It is surprising that I came to know about Laos only couple of years back (when the travel bug had not bit me yet) on a TV show which featured the alms giving ceremony. It slowly faded never really featuring on my ‘to visit’ places till I saw one of the travel contests featuring Luang Prabang in Laos. The emerald green falls stayed with me vividly in my memory till i had a chance to visit Laos on a FAM trip. The itinerary had all the possible amazing places a travel fanatic would wish to visit so here’s a list of 10 must visit attractions under Luang Prabang Timeless.
Oh Luang Prabang, you’re simply Beautiful is Laos tourism tagline and I couldn’t agree more. Lush green mountains, undulating river valley, French colonial style architecture and wats or temples is what make Luang Prabang beautiful.
1. Get mesmerized by Tak Bat: Alms giving ceremony
Luang Prabang is probably the only place in the world where Buddhist monks still collect food from the local people everyday at sunrise as a part of the age old tradition. Everyday at around 5:30 am monks of all ages clad in their saffron robes collect cooked rice in their ceramic pots. Tourists can participate in the alms giving ceremony, as it is one of the highest tourist attractions. You can buy rice from the vendors selling it on the streets and offer the monks only a spoonful, otherwise the pots tend to become heavy and i saw some of them throwing it in bins.
2. Swim in the Kuang si Waterfalls
The Kuang Si Waterfalls are located 23 km south of Luang Prabang and it takes about 45-60 minutes to reach from the centre of town.When you arrive, walk along a marked trail to reach the first set of pools. You will probably see a lot of people swimming and it will most certainly tempt you to dive in. But before you do, it is best to check out the entire area, decide on the right pool and then swim in the best!
Continue on the trail uphill and notice how the pools get bigger with cleaner waters. Do notice small waterfalls cascading over limestone rocks, thick trees engulfing the entire area overhead and small fishes at your feet – like a fish spa. You can swim in the waters or go up the waterfalls for a quick trek. No matter what you decide to do, you will certainly fall in love with the place.
3. Cruise on the mighty and rusty coloured Mekong river
Mekong river has been the lifeline for the landlocked country of Laos and is one of the most important rivers in the six South Asian countries that it flows through. You cannot miss Mekong at it is probably the first and last thing you will see in Luang Prabang. It is visible from the aircraft, from the hotels in city center and you will probably end up eating dinner on its banks on most days. I’d highly recommend the morning breakfast at Saffron Cafe and dinner at Bille Rive.
Hop on to a boat which can take you on a ride over Mekong river and may be also visit some Laotian villages. Soak in the earthy colour of Mekong against the limestone mountains which forms a spectacular sight.
4. Enjoy the panoramic views of Luang Prabang from Mount Phou Si
The Mount Phou Si, translates to sacred mountain, is located in the heart of Luang Prabang and rests at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan river. The mountain is about 100 meters high and has 355 steps for a climb up and a popular sight with visitors of the city.
If you are up for a hike, choose a time at the sunset to soak in the peaceful views of Luang Prabang from the peak.
5. The Royal Palace Museum
The museum is also known as “Haw Kham” and in early days was the country’s Royal Palace. This the is the best place to know about the history of Laos. It was built in 1904 for the King Sisavang Vong, and like the town, is the perfect blend of French and Lao architecture. The palace was converted into a national museum and opened to the public in 1995.
There are several buildings in the palace compound including the Royal Barge Shelter, a conference hall, and Haw Pha Bang (a ornate pavilion) that houses the standing Buddha statue called Prabang.
6. Night market
This is one of the not to miss features in Luang Prabang. Popular for Lao street food and souvenirs, the night market is a closed for vehicles between 5 pm to 10 pm everyday as it turns into a colorful and eventful place. Local community members set up temporary stalls and display the materials for sale. Lao coffee, indigo dyed clothes, bed sheets, purses, handicrafts and artifacts are all sold here. And like all south east asian countries, even Snake whisky. Read about Vietnamese snake whiskey here. There are money exchange shops on the street so don’t worry if you run out of the local currency Kiep. The best part is they accept US dollars and even Thai Baht if you do not have local currency at all!
The night market is also a foodie heaven and you can try delicious yet inexpensive street food like Tam Mak Hoong (Papaya Salad), Khao Niaw (Sticky Rice), Mok Pa (Steamed fish in banana leaves), Khao Piak Sen (Noodle Soup), Naem Khao Tod (Crispy Rice Salad), fried seaweed, etc.
7. Get blessed at the temples
Wat Phon Phao, Wat Aham, Wat Mahathat, That Chomsi, Wat Pa Phai, Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham, That Makmo, Royal Temple.. the list is endless. Each temple is unique with elaborate art and intricate designs – wood carvings, Buddha murals and even Laotian festival depicted on the walls of temples. The designs and colour will definitely catch your eye and you are guaranteed to feel blessed and mesmerized with its beauty and tranquility.
8. Visit the traditional Laotian village and experience the Baci ceremony
Baci (locally called Pha Kwan) is a ceremony to celebrate a special event, welcoming guests, homecoming, wedding, birth, or conducted even during Loatian festivals. The baci ceremony set up consists of a silver dish or bowl on a white cloth in the center of the room. On its top is a cone made from banana leaves and contains flowers. This setup is connected with long white cotton threads.
A village elder generally conducts the ceremony and the person for whom it is being conducted sits opposite to him. He chants some verses wherein the person is supposed to hold the thread from opposite side. After that a group of senior local women tie these white threads around the of person’s wrists and offer blessings. Fruits, snacks and eggs which are offered during the ceremony are later distributed amongst the participating persons.
After the ceremony, everyone shares a meal as a member of the community. The meal consists of sticky rice, local vegetables, soup served with chicken and fish, etc.
9. Taste sustainable cheese
Laos Buffalo dairy farm was started as a social enterprise and on the concept of sustainability. Located approximately 40 kms from Luang Prabang, the dairy is great half a day activity which is a must visit. You can read more about it here.
10. Visit Pak Ou caves
Extend the Mekong river to visit the pak ou caves which are famous for the Buddha structures in varying shapes and sizes. Pak means mouth and the two caves at the mouth of the Ou River are Tham Ting and Tham Theung. The caves are revered as a place for spirituality and were thought to be occupied by spirits by the animists. Later Buddhist monks started bringing the Buddha statues to the cave.