Luang Prabang is the former capital of Laos and a UNESCO World Heritage city. Many people call it the most charming city in Southeast Asia, though unlike other tourist destinations in surrounding Thailand or Cambodia, Laos’ Luang Prabang is still being kept a secret.
In fact, the adjective most often applied to Laos might be forgotten. But for the traveler or expat that stops to stay awhile between its borders, it’s a quiet paradise. Although there are a few grand (but relatively unheard of – like Luang Prabang) attractions, those visitors who are drawn by the laid-back lifestyle and the opportunity to knock back a few cold Beerlao while watching the sunsets on the Mekong will simply explain the attraction by revealing that the true meaning of “Lao PDR” is Lao – Please Don’t Rush.
That attitude applies especially to Luang Prabang. With UNESCO so closely involved and a largely highly responsible group of local business owners, the pressures of mass tourism development have been held at bay here.
The city has both natural and historical sites. The Haw Kham Royal Palace Museum and the Wat Xieng Thong temple are among the most well known historical sites. Among the natural tourism sites, there are the Kuang Si Falls and Pak Ou Caves. Tourists may also ride elephants.
The main road, Xiang Thong, of Luang Prabang is a wonderful patchwork of traditional Lao wooden houses and hints of European architecture – reminders of when Laos was part of the French colony of Indochine. Golden-roofed wats (temples), decorated with mosaics and murals of the life of Buddha sit under the gaze of wrap-around balconies and 19th century shuttered windows.
Getting in and out is also relatively easy. There’s an international airport, highways heading through the town, and you can travel by boat on the Mekong – our recommended choice.
Among the things to see and do, don’t miss monks at dawn collecting alms of rice from kneeling villagers (and early-rising tourists). Ask your guesthouse host to assist you the day before in preparing if you’d like to get up and give alms in the morning. Also catch a wonderful view of the city and surrounding area from Phou Si, the main hill in the city. And definitely check out the night market, which features vendors selling all the typical Lao arts and crafts, some more touristy than others, and is set up every day along the main street parallel to the river.
You’ll also be blessed with incredible sunsets on the waterfront every evening in Luang Prabang. Take a walk along the Mekong in the afternoons, or sit and enjoy dinner at one of the many restaurants and watch the sun sink into the horizon.
Laos is truly a hidden jewel of Southeast Asia– it’s almost a shame to let you in on the secret. And Luang Prabang is definitely Laos’ own crown prize. You’ll forget completely about Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia the moment you settle here. Enjoy!