest destinations means the food here is both excellent and varied. Quick cheap eats, such as stir–fried short noodles, can be found in the covered night market. But for something a bit fancier, try out Tamarind. Its riverside location and sensational Luang Prabang sausage make it the ideal stop off for a last–night–of–the–holiday blowout.
Laos’s French colonial past means Luang Prabang has its fair share of bakeries. And none are better than Le Banneton. Its pastries are sensational, as are its savoury lunchtime treats and fair trade coffee.