A visit to Luang Prabang is filled with life’s little luxuries and will almost certainly make you happy to be alive. It is also fascinating to observe the many similarities, intertwined histories and heritage shared between the countries and cultures of Laos and Thailand. With its combination of world-class comfort and spiritual zest, the ancient capital in Northern Laos slows your pulse and catches your imagination. And it’s a perfect and quick getaway especially for the Thai traveller, as readers of Thai will find they can also read Laos and communicate with locals – with Thai being one of up to five of the languages the locals can speak.
This UNESCO heritage town that sits at the revered confluence of the Mekong and Khan rivers is brimming with many things to do and see, with temples, saffron-clad monks, French-colonial villas and a mixture of Laotian and French fine cuisine. Here’s a list of little luxuries to consider doing during your next trip to Luang Prabang.
Buddhist Traditions and Temples
A trip to Lunag Prabang would not be complete without morning-alms-giving to the monks, usually starting at 5:45-6am. Stand in front of your hotel or head to Wat Sibounheuang and be prepared for swarms of monks to walk by while they hold out their bowls to receive food, usually sticky rice, fruit and milk.
Luang Prabang is teeming with beautiful temples that will catch – especially – the Thai eye, most notably because of their obvious similarity to Thai temples. Surrounded in beautiful gardens with age-old relics and golden shrines, a peace within awakens when walking around and taking in the meditations and greenery. Of particular interest are the majestic Wat Xiengthong and also Haw Pha Bang, a small temple inside the Royal Palace Museum, home to the late King Sisavang Vong and his family.
Also worth considering are the caves of Pak Ou, one of the most respected holy sites in Laos. With a history dating back thousands of years, the caves are packed with over 4,000 buddha images. The caves are set at a limestone cliff point between the Mekong and Nam Ou rivers.
Kuang Si Waterfall
This is the biggest waterfall in the Luang Prabang area, with three tiers leading to a 50-metre drop into spectacular azure pools you can swim in before flowing downstream. Before beginning the climb, about one minute upon entering the park, you can also witness Asiatic black bears (moon bears) sleeping in their habitat, forming part of the rescue centre, Free the Bears.
The walking trail to climb up along every tier of the waterfall is lined with gorgeous trees, flora and fauna. The pools are also a delight to swim in, proving very popular with both tourists and locals. There are wooden huts located close to the entrance where you can change clothes for swimming.
Very simple… Wherever you go, be sure to cycle there. You won’t be too bombarded with traffic either. You can bike everywhere, through the small scenic town or along the river. This is the transport of choice for travellers, keen to catch authentic glimpses of the Laotian town. Bikes can be easily rented on many street stops. If following a schedule is more your thing, we suggest taking a guided bike tour, of which there are many choose from which will allow you to see the different sides of Luang Prabang.
Luxury River Cruises
There’s no better – or luxurious – way to witness the mystical temples and untouched scenery of the golden triangle and the ancient Lao capital than by boat. And Mekong Kingdoms luxury cruises, our preferred choice, offers a selection of river cruises awash with the colonial romance of river travel, complemented with bespoke itineraries and a modern twist.
“Gypsy”, an ultra-exclusive two-cabin cruiser perfect for one or more nights along the Mekong for up to four passengers, is worth considering for those desiring a more intimate private cruise, personalised to their tastes, there is.
“Nomad” provides couples with an exclusive romantic getaway for sunset cruises in Luang Prabang and is for those shorter day trips in complete privacy. With sundeck, private room, and a sound system for 15 passengers, “Play” is a floating lounge ideal for private events or family adventurs. “Monsoon” is a scheduled touring shuttle to the Pak Ou caves with canapés, coffee, tea and soft drinks, offering a more lavish way to visit the sacred site.
Laos Buffalo Dairy Farm
If you want to see something quite out of the ordinary – especially to the locals – in Laos, a visit to Laos’ first Buffalo Dairy Farm is essential. Pet, feed and clean the buffaloes and the other animals living on the farm, sip on buffalo-milk lattes, try real buffalo mozzarella cheese and have a buffalo-milk ice-cream while you’re at it! This is a socially-responsible enterprise consisting of a commercial dairy and production facility that makes buffalo dairy products such as yogurt, cheese and ice cream for local and overseas customers. Renting buffalos from local farmers and villagers so they have a regular income and also giving buffaloes and calves a better life through a well-thought-through care process, the farm is making a difference for the lives of many beings. The buffalo yogurt, mozzarella, ricotta, ice-cream and cheese cake produced at this farm are set up to supply local restaurants, hotels and supermarkets in Luang Prabang and throughout Laos.
The great thing about Luang Prabang is the number of absolutely stunning and unbelievably priced antiques you can buy there. From silver and brassware to beautiful collector’s items worthy of Sotheby’s, a trip to Luang Prabang will be truly beneficial to your home, especially if you’ve just moved in or are re-decorating. Shops to check out include Anakha Lifestyle Boutique, Asiama Gallery, Ma Té Sai, Caruso Lao and any one of the many shops along Sisavangvong Road. Also worth checking out is the Luang Prabang Night Market.
Ock Pop Tok
If you’re into textiles or looking for some gorgeous fashion-statement-fabrics, a visit to Ock Pop Tok – one of the most important textile and artisanal institutions in all of Laos and South East Asia pioneering social business and ethical fashion – is a must. Ock Pop Tok curates a visually gorgeous selection of hand loomed textiles from over fifteen ethnic groups in Laos. It also offers visitors hands on workshops in silk and cotton weaving, dyeing, Hmong batik and bamboo weaving. Be sure to stop by for lunch at the Silk Road Café, which houses an East meets West concept using local ingredients – some even from the garden! – overlooking the Mekong River.
For more things to do and see in Laos, and for a comprehensive list of places to stay, please visit www.visit-laos.com. Look out for our August 2018 print issue where we review AVANI+ Luang Prabang, the recently opened luxury hotel set in the heart of the ancient captial.