The rickety van shuddered into the streets of our final destination: Luang Prabang. The air was noticeably cooler than when we had boarded the van several hours earlier in Viang Vieng. Perhaps because we were higher up? Maybe it was simply because it was later in the day? I wasn’t sure.
Home to over 30 majestic temples, Luang Prabang is an ancient city that lies deep in a valley in Northern Laos. It has been declared a World Heritage site since 1994, described as the ‘jewel of Indochina’, and is considered the most important town of Shangliao in Laos.
Despite visiting Laos three times, this was my first trip as far north as Luang Prabang. I was very excited, in good company and keen to explore.
It is recommended to stay in the city for at least 3 days as there is a lot to see and do in and out of the centre.
The best things to do in the city are to visit the Xat Xieng Thong temple, an impressive monastery that’s over 400 years old, taking a stroll through the old quarter to absorb the cultural atmosphere and browse the shops, and educating yourself about the horrific monstrosities that happened to Laos during the Vietnamese war at the UXO Lao visitor centre.
At night the city completely transforms. A spectacular night market takes over the streets selling everything from souvenirs to food, artwork to clothes.
The energy at the night market is more chilled than other markets in parts of Asia. The vendors are more relaxed and there is not too much pressure to buy anything.
We wandered up and down the stalls gazing at everything on sale asking ourselves the same question on repeat; ‘Wow, I want that, but do I have space for it in my backpack?’. My friend, still to this day,has a beautiful lamp in her living room she bought at the night market back in 2016.
However, what makes Luang Prabang truly special starts at 4am every morning. As the sun starts to rise, hundreds of monks dressed in almost saffron-coloured robes line the streets to collect food and personal items in alm bowls. Known as ‘Sai Bat’, the daily ritual takes place between 5am-6am and is a must see for anyone visiting. Just try to be respectful and brush up on the do’s and don’ts. Remember that this is a daily ritual and something that is deeply spiritual to many people, not a tourist attraction, so be mindful.
The reasons to visit Luang Prabang are not limited to the city itself.
For just a couple of dollars, you can take a short boat ride down the Mekong River. Keen to make the most of mother nature, we booked a trip for sunset so we could see our surroundings with a golden back drop. It did not disappoint!
Another, and in my humble opinion, best thing to do in Luang Prabang is head to the Kuang Si waterfalls. Less than an hour drive from the city centre, the 3-tier waterfall boasts turquoise waters and stunning viewpoints in a thick jungle backdrop.
The numerous scattered pools, as well as the main waterfalls themselves are an extremely inviting escape from the tropical heat, so don’t forget to take a bathing suit.
To climb to the top of the main 200ft high waterfall can be quite a challenging short and steep climb, but the rope swing and viewpoints at the top are worth it if you’re brave enough. The hordes of tourists visiting the Kuang Si falls can be quite distracting, so a visit during off-peak hours would be a must if I was lucky enough to return.