Luang Prabang| Travel Guide
Time stands still in this ancient capital of Laos. Your mind enters a next level of peace and spiritual enlightenment. The town is very small, almost village-like and sits along the meeting points of Nam Khan River and Mekong River. The aura of the “sabai sabai” Laotian lifestyle can be felt no matter what part of town you are in. The entire town is a designated UNESCO Heritage site and the moment you arrive, it becomes apparent as to why: Monks in saffron colored robes, stunning 33 Buddhist Temples, Indochinese villas, a diverse cuisine and soulfully content folks. As if that wasn’t enough, the entire town is surrounded by lush green mountains. This is a place that can make your soul happy, it certainly did for us.
FYI – Laos is its own country. A lot of misconception exists that it is part of Vietnam or Thailand.
Places to See
Wat Xieng Thong
|Wat Xieng Thong|
This Buddhist temple is a historic masterpiece with the original temple dating back to 1560’s. Much needed remodeling occurred around 1960’s but it was done so with care and not taking away from the original architecture of the Laotian temple. Located on the northernmost tip of the town, right where the two rivers meet, it is the oldest standing Wat (aka temple) in Luang Prabang. If you go there around 5 pm, you can sit in on the monks performing their evening chants.
Words can’t describe the feeling, you have to experience it. Just be sure to actually let your mind go and take the experience in for its entirety. 20,000 Kip will get you a ticket to see the magnificent royal funeral home, the Wat itself, the tree of life, and the stupas surrounding the Wat. We went back here often, there was no way you could resist the allure of this temple. An absolute must see!!!!
Take the steps down to the right of the Wat Xieng thong all the way to the banks of Mekong River during sunset and you will see the sun setting in the lush green mountains and the reflections in the river. It is quite a breathtaking view.
Deep Ruby shades with gold intricate details weave through this Wat. It is said to be a temple of 100,000 treasures and when you look up to the ceiling to gaze at the scriptures and writings, you will see why.
Built in 1718, it has several different buildings once you enter the premises. A tall standing Buddha Chapel and the big row boats are the main attraction along with the Wat itself. Same as Wat Xieng Thong, you can sit in on the monks chanting around 5 pm-ish. No fee to enter this Wat and a definite must see!
Suggestion: Go here during daytime to walk around and see the scriptures on the ceiling. It’s slightly harder to see them in the evening light.
Handicraft Night Market
Every night, the Lao people block a couple of streets off and set up the night market from 5pm to 11pm. The hours might change based on the weather. Most of the souvenirs are hand made by different ethnic groups and are unique to Laos. The market is set up with colorful tents and lights and is bustling with tourists. Bargaining is encouraged and the souvenirs are affordable. We were like kids in a candy story when we got to the night market. We wanted to buy everything in sight. If you want to buy souvenirs or if you just want to do window shopping don’t forget to stop by the night market.
|Bodhi donated all the way from India|
If you are a sunset junkie, then you must make the climb!! The views of the sunset are stunning but what’s even better, the view of Luang Prabang. You will also observe many temples on the way up and down to pray at along with some stunning Buddha Statues.
Fun Fact : The mountain is named after Sita from the Ramayana ( Si for Sita)
Note – You may be offered birds in a cage to free and make a wish on, but please stay away from that. The birds that are freed are usually caught again and put back in the cages.
Kuang Si Falls
Book tickets ahead of time as these falls are an hour away from the city of Luang Prabang.
These falls look like you are staring at a painting of some kind but they are REAL and they are breathtaking. These are giant waterfalls that branch into three cascading pools. Don’t forget to pack a swimsuit and towels.
Pak Ou Caves
Pak ou caves overlook the Mekong River and are about 2 hours upstream from the center of Luang Prabang. These caves transport you back in time. There are a lot of miniature Buddhist sculptures that are laid out over the wall shelves. These sculptures age from thousands of years back to recent days. People visiting these caves leave Buddha statues and now there are hundreds of them. These sculptures take many different positions; including meditation, teaching, peace, and reclining. The journey to these caves felt surreal. We boarded these beautiful boats that took us up the Mekong river. We had a stunning view of the hills and locals working in the fields next to the river. It is a historical experience that you don’t want to miss; Don’t forget to book tickets ahead of time.
Things to do
Alms Giving Ceremony
This experience was truly humbling just like our whole stay in Luang Prabang. The Alms Giving Ceremony takes place every day in the early morning hours when the monks collect food for their one meal a day. Tourists are welcome to participate in this ceremony and give alms to the monks. Photography is also allowed; however, flash photography is disrespectful and not appreciated. The monks portray self-discipline and self-mastery and can teach one to appreciate the little things in life.
This restaurant was one of our favorites. The food here is freshly cooked and tastes amazing. Definitely, try the warm noodles and the Tamarind coolers, they are going to make you keep going back.
Highly recommend this place for evening drinks. They have amazing mojitos, free Wi-fi, and a friendly staff. This place also stands out from its neighbors because of its sophisticated and cozy decor. Located close to the night market, we found it easy to rest here after spending a couple of hours at the market.
Wander the streets
This is something we wished we had more time doing. The positive energy you feel from wandering the streets of Luang Prabang is unlike any other place. The people here are friendly and the streets are populated with monks and gorgeous temples. You can also take a break from walking and sit by the lake in silence. Life slows down here and your soul attains the peace it longs for.
This is an absolute must do! You will get to experience music from a bamboo instrument, a little bit of singing and animated storytelling which is their traditional art form. The story-tellers keep your interest throughout the whole event and add humor to the stories.
Keep in Mind
Visa is needed to enter the country. You can find out how to apply for a visa by clicking here. You also have an option of applying for visa on arrival.
Laotians use non-exchangeable currency which means you can’t purchase their currency outside their country. A lot of places do take dollars; however, it would be wise to exchange money at the airport when you land. Also remember most places don’t take cards, so have extra cash on hand. You can easily get the dollars exchanged for Kip throughout the town.
We have never felt much safer at any other place. The whole vibe of the city puts you at ease. With that being said make sure you follow your general safety rules like not walking around at night in secluded streets and always remember to hold onto your belongings.
The best way to get around the city is by foot. The entire city of Luang Prabang is walkable. Get a map and start exploring! If walking is not an option there are lots of Tuk Tuk’s available. Tuk Tuk’s are 3 wheeled taxis and can be found everywhere. They are very affordable means of transportation and fun to travel in.
While there are plenty of places to choose from for your stay, we HIGHLY recommend The Chang Inn. We loved our stay, it is a small house and you have your own room with bathroom. It is very comfy, cozy and rustic. The staff goes above and beyond to take care of your needs at any time of the day. Plus, you will be right next to ALL of the beautiful wats.
Shoulder and legs have to be covered when visiting temples as a sign of respect. Some temples also offer skirts that you can buy prior to entering the temple. As mentioned before flash photography during the alms ceremony is rude and should be avoided. Tourists should also keep a distance while observing the ceremony without distracting the monks. Monks appreciate talking to tourists to practice their English; however keep in mind to talk to a group of monks at the same time as opposed to a single monk.
|Laotian Monk with his students|
|View from Mount Phousi|
Apologies for the picture overload!
This post was co-authored by Jenie Babu
Until Next time..
-Dhara & Jenie