LUANG PRABANG – The Jewel of the Mekong

Reclining Buddha Luang Prabang

LP has become one of the must see destinations in Laos for its ancient traditions, beautiful riverside location and UNESCO protected old colonial style housing in and around some glittering temples. This together with the colourful markets and beautiful natural countryside makes the critics absolutely right!

We arrived off the back of a 2 day trip from Chiang Mai and were dropped off in the middle of the old town. Rather disorientated we walked down a couple side streets to look for a hostel. This turned out to be quite easy as we had wondered into the “Economy Guesthouse” area of town by the river. Don’t be put off by the “Economy” tag as it is a really lovely little neighbourhood and the guesthouses are clean and not necessarily very economical either.

Night and Morning Markets

The first thing we went to see after checking in was the famous Night Market along the main Sisavangvong road. Every afternoon around 4pm people come from all over to setup stalls along the street. Around sunset the whole road is closed for the market where you can find anything from clothing and jewellery to souvenirs, baskets and other handicrafts.

Night Market

Stunning variety

Next up is the Morning Market where there are plenty fresh fruit and vegetables together with some not so nice fresh items like pig heads, turtles, frogs and other live creepy crawlies.

Tak Bat

This beautiful ritual of the locals offering food to monks happens every morning in Luang Prabang. It’s an amazing sight to see however too many inconsiderate tourists are not respecting the ceremony but rather act like it’s a show to watch and are taking bright, close-up flash pictures of the monks ruining the tranquillity of the tradition. Sadly this ceremony has become a bit a circus and I’ve written another in-depth post about it here.

Morning Alms Giving

The tranquil Tak Bat ritual

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

This waterfall is, for me, the most worthwhile trip outside of the city worth doing. Hire a motorbike and drive the easy 30kms from Luang Prabang. It goes through some quiet idyllic villages and some beautiful landscapes. The river cascade over several levels of limestone rocks which create the most beautiful falls and serene turquoise pools. You can swim in some of them however a few are off limits as they are considered sacred areas.

Kuang Si Rivers

Bear Rescue Centre

Just near the entrance to the Kuang Si Waterfalls is a Bear Rescue Centre enclosure for 23 endangered Asiatic Black Bears that have been confiscated by the Laos Government from illegal poaching and trading.

Bear Centre just hanging around

Just hanging around

Temples and Phousi Hill

Luang Prabang certainly has the history and beauty to show for its idyllic location and the temples are anything but awe-inspiring. Out of the 33 Wats in and around the old town our favourites were;

Wat Xiengthong – Temple of the Golden City, built in 1560. Until 1975 Wat Xiengthong was a royal temple supported by the royal family and was the place where the Kings of Laos were crowned and granted their power.

Wat Xiengthong

Depiction of the Tree of Life

Depiction of the Tree of Life

Wat Haw Pha Bang – The Royal Palace Chapel, built in 1963. The Haw Pha Bang has been designed as the permanent home/shrine for the Pha (or Pra) Bang, Luang Prabang’s namesake and most sacred Buddha image.

Royal Chapel

The Royal Chapel

Wat Pha Houak – Monastery of the Bamboo Forest, built in 1860. This small temple has a beautifully painted mural from the same period that provides fascinating insights into life from the 19th Century.

Everyday life in the Old Luang Prabang

Everyday life in the Old Luang Prabang

Also in the centre of town is an easy hike up to the Stupa on top of Phousi Hill which affords you a lovely panoramic view of the city and the 2 rivers that converge around Luang Prabang; the Mighty Mekong River and the Khan River which feeds into it.

Walking up Phousi Hill

Walking towards the light

Looking out the old Chapel

Looking out the old Chapel on Phousi Hill

Chatting with some monk friends

Coming down the side of Phousi Hill we stopped at some of the many shrines, Buddha statues and a cave which is said to house one of Buddha’s footprints. Just outside the cave there were some friendly young Buddhist monks chatting to some tourists to improve their English. We struck up a conversation with 2 of them and they were so happy and appreciative that we would talk to them and it was fun and interesting for us to get their opinions and ideas on a few things and also teach them some new words for the day. I also drew for them a basic map of the world to easier explain where South Africa and Turkey are in relation to Laos – very far away!

Drawing maps

Having fun drawing maps

The Paper Crafts and Weaving towns of Xangkhong and Xienglek

Just north of the old town across the Khan River are the little villages of Xangkhong and Xienglek which are famous for their weavings and exquisite paper crafts. Well worth a visit to watch the talented ladies produce their wares and get a hot cup of Lao Tea.

Paper making

Freshly pressed paper

And at the end of a busy day there’s no better way to unwind than catching a game of Boules or lounging at one of Luang Prabang’s riverside restaurants and cafes watching the sun go down.

Afternoon Boules

Local champ showing off his skills!

Winding Down in Luang Prabang

Winding down by the river

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4 thoughts on “LUANG PRABANG – The Jewel of the Mekong

  1. Good to see you also got a photo of a bear in a hammock! I didn’t see Tak Bat in LP and after reading about it that’s maybe a good thing. I’ve accompanied monks on their alms rounds quite a few times during my temple stays and seeing inconsiderate tourists treating it as some sort of show would be an irritating start to my day.

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    • Those bears were so cute! Your experience sounds incredible and I think its best you remember the alms ceremony that way rather than what is happening in Luang Prabang. It’s a beautiful ceremony and I hope it doesn’t take a turn for the worse.

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