Luang Prabang was the first place that we visited in Lao and from that first visit until today, it has been one of our favorite cities in the world. The beautiful river scenes and the unique mix of traditional wooden Lao structures, ancient stone monasteries, pagodas and other religious centers combined with appealing 18th and 19th century colonial construction earned the city designation as a UNESCO World Heritage center in 1985. Despite some recent more modern additions of a new (Chinese built) airport and larger hotels, it still holds on to the feel of a small community full of cultural, religious and artistic attractions.
There are now still over 30 Temples and 1,000 monks in Luang Prabang and the nearby region. Part of the charm of the city and a “must do” for any first time visitor is to witness the early morning procession of monks walking the city streets collecting alms from local villagers. If you choose to stay in a hotel in the older parts of the central area, chances are the monks will pass very close by each and every morning.
The old part of the city is centered in a peninsula formed by the Mekong and the Nam Khan Rivers. In the center of the old town is Mount Phousi where views of both rivers and the nearby mountain ranges present spectacular vistas.
In addition to being a political and religious center for the region, Luang Prabang is one of the great traditional weaving centers in all of Asia. The region is chock full of “weaving villages” like Phonesay, Ban Phanom and others like Ban Chan where weaving along with other crafts like paper and pottery making are long standing traditions. In some of these villages, virtually every house you pass has handmade wooden looms in shaded open air workspaces under stilted homes.
All of these local villages and crafts provide an abundance of high quality handmade products at affordable prices at the very robust Luang Prabang night market. In addition there is a great morning market where local produce and other food products are not only reasonably priced but in most cases, also delicious and safe to eat.
There are multiple day trips available from Luang Prabang like a river journey to the Pau Ok Caves of 1000 Buddhas and the Ban Xang Hai Lao Whiskey Village (which is yet another weaving village), the spectacular Kuang Si Waterfall and multiple elephant camps reflective of Lao’s historical moniker as the “Land of a Million Elephants”. And that’s just scratching the surface.
Luang Prabang has a long standing reputation as a center of a distinctive regional cuisine that has only been enhanced by young chefs from all over the world that have settled there to create their own interpretations of traditional recipes combining the best of the old with the new.
But perhaps the greatest attribute of Luang Prabang are the very friendly and kind local citizens. Just about everyone we’ve met there from hotel owners, restaurant staffs, tour operators, shopkeepers, market vendors, monks, tuk-tuk drivers and little ladies sitting on the their front step have greeted us with a smile. That atmosphere only makes Luang Prabang that much more attractive.