If Thailand had a beautiful but shy younger sister, it would be Laos. This peaceful country sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam is still off the radar of mainstream tourism and so far it’s managed to maintain its culture and traditional way of life mostly untouched by outside influences.
It’s for exactly this reason that Laos appeals to many travelers and the more popular tourist areas are developing quickly. If you want to see Laos before it becomes just an extension of Thailand, try and get there as soon as possible.
There are many beautiful sights and places worth visiting in Laos. Popular spots include the backpacker hangout of Vang Vieng, the awe-inspiring sight of the Plain of Jars and the beautiful Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands).
However if you’re looking for somewhere in Southeast Asia where you can just chill-out for a week or so, relax and recharge your batteries after too much travelling and maybe take in a little of the local culture, you can’t go wrong with Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang is a UNESCO world heritage site and has much to offer travellers, while still remaining remarkably chilled out and laid-back. You won’t be bothered by transport touts or chased after for a sale in markets and the roads are refreshingly free of traffic.
Here are our top 10 things to do for a blissful break in Luang Prabang:
1. Alms giving ceremony
Every morning at dawn, the Buddhist monks of Luang Prabang roam the streets with alms bowls, into which shopkeepers and residents place offerings of food. It is traditional to give rice, but these days just as common to offer pre-packed food and snacks.
Tourists are welcome to offer alms but it is important to remember that this is a religious ceremony and should be taken seriously. You should stay respectful by dressing appropriately (covering shoulders and legs) and those not taking part in the ceremony should step back and take photographs only from a distance.
2. Wat Xieng Thong (Golden City Temple)
There are many beautiful temples in Luang Prabang, but Wat Xieng Thong is one of the most impressive. Inside you’ll find beautiful glass mosaics depicting daily life in Laos and Buddhist mythology – be sure to check out the ‘tree of life’ mosaic at the back.
As with the other temples in Luang Prabang, this is a working monastery and you’ll see groups of young monks clad in saffron robes and going about their business within the temple grounds.
3. Kuang Si Waterfalls
These beautiful waterfalls offer some stunning scenery, great photo opportunities and gorgeous turquoise plunge pools for swimming. It’s a great way to cool off and wind down on a hot day. Be sure to take the trail right to the top for some stunning views down into the valley.
The falls are located about 30km out of Luang Prabang but it’s easy to get there – any tuk tuk will be able to take you or you can join a mini-bus group trip which run several times a day.
4. Night Market
Luang Prabang is home to quite possibly the most laid-back night market in asia. No need to worry about aggressive haggling or stallholders chasing you down the aisles to try and make a sale – just wander, browse and enjoy the atmosphere as you shop for souvenirs.
Silks and other fabrics are definitely worth buying in the night market here as well as lots of other local crafts such as hand-embroidered fabric books. There are plenty of food and juice stalls around if you need to refuel and I was particularly taken with the little cake stalls that appear in the evening – it’s just like being at a church fete!
5. Take a cooking class
Lao cuisine is similar to Thai and relies a lot on coconut milk, fish sauce and chillies. You can learn to create this flavourful food for yourself at one of the several cooking classes run from restaurants on the main street. Some classes include a trip to the market to shop for fresh vegetables and spices. The classes at Tamarind and Tamnak Lao restaurants are recommended.
6. Watch the sunset from Phou Si
This Buddhist temple of Wat Chom Si at the top of Phou Si hilll can be visited at any time of the day but is most impressive in the early evening when you can watch the sunset over panoramic views of Luang Prabang and the Mekong River
7. Take a boat trip to Pak Ou caves
Enjoy a relaxing trip on the Mekong River to the popular attraction of the Pak Ou caves. These caves contain hundreds of Buddha statues in different positions such as meditating and reclining. Many people choose to combine a trip to the caves with visiting one of the riverside ‘whiskey’ villages and seeing how traditional Lao spirits are made.
8. Visit the Royal Palace Museum
To learn more about Laos and its history, stop into the Royal Palace Museum. The museum is set in gorgeous grounds and houses exhibits depicting the lives of the Lao royal family. There is also a temple located within the grounds of the museum. There are special dance performances held outside the museum during Lao New Year
9. All Lao Elephant Camp
This camp is home to elephants that have been rescued from working in the logging industry. You can enjoy an elephant ride through the jungle and even go bathing in the river with the elephants. Unlike many elephant attractions in Asia, the elephants here are well cared for and happy. You can even book onto a 2 day course to learn how to be a mahout!
10. Sit back and watch the world go by
Luang Prabang is just made for relaxing and one of the best things you can do here is stop trying to see every tourist attraction and just do nothing. There are many peaceful cafes serving excellent food where you can settle down and watch the Mekong River float lazily by or observe groups of young monks passing in the street
Slow down, chill out and enjoy your stay in Luang Prabang!
All photos copyright Rachel Adnyana, except where stated otherwise.