The view off the side of the old wooden bridge was unmatched. The river below meandered between jungly growth. The golden spire of the hillside temple shone in the fading sunlight. As the light dimmed, three monks dressed in shades of bright orange crossed the foot bridge to the left. We had found the perfectly iconic scene in modern day Laos.
Luang Prabang has a history going back over 1,300 years, including time as the ancient capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom until 1545, and the more recent French Colonial Empire in the late 1800s. This is one of those rare places which has become highly touristed yet manages to retain its authentic charm. Many visitors to Laos see only this beautiful city, but this also is a great kick off point for many other amazing things to do in Laos. We visited this area as part of a three week trip through the country in April of 2018 following our time in Cambodia. We visited during low season when crowds were thin but weather was warm and humid. Despite Luang Prabang being a well trodden area, there are many reasons why you should keep it on your travel plans:
The Beautiful Architecture
Luang Prabang was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its well preserved history. The town has been shaped by centuries of mixed cultural influence, leaving a charming fusion of European colonial and traditional buildings. Streets in the ancient town are lined with French architecture and dotted with glistening golden temples. Wandering around is a trip to another time, where you can get lost visiting beautiful Buddhist structures. Exploring old town on foot is easy, but renting a bike is cheap at 10,000-20-000 KIP ($1-3 USD) which can get you further afield. Make sure to visit the main temples of Wat Xieng Thong, nearby Wat Sensoukara, 16th century Wat Visounnarath, and Wat Phon Pho on the hillside overlooking the river. All are free to visit except Wat Xieng Thong, which has a 20,000 KIP entry. Also make sure to take advantage of the bamboo bridge if you visit during dry season, which is rebuilt by hand every year after the rains.
The Blending of Cultures
With the long history of habitation and deep Buddhist roots, modern day influences in Luang Prabang can seem far removed from traditional practices. Despite the area being highly touristed, the ancient atmosphere shines through Western influence with local customs and religion seemingly unchanged from ancient times. As tourism has grown, the Lao people continue to go about their day, offering a window into a different way of living. There are many options to witness this mix of culture, with the most famous being the daily Alms Ceremony, where monks line up to receive alms from the community for their daily meals. There is a busy ceremony originating from Wat Xieng Thong in ancient town, but more authentic ones can be visited in other areas. We participated in a non-touristed ceremony across the bamboo bridge, where over a hundred monks line up and bless alms givers starting daily at 6:00am.
The Natural Setting and Surroundings
Located at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers and surrounded by lush green mountains, Luang Prabang has a beauty to match its cultural charm. The mountainous surroundings create a gorgeous setting, rivers sparkle at sunset, and serenity in the rural areas outside of town is unrivaled. Make sure to visit the one of a kind Kuang Si Waterfall, where dissolved limestone has created incredible natural tiers cascading with teal blue water. The falls are located 45 minutes from town through jungly countryside, and cost 20,000 KIP to enter. If you want to catch a sunset, you can head up to the crowded Wat Chom Si on Mount Phousi in old town, which offers sweeping views for 20,000 KIP entry. Better yet, go down to where the rivers meet for a far less crowded and equally beautiful spot.
The Mouth Watering Food Options
Whether you want to graze for local food at the Night Market or eat Lao French fusion at Bouang, there are incredible options available for foodie visitors to Luang Prabang. What if you just need some pizza after half a year in Asia? There is some baking in a brick oven at La Silapa right now, and it’s delicious. The options are endless, and will make travelers with a tightly planned itinerary want to toss their schedule and stick around a while longer.
Many Additional Activities
All types of activities can be found in Luang Prabang to fill extra time. Whether boating down the river, exploring the countryside on scooter or trekking into the hillside, the town has it all on offer. If you are looking for a different way to spend your time, try helping local students learn English at the school next to Wat Siphoutthabath below Mount Phousi. Similar to Monk Chat in Chiang Mai, Thailand, this is a chance for tourists to interact with local students and learn about their life and culture, and help them practice an international language in return.
And that is why we love Luang Prabang! With so many things to do, rich culture and amazing food, it is a great place to explore. Don’t let this be the only city you visit, make sure to check out other great things to do in Laos in low season.
If you have plans to visit China after your Southeast Asia trip, be sure to read our post on How to Apply for a China Visa in Vientiane, Laos.
You can see other posts from our adventures including our trek through Nepal, Great Ocean Road trip and South African safari. They are sure to inspire your lust for travel! And take a look at our Adventure Gallery where you can see our pictures from all around the world.
Do you have an interest in long term travel? Check out our Trip Planning posts, where you can learn how to prepare for a lengthy trip, see how to never check your bags on planes, find out about travel security and make sense of travel insurance, amongst others.