We first heard of the wonders of Luang Prabang while visiting friends on Okinawa. They had just come back from a trip and felt like the small town and former seat of French colonial rule in Laos was on the tipping point of becoming a major destination, but still low-key and unspoiled by tourism.
David and I spent 6 days and 5 nights in Luang Prabang and compiling this guide makes my heart yearn to go back. Luang Prabang exceeded our expectations for this little town along the Mekong in every way. We woke up with the sun each morning, and stepped out onto our balcony to check if the monks were up and walking for their morning alms. Sipping a cup of coffee from our deck, we’d watch their silent procession past our hotel and down the street, collecting sticky rice from locals – their daily sustenance. We’d wander down to breakfast in the building across the street and watch the village come to life…
Isn’t Luang Prabang just gorgeous!? The pace in Luang Prabang is deliciously slow, so I recommend taking several days to allow yourself to linger at each spot you visit.
Below are our favorites from our week in Luang Prabang:
- Weaving Villages – When preparing for Laos I read somewhere that “to understand Laos’ textiles is to understand the country itself.” Now that I’ve been I understand the significant role weaving plays in both the economy and identity of the Lao people. From delicate silk work to the hardier Indigo-dyed textiles each people group has a signature style as defining as the tartans of Scottish clans. Many shops offer to drive you out to the country to observe several small weaving villages, but there is one within walking distance just across the bamboo bridge at the east end of town. You can see women working at their looms under the shade of their front porch or a tree, and purchase the textiles directly from the woman who made it.
- Temple Tour – Luang Prabang has over 30 temples dotting the landscape and even more farther afield. We spent an afternoon taking our time to explore each one and my favorites were Wat Sensoukaram, Was Xiengthong, and Ha Pha Bang. The last one is best photographed from the park across the street, framed by swaying palms. When visiting temples, it’s always best to dress modestly out of respect for your host culture. This usually means women should wear clothing that covers their shoulders and knees. I love this white shirtdress (similar in solid fabric) as it’s modest enough for visiting temples but is light and airy enough to stay comfortable in the summer heat.
- Mount Phousi at Sunrise or Sunset – A fantastic vantage point with views of the town and Mekong River. I’d recommend arriving for sunrise since the small platform at the peak can get crowed at sunset.
- Night Market – A nightly occurrence that sprawls out along the central Sisavangvong Road. Vendors sell everything from handmade stuffed animals to purses, textiles and art. As with any market, carefully evaluate the item before you buy it, as quality, locally made products are mixed in with fakes imported from China and Thailand.
- Rent a motorbike and head to Kuang Si Falls – On our last morning we took a ride to see the famed turquoise waters of Kuang Si falls. The falls are beautiful and we took some time to swim in one of the lower pools where you’re allowed to go in the water. One thing to note: the fish in the lower pools must be the same species as fish spa fish because once the school discovered me they started to nip my toes! It doesn’t hurt but it is startling. We didn’t have time for a picnic because we had to catch our flight out but I think bringing a picnic to the falls and spending a couple hours exploring the jungle there would be an afternoon well spent.
- Morning Alms – We were up with the sun regularly to watch the monks walk the main street in town collecting alms. Each monk carries a bowl and villagers are up early to contribute sticky rice and other edibles to the monk’s bowls for their daily sustenance. It’s a beautiful ritual and I was surprised at how young some of the “monks in training” were.
- Architecture tour – Spend a morning methodically walking the main and side streets around the Luang Prabang peninsula, soaking up the gently worn French colonial buildings mingling with a riot of tropical plants. Shutters of every color line the streets, and towards the center of town the preponderance of cafes put out their tables and chairs to welcome guests for breakfast. Have your camera ready as almost every block is picture perfect!
When planning our visit to any destination I like to pick housing that matches the feel of the place. Apartments or glamorous hotels in big cities, lodges in the mountains, and as often as possible, hotels with a sense of history. There’s no place more perfectly suited to Luang Prabang than 3 Nagas, a the beautiful heritage property on the main street in the center of town. The three main buildings are each over 100 years old and formerly served as government meeting houses and an ice cream factory. How sweet is that? The buildings are UNESCO World Heritage sites which means very little about their structures has changed in the past century (except modern conveniences like plumbing and air-conditioning!) and it instantly transports you to the Laos of yesteryear. We stayed in one of their beautiful executive suites with a canopy bed and balcony overlooking the main road, where we could watch the monks collect their morning alms. They still honor their heritage as an ice cream parlor by whipping up the most delicious ice creams in town, served out of their cafe. A frosty cone became an afternoon ritual to cool off in the Lao heat.
All photos by David and Stacie Flinner for stacieflinner.com