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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.