Take a day to experience the real Laos and explore the sights, smells, sounds and colours of charming Luang Prabang.
Small, perfectly formed, and with a pervasive charm that has made it one of the most popular destinations in south-east Asia, UNESCO-listed Luang Prabang lies in the north central region of Laos on the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. Former French rule has left Luang Prabang with an intriguing mix of traditional wooden houses and a hint of European architectural aesthetics, making it a place where Buddha sits side by side with shuttered windows that wouldn’t look out of place in Paris. If you’re lucky enough to visit, here’s how to spend a day absorbing its sights, sounds, smells and colours.
Rise and shine! Make the most of the day by waking up just before dawn to witness a unique Buddhist alms ceremony, as a procession of monks in traditional saffron-coloured robes collect offerings of rice and fruit from the locals and tourists. You can join in if you wish; or, if you’d rather not leave your hotel too early, you can watch them go by over breakfast in the relaxing open-air riverside restaurant at Sala Prabang.
Monks collecting alms at first light in Luang Prabang
After breakfast, visit the Phousi market to experience the sights and smells of unusual local produce such as dried buffalo skin. When the bustle of the market gets too much, seek refuge in the tranquillity of Vat Xieng Toung, Luang Prabang’s oldest and most beautiful monastery, the sweeping, low roof of which gives you a good impression of traditional Laotian architecture.
Experience traditional Laotian street food for lunch by heading to an alleyway just off the Sisavangvong Road, where you’ll be spoilt for choice of local cuisine from just a couple of dollars per dish. Try the rice crêpes stuffed with pork and mushrooms - they’re delicious.
The markets of Luang PrabangWalk off lunch with a saunter around Haw Kham, the National Museum, which is housed at the former Royal Palace and contains a fascinating array of objects (labelled in English) dating from Laos’s earliest kings to its most recent. If you have time afterwards, the stunning golden temple of Vipassana is well worth a visit.
As the sun starts to set, make your way up to the summit of Mount Phousi to enjoy a stunning sunset vista as the sun goes down over the Mekong River. Look out for the golden temple as you enjoy the sweeping panoramic views that will reward your climb.
As a town at altitude, the relative cool of the evening will allow you to explore the Night Market, on the road near the Royal Palace, which is the ideal place to buy souvenirs to remember your trip by. In particular, look out for textiles handmade by the local hill tribe and get ready for some good-natured haggling with the market traders, who aren’t nearly as pushy as they are in many other markets in this part of Asia.
Sunset over the Mekong River from a local monastery
For dinner, head to the banks of the Mekong River and while away the rest of the evening over some mouthwatering Laotian food in one of the many riverside restaurants. You won’t find nightclubs here, but with so many restaurants and so much atmosphere, who needs those?
Budget (USD) Throughout Luang Prabang's old town you will find a delicious selection of budget and mid-range eateries serving local favourites from as little as $5 per person. Entrance to the major sights and museums should not exceed $15 for the day.