After the combination of the chaos and beauty of the one time party town of Vang Vieng it was time for a very different atmosphere with Luang Prabang. This regal and sacred town on the banks of the mighty Mekong is home to 33 UNESCO listed temples and more bright orange clad monks than you can wrap your head around and a peaceful and charming colonial charm. Heading to Luang Prabang Laos almost feels like a pilgrimage with all the religious emphasis here and the air of devotion.
Wake up early and watch the monks receive alms
One of the most special things to do in Luang Prabang Laos involves setting your alarm clock for an ungodly hour for the most religious of activities in Laos! Waking up before the sunrises you get to sample just a small part of the devotion it takes to become a monk. Each morning as the light begins to arrive over the horizon hundreds of monks form silent orange lines across the town collecting “Alms” from people knelt in prayer on the streets.
This mesmerising sight is actually common place all across the Buddhist region but here in Luang Prabang Laos due to the amount and proximity of the temples it is much more concentrated. The monks receive their food for the day from others wishing to gain “merit”. In recent times many westerners and more often Chinese tourists have taken some of the magic from this daily event. Our advice would be to head down some of the smaller side streets to see more of a peaceful and authentic procession and always be respectful!
Tour the UNESCO listed town and visit the many wonderful temples
Of course, coming to Luang Prabang Laos you must take the time to visit many of the 33 temples that make up this UNESCO listed area. The entire town is one of the most sacred in the country and wherever you turn you are sure to see yet another stunning temple and many monks tending to the grounds. This sight has been the same for centuries and even with the influx of tourism these temples remain peaceful pockets of serenity where one can take time to reflect. Those not to miss include Vat Xieng Toung, Vat Khili, Vat Sibounheuang, Vat Sirimoungkhoun Sayaram, Vat Sop Sickharam and Vipassana temple.
Not only does the town draw visitors in due to the abundance of glittering temples but it is also one of the finest examples of crumbling colonial architecture in the region. Put this together and add a dash of bright and colourful flowers that seem to be growing on ever street and you have one of the most picturesque and stunning towns in the world. A day spent strolling down the side streets and main through fares provides a wonderful insight into the unique culture that has been cultivated in this one time royal capital.
Get a new perspective from above the town
Technically another of the towns many temples and shrines Phou Si/Chomsy Hill offers something a little extra! A short but steep hike up a winding stone stair case brings you to the highest point of Luang Prabang. From here you can take in the panoramic view of the golden temples that punctuate the lush green surroundings as well as looking down over the confluence of the Mekong and the smaller Nam Khan which almost seem to surround the town!
Along the way there are various smaller stupas, temples and even look out positions for cannons and most inexplicably “Buddha’s footprint” which appears to be at least 2ft long!
Cross the bamboo bridge and explore the more rural side to Luang Prabang Laos!
Over the other side of the Nam Khan river lies several smaller villages and temples that show the more rural life on the outskirts of this colonial era town. Crossing one of the rickety bamboo bridges for a small fee you are likely to encounter a much more local feel, children playing in the river, novice monks bathing and women washing their laundry are all common sights.
Climbing the steps to the other side and you can visit one of the small villages that have specialised in paper making for hundreds of years, still today employing the same age old techniques to make this flower infused paper!
Sail across the Mekong and visit the lesser known areas
If you want to really see Luang Prabang Laos off the beaten track then take one of the ferry boats across the Mekong, the only way to cross within the city as UNESCO guidelines prevent a bridge being built! Over this side you will find an even more laid back atmosphere and many smaller temples only frequented by locals, monks and the odd stray dog!
Walk just a little way through the dense and lush jungle over here and you will find yourself in tiny villages many of which are still characteristed by their bamboo houses and very traditional way of life. It really is like sailing over to another world!
See the colour and the chaos of the many markets
If Luang Prabang wasn’t so famous for its temples then second on the list would be it’s markets. It really is tale of two halves also with the more local morning market beginning around the same time that the monks start their sunrise procession. As always the local shoppers are keen to get their early and bag the best produce, including some of the most amazing and also the most grim things we’ve ever seen on sale for human consumption.
The freshly cut jackfruit and traditional Laos cakes were an amazing purchase but I had to tow the line at gutted cat, fried rat and boiled frog. As a vegetarian I was on the edge of nausea but there is just something gruesomely fascinating seeing what other cultures call food!
If the morning market was just a little too “local” then hold out for the evening craft market instead. The towns main through fare is transformed into a mile long explosion of patterns, colour and creations! If you wanted to get yourself some of those fancy traveller pants or a unique souvenir then this is the spot! If that worked you up an appetite then down the far end is an array of offerings of crapes and baguettes, showing the influence the French have had on this one time colony.
Have you ever had the pleasure of visiting Luang Prabang Laos: A total contrast to Vang Vieng!
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