As my flight was fast approaching Luang Prabang last month, I got goose bumps getting reacquainted with the beauty of northern Laos. Much of the time we were flying over the winding Mekong, and always nearby were fold upon fold of lush, green mountain ridges. As much as I was already looking forward to experiencing Luang Prabang again, this only whetted my appetite even more. And after a fast and very furious two weeks working on WOWi’s voluntourism trip to Cambodia, I was more than ready for some rest and relaxation in my favorite little city in all of Asia. As I fully expected, my week spent there with my girlfriend was just about perfect. If you haven’t ever been and think you might go there some day, here is the first half of what I would consider the Top 10 things to do and see, in no particular order (I love them all!).
1. Wat Xieng Thong
There is actually a ridiculous number of beautiful and interesting wats very worthy of visiting in Luang Prabang – there are supposedly like 1200 Buddhist monks living in about 80 different monasteries in the city. But Wat Xieng Thong is probably the most famous and most visited, and for good reason. From the main building, called a sim, with its roofs that sweep low to the ground and its stunning ‘tree of life’ mosaic on its outer back wall, to the Hohng Kep Mien building which houses an exquisite ceremonial carriage designed to carry funeral urns of Lao royalty, and all the stupas and chapel-halls in between this wat is a must see. Try to get there early to have the place practically to yourself.
2. Handicraft Night Market
Every evening a significant part of the main street that goes right by the Royal Palace is closed off to traffic so that a slew of local vendors can set up their little shops under quickly put up canopies for the handicraft night market. It is definitely a market for tourists, but it is not tacky at all and is full of paintings, wall hangings, beautiful silk scarves, indigenous looking blankets, ceramics, shoes, and on and on. It’s good fun, very low key (no hardcore selling pressure, easy to bargain), and a great place to pick up a few interesting things to take home for yourself and for some of your friends and family back home who are sure to be jealous of you for being there.
3. Tak Bat – The Monks’ Alms Procession
The daily procession of hundreds of saffron clad monks every morning whereby they walk through the streets and gather tiny balls of sticky rice in their begging bowls from locals in town is one of the things that makes Luang Prabang so special. Unfortunately, as this gem of a city gets more visitors, many of these outsiders are getting much too aggressive in their quest to take photos and be closer to the monks as they interact with the alms givers. It most definitely is magical to observe this truly religious ceremony, but if you go do please keep a proper distance and be respectful.
4. Restaurants And Cafes
Perhaps much related to Laos’ French colonial past, Luang Prabang has a plethora of restaurants and cafes that would likely intrigue just about any foodie out there. Much like Honoi in Vietnam, there is a café culture that permeates the surroundings as you walk along the main streets, inviting you to relax, have a cup of delicious Lao coffee (some of the best in the world!), and stay a while. Whether it be local dishes made with sticky rice, other Asian cuisines or even Western meals, you likely will not be disappointed. Oh, and of course be sure to try the famous Beerlao, a tasty lager that people in Laos are very proud of for good reason.
5. Boat Ride On The Mekong To The Pak Ou Caves
No trip to Luang Prabang would be complete without spending at least a little time on the Mekong which flows right beside the city, and a visit to Pak Ou Caves provides the perfect excuse to do so. The two-hour upstream ride and the one and a quarter hour ride back give you a good taste of the raw beauty of the Northern Laos countryside. And the caves themselves are fascinating in their own right, cut into a limestone cliff and full of hundreds of Buddha images in all sorts of shapes, sizes and materials. Be forewarned that there are a fair amount of steps leading up to the caves, but the effort is more than worth it.
Well, that was a good first taste of things to do and see when visiting wonderful Luang Prabang. Stay tuned – next week I will cover the next five things you shouldn’t miss!
For the other five things to not miss see Top 10 Things To Do In Luang Prabang, Part 2