The former Royal City of Luang Prabang is in the north of Lao, about 300 km north of Vientiane. The city is bounded by the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. Luang Prabang had a monarchy under French Protectorate until 1975. The city which has a very European atmosphere is a very popular location for backpacker and solo travellers.
Luang Prabang was formerly a Royal City, now it is a UNESCO Heritage Site and a tourist destination.
A town situated in the middle of a circle of mountains, Luang Prabang is considered by many as the centre or epitome of Laotian culture.
There are so many reasons why you should visit and get hooked into this place. The first clue would be to know that Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995. It is also like a town on a hill. It is located 700 metres above sea level in the area where Nam Khan and Mekong River meet.
It also used to be the seat of the crown or the royal capital of the Lao Xang Kingdom back in ancient times before Vientiane became the capital. Nevertheless, Luang Prabang has still remained as the centre of beauty and culture which is why most tourists prefer this town over Vientiane.
The town is a charming blend of French architecture, temples, waterfalls, mountains, rivers, and Laotian culture all together in one place. No traveller should ever miss seeing this rare gem in the heart of Laos.
Monks Morning Ritual
Your visit to Luang Prabang would not be complete without seeing this religious tradition. Be sure to wake up early in the morning to witness this wonderful event.
The morning alms start at 6:00 am. In this ritual, the monks of Luang Prabang leave the monastery to walk the streets of the town and receive offerings from people. This is locally called Tak Bat or Morning Alms. You will be amazed by this wonderful practice of the Laotian religious tradition. Even the locals wake up early to give their offering and show their respect every morning.
It is a very humbling experience. The only unfortunate thing about it is that over the years, as tourism has risen continuously, this peaceful and humbling tradition has been disrespected by some tourists. Some tourists even interrupt the ritual just for the sake of taking a photo. Some also treat it like a show or an entertainment.
So if you are going to be there, please keep in mind that Tak Bat is a valued and respected religious ritual for the Laotians.
The Royal Palace is also locally called Haw Kham. Some parts of the building were built centuries ago. However, the main building is a product of the early years of the 20th century. It was originally built for King Sisavangvong.
This museum used to be the residence of the king. The palace is a mixture of French and Laotian architecture which makes it a totally interesting and beautiful masterpiece. The palace was converted into a museum in 1975 when the communist took over Laos and dethroned the royal family.
Today, the Royal Palace remains well maintained and open to public as a museum. You can explore this place and learn about the history of Laos and take a look at how the royal family used to rule and live here. There is this room where you could look at murals portraying the life in Laos.
There is also a room featuring crown jewels. You could also take a look at the 2,000 year old golden Prabang Buddha and many more. Royal Palace is definitely a good place to learn more about Laos and appreciate their history and culture.
Wat Chom is at the top of the hill in the town, every evening many visitors take the trk up the steps (300) to see the sunset over the Mekong River.
Sunset over the Mekong
The view from the hilltop looks over the Mekong River. Sunset can be awe inspiring as the sun sinks below the distance hills leaving an orange haze in the twilight sky.
View from the hill
It is very hard to miss Mount Phousi. It is located in the centre of Luang Prabang and stands impressively with a height of roughly 150 metres.
Mount Phousi is beautiful enough from afar. However, it would still be best to appreciate its beauty on the top of the mountain itself. Since it is located in the middle of the town, it has the best view of the whole Luang Prabang. It is also the best place to savour the skyline, sunrise, and sunset of Luang Prabang. The climb can take hours but it is definitely worth it. There are stop over at some point where you can take a glimpse of the temples and of the wonderful view. You do not also need to be an experienced athlete or hiker to reach the top.
To maximize your climb, try to go down on the other side to enjoy the best of both worlds. You can also buy some flowers and caged birds that you have to set free. This is a tradition for Laotian people which you can experience there.
The path going up is a total of 355 steps. You can also expect to see Wat Tham Phousi Shrine and the golden Wat Chomsi
Where the two rivers join.
Nam Khan River is another one which passes through Luang Prabang. Compared to the Mekong River, Nam Khan River is a gentler one.
It is characterized by the peaceful, calm, and spiritual atmosphere it gives. So if you want to just reflect and have a quiet time, Nam Khan River could be a good place for that. Since the river is calm, it is also ideal for kayaking.
As you kayak along the river, you can view the local life of people there. The view here is also breath taking and id definitely worth a visit.
The rainforest of Luang Prabang will surround you as you explore this river. You will also get to see some animals along the way which could be really wonderful and humbling.
This majestic river passes through several countries namely China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
This is why the Mekong River Commission was built. The Mekong is a dazzling stretch of 4,350 km which makes it the 12th longest river in the world (7th longest in Asia) and the 10th largest in the world. It is characterized by strong rapids and a plethora of waterfalls which is why it is not that ideal for navigation or transportation. Nevertheless, it still remains as one of the major routes used for trade among the members of the commission.
Since it passes through different regions, the Mekong has varying characteristics and features from climate to topography. It has an abundance of natural resources which are also managed by the commission.
The Mekong is also considered as one of the largest inland fisheries in the world.
Luang Prabang Wats
There are over a hundred monasteries in the region, these are some of the major ones.
Wat Pak Khan
Luang Prabang Wats
You will find this small but interesting temple along Sakarine Road. It still remains as a home to monks today who you can approach and befriend.
The temple’s name literally means “temple at the mouth of the Khan River” since Wat Pak Khan is located near the meeting place of Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers. There is a Buddha image inside the temple which people can view and pay respect to. The temple was originally built in the period between 1727 and 1776 by Phagna Chanthep under the reign of King Inta Som.
A renovation was done in the early years of the 20th century to repair some damaged areas.
The beauty of the place is derived from the intricate architecture and the sacredness of the place. The wats are characterized by the white walls and four windows on each side.
Wat Xieng Thong
Luang Prabang Wats
This is one of the most popular temples in Luang Prabang because of its rich history and captivating atmosphere.
Its beauty is remarkable and most probably the best example to show how beautiful the temples are in Luang Prabang. It was also used as the site where the kings of Laos are crowned. Some important events or ceremonies in Laos are also done here. The designs are very intricate and show the beauty of Laotian architecture. You can see very detailed carved walls and mosaics around the temple.
Of course, like some of the other temples in Luang Prabang, the two-tiered roof structure is also eminent. There are also images of Buddhists deities and symbols.
Some other features that you might get interested at are the drum tower, Triptaka Library, and the Funeral Carriage. Wat Xieng Thong literally means “Golden Tree Monastery”.
Luang Prabang Wats
Kuang Si Falls
This 3 tier waterfall is about 20 km south of Luang Prabang and popular with day visitors.
The lower and upper falls
Kuang Si Falls
This is another popular destination in Laos, It is just near the city if Luang Prabang.
Luang Si Falls is also called Tat Kuang Si locally. It is actually the biggest waterfall around the area of luang Parabang. It is characterized by its multiple tiers and 50 metre high peak where the water drops. If just staring and some photographs are not enough for you, you can also take a dip into the pool and savour the goodness of the turquoise blue water.
Below the falls
Kuang Si Falls
You could also take the path leading to the top to watch the stream which provides water to the falls. Along the way to the top, you will get to pass by some rice fields and Hmong village. You can meet some locals and see their daily life.
The Mekong River flows past Luang Prabang on its way south to Cambodia. River trips are popular with visitors to the town.
On river to Xang Hai Village
Take a river boat and visit a local village and the caves up river of Luang Prabang.
You can book a river tour along the bank of the river or from one of the many tour operators.
Xang Hai River Village
This village is actually more of a souvenir market place. It is very popular for its Lao Lao which is a home-made alcoholic drink.
The village is not specifically inside Luang Prabang but is near the vicinity. You could also purchase some handicrafts here as remembrance os your extraordinary trip in Laos.
Xang Hai is also dubbed by people as “Whisky Village”. If you are into this kind of stuff, it would be worthy to stop by. You could access it via car or via boat going to Tan Ting Caves.
On River to Pak Ou Cave
Pak Ou Caves refer to the two caves located near Pak Ou or the mouth of the Ou River and west of Mekong River. These caves are just two hours away from the city proper of Luang Prabang. There are actually many caves in the area but the two are the most in demand.
It is really worth a side trip and is actually very popular among visitors. The lower cave is called Tham Ting while the upper cave is called Tham Theung.
People are mostly looking forward to seeing the small images of Buddha that are scattered in the place.
There is a tradition of bringing here the Buddha images that are damaged already and are no longer displayed in temple altars.
Tan Ting Cave
Tan Ting/Tam Ting Caves is filled with spiritual and cultural atmosphere. This is why it is popular among pilgrims and tourists.
Tan Ting/Tam Ting Caves is filled with spiritual and cultural atmosphere. This is why it is popular among pilgrims and tourists. It houses around 5,000 statues and images of Buddha.
The caves have been here since the 15th century so they have witnessed a lot of important events most especially the merging of Buddhism and Animism in Laos. Tam ting is even recognized as the symbol of Laos’ national character.
There are also stupas, shrines, carvings, and wooden images of Buddha that you can find inside. Tan ting is a wonderful site so it would be a worthy side trip on your Luang Prabang visit.