Luang Prabang is a place I loved, and yet am unsure if I ever want to return to. A UNESCO World Heritage Site of around 50,000 residents, the town sits at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. What makes it so appealing may also lead to it’s inevitable downfall, as more and more travelers flock to it’s serene banks. Inexpensive hotels and guest houses abound along with a variety of great restaurants, both international and of local Laotian cuisine. The thriving night market is made up of street after street of astonishing handmade goods, and the daily Alms offering to the monks is a highlight. All of this, combined with great natural beauty, makes Luang Prabang an easy to place to fall in love with.
The former capital of the Kingdom of Laos, the city is known for it’s numerous Buddhist temples and monasteries. At the top of the one real hill in town sits Wat Chom Si, and throughout town the Buddhist culture is thriving. Each morning at 6:00am the monks walk along Sakkaline Road to collect the offerings. This tradition, sadly, is one that has nearly been ruined by the tourist trade. Unscrupulous merchants have been known to sell unsafe food to the tourists, causing some illness among the monks. In addition, many travelers dress inappropriately, while cameras flashing merely increases the in-authenticity of the offerings. If you want to attend the alms giving, be respectful, buy your offerings from the market or prepare them yourself, and be mindful of the sanctity of the tradition.
Outside of town, the Kuang Si Falls are a highlight day trip, while others take in numerous options for hiking or elephant trekking.
Our time in Luang Prabang was spent simply enjoying the culture of Northern Laos. We wandered for hours each day, taking in the gorgeous architecture, while enjoying frequent rest stops for snacks, shopping, and foot massage. Our guest house, Villa Sokxai 2, was lovely with just seven rooms and easy walking distance to everything.
Luang Prabang is picture-postcard SE Asia with palm lined riverbanks, terracotta rooftops, and golden stupas, all interspersed with saffron clad monks. Being exactly what travelers expect Laos to be, Luang Prabang delivers, all while attempting to accomodate more and more visitors. The one thing that may save the city is it’s Unesco rating. I can only hope that the powers that be appreciate what a gem this town is, and keep it safe from the type of over-touristed mayhem that has befallen other cities in Laos, such as Vang Vieng.
Go now, while it’s still pristine, if not undiscovered. Leave it better than you found it, and appreciate the beauty and culture of this amazing place.