The crown jewel of Laos and former Lanexang kingdom, Luang Prabang, at the confluence of the Nam Kham and the Mekong River, is perhaps the best-preserved traditional city in Southeast Asia. Magical and charming, it has maintained its long-standing reputation as a stronghold of Lao culture with its delightful mountain encircled setting, the lovely Royal Palace and more than 30 half-millennium old temples such as Vat Xieng Thong, Vat Visoun, Vat Mai and Vat Sene. Nearby are the sacred Pak Ou Caves housing thousands of statues representing Lord Buddha. In 1995 UNESCO voted Luang Prabang as a World Heritage City and in 2005, it was selected by the UK travel agents as the most visited city in the world. Another interesting place nearby is Nong Khio, which can be reached either by traditional or by boat along Nam Ou River – also worth a visit, is the natural cave in Muang Ngoy, accessible from Nong Khio by boat.
Where to stay?
Several traditional colonial villas have been painstakingly restored in to boutique hotel. These hotels are charming places to stay, integrating modern conveniences in to elegant, traditional settings. Some of our favorites include Villa Maly, a 33-room residence situated amidst tranquil gardens. 3 Nagas Located in the heart of Luang Prabang, this elegant boutique hotel comprises three buildings more than a century old, steeped in Lao tradition yet embracing the best of modern comforts. Situated on a flower-filled lane, running along the right bank of the Nam Khan River, the Apsara Rive Droite has nine huge, glamorous rooms, all with their own veranda or terrace, overlooking the heart of Luang Prabang. The Belle Rive Boutique Hotel offers luxury accommodation and tranquillity for independent travellers with high standards. The Apsara is right in the heart of the heritage town, making it the perfect place to stay. Kiridara is an elegant, contemporary boutique hotel located in the mystical city of Luang Prabang. Our 24 room boutique hotel scaled on a hillside and surrounded by native teak forests, offers panoramic views of Mount Phou Si, with easy access to central Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang features four top luxury hotels. La Residence Phou Vao enjoys a prime location, offering exquisite accommodation and providing the perfect blend of service and style. Overlooking the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, this luxury hotel and spa offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and numerous temples. Once home to Laotian royalty, Maison Souvannaphoum Hotel offers visitors intimate colonial-style accommodation with a touch of the contemporary. Set on a large garden estate, Amantaka Resort is housed in graceful French colonial buildings. Airy and elegant throughout, the décor and furnishings reflect the town’s French colonial history. Situated just south of Phousi Hill, the resort is within strolling distance of the boutiques and restaurants lining the town’s main street. Hotel de la Paix Luang Prabang is built on a UNESCO World Heritage site in the former royal capital of Laos. Our boutique resort hotel fuses colonial charm with contemporary elegance in one of the finest all suite luxury hotels in the region.
What to do and see in Luang Prabang?
Exploring Luang Prabang is easily done on foot or by bicycle, or an air conditioned car. The main sites of the city lie along its peninsula, formed by the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers. In the centre of this peninsula is a massive hill, called Mount Phousi.Climb the 328 stairs to the top for sweeping views of the city and surrounding hills. Descend and visit the former Royal Palace, now the National Museum, to explore the history of Laos. Continue to Wat Mai, a temple renowned for its golden bas-relief, and Wat Sensoukarahm, which features a beautiful dazzling golden façade. You should not miss the spectacular Wat Xieng Thong, the most revered temple in Luang Prabang which is located at the end of the peninsula, close to the Mekong.
There are many other things to do in Luang Prabang. Visit the Heritage Information Center. Here you will learn about the methods being used to preserve the unique heritage and culture of Luang Prabang as well as gain further understanding in to the importance of developing sustainable and community-based preservation projects. The Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre is dedicated to exploring the rich diversity of Laos’ ethnic minorities. Traditional costumes, tools, and artifacts are on display alongside in-depth descriptions and written histories. It is a great opportunity to gain insight in to the Lao people.
Stop at Ock Pop Top, a non-profit organization seeking to preserve traditional weaving techniques. You can spend an afternoon there learning about the process of silk weaving from the creation of dyes to the final process of loom weaving.
In the evening, attend the Royal Ballet Theater. The spectacular performance includes scenes from the Lao-Ramayana, traditional folk dances and tribal dances. Or spend the evening hours wandering through the night market. Every evening stalls set up on the peaceful streets with vendors from various hill tribes selling their wares.
For early risers, there is a very special dawn visit to watch the monks collecting the alms. As the sun begins to rise, long lines of orange-robed monks leave their pagodas and walk barefoot down the streets collecting offerings from Luang Prabang residents. It is a beautiful, serene ceremony that highlights the spiritualism of the Laos people. Although it’s easy to get swept up in the slow pace of life of Luang Prabang, there are many interesting excursions in the area.
Take a boat ride along the Mekong River to Pak Ou Caves, locally called Tam Ting, and contains thousands of gold lacquered Buddha statues crammed into two caves carved out of a towering limestone cliff.
Head 32 km out of town to the Kuangsi Waterfall. These waterfalls cascade down a multilevel limestone formation creating a series of turquoise blue pools perfect for swimming in on a hot day. The jungle and dense woods surrounding the falls is filled with wildlife and pleasant walks can be taken along the natural footpaths. Travel to the surrounding wilderness areas where you can ride an elephant from the jungles to the waterfalls. This breathtaking experience is a great way to get up close to one of Asia’s favourite animals.
For an incredible overnight journey, travels up the Mekong River to Kamu Lodge. This eco-lodge was built and operated by the local villagers, members of the Kamu people. Guests are not only treated to an overnight stay in a spectacular setting, but there are many activities on offer designed to incorporate you with the local culture and way of life.
Luang Prabang – Attractions
The Royal Palace built in 1904 is relatively new by Luang Prabang standards and is a hybrid of traditional Lao and colonial French design. The palace is now a museum with numerous exhibits on the daily lives and religious beliefs of Lao people. It also houses the Royal throne of the Kingdom of Lane Xang and other religious treasures and a replica of the golden Pra Bang, an 83 cm statue of gilded bronze that depicts calmness and tranquility.
Wat Xieng Thong
Wat Xieng Thong is one of the most important temples in the country of Laos. The word "wat" in Lao means temple, in this case, the Temple of the Golden City. Wat Xieng Thong is very old, built around 1560 by King Setthathirat, a patron of Buddhism, who ruled Laos from 1548 to 1571. The temple is located in a beautiful garden on the bank of the Mekong River where the Nam Khan, a smaller river runs into it.
Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham
Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham is worth a visit, especially at dusk when you are likely to hear the murmuring chants of monks praying. Wat Mai is the biggest Budhhist temple in Luang Prabang. Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham means The New Monastery of the Golden Land. It is located along Sisavang Vong Road (Thanon Phothisalat), close to the Royal Palace Museum.
Phou Si Mount
Phou Si, meaning Holy Mountain in Lao, has an excellent view over town. It is bordered on one side by the Mekong River and on the other side by the Khan River. The temple is striking from a distance but can be disappointing up close. Many people gather here to watch the sunset or sunrise and chat to the novice monks.
Pak Ou Caves
Pak Ou, 25 km of Luang Prabang, can be reached by a pleasant cruise on the Mekong river. There are two caves which, as a pilgrimage site, have accumulated a multitude of Buddha statues of all shapes and sizes. Across the river is the nice village of Ban Xang Hai.
Ban Xang Hai Village
Near Pak Ou caves, downriver towards Luang Prabang is the village of Ban Xang Hai, famous for its manufacture of rice whiskey. Ban Xang Hai, a small village near Luang Prabang, is an example of the very rapid development the region has experienced over the past five years.
Ban Phanom Village
Situated 4 km from Luang Prabang is a small village famous for weaving. Ban Lu or Lu village of Ban Phanom, only 2.5 km from the center of Luang Prabang town is famous for cotton and silk weaving, and some beautifully hand-crafted souvenirs. The Lu people of Ban Phanom came originally from Sip Song Panna in the southern Chinese province of Yunnan, having been invited by King Kitsarath.
Khuang Si Waterfalls
About 30km south of Luang Prabang the spectacular Khuang Si Waterfalls is located deep in the forest, away from human habitation. The falls has a covered area for eating and there are several stalls serving simple Lao food and drink. It is perfect for rest and relaxation. On the way to the falls, quaint villages with their traditional hydro-rice mills can be also visited.
The Baci Ceremony
This ceremony to realign the 32 Khouan (spirits) that inhabit human bodies. Locals believe that the Khouan work to protect the people from illness, sadness, and general malice in everyday life. The blessing is overseen by a Mo Phon (master of ceremonies) who makes sure that the Khouan are aligned in the right way. After the ceremony, guests are invited to enjoy a special Laotian meal comprised of many renowned local dishes.
Tad se waterfall
Take a boat trip on the upper khan river and visit the scenic location of the Tad Sae Waterfall. Stroll past the local elephant herd and encounter a waterfall that literally flows out of the jungle. Weather permitting, the limestone pools offer a refreshing swim on a hot day.
Guests have the opportunity to visit the elephant camp near the Tad Se Waterfall to discover more about these majestic creatures. Visitors are also free to experience the thrill of an Elephant Ride with a mahout guide, who will direct the elephant through forests and rivers.
Plain of Jars
Among the most enigmatic sites in Laos is the Plain of Jars, a large area extending around Phonesavanh city in Xieng Khouang province, where several hundred huge jars of unknown origin are scattered about in over a dozen groupings. The jars, carved from solid stone, vary in shape and in size, the biggest one weighing as much as six tons. The area, which was heavily bombed during the Indochina and Vietnam Wars, is home to a large Hmong community. Xieng Khouang province is also known for its trekking tours and home stays, for the visiting and discovering of the new plain of jars site nearby various remote minority villages.