Luang Prabang – A Laos travel guide for first-time visitors

Laos, being once considered among the least developed countries in the Southeast Asia, has developed much in the past 2 decades. Its tourism also saw a considerable movement and has become a potential destination for foreigners; especially after the expansion of city airport in 2012. If you are planning your Laos travel, make sure not to skip Luang Prabang. This blog is going to show you the most basic elements of this ancient city.

 

General information

Luang Prabang, or in another word “Royal Buddha Image”, was the officially royal capital and the seat of Laos’ Government until 1975. Situating in the north central, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is well – known thanks to its well preserved architecture, rich source of religion, cultural sites and traditions. The city also has a harmony of ancient and modern traits; combining in it a French colonial influence during the 19th and 20th centuries.

 

Luang Prabang - Laos travel
Old quarter of Luang Prabang

Geographically, Luang Prabang is 300km away from Vientiane Laos, the capital. It is 700m above sea level, lying at the confluence of Nam Khan and Mekong rivers. The weather here is a typically tropical type in Southeast Asia, which divides into 2 distinct seasons: dry and wet season. Wet season lasts from April to October and dry season is the remaining months. All year round, Luang Prabang enjoys a warm weather but remarkably cooler in December and January. The highest temperature can get up to 39 Celsius Degree while the lowest point can be 15. If you are looking for the best time to travel, the answer is from November to March; when the Laos weather is rather dry and cool. However, January falls to the peak season for tourism as many festivals take place.

 

Kwang Si Waterfall - Laos travel
Kwang Si Waterfall – a symbol of great nature in Luang Prabang

Must-dos in Luang Prabang

This city is not only blessed with magnificent landscape but also profound historical and spiritual sites. As a result, there are many things to see in Luang Prabang.

Ways to explore the city

As a traveler, you will find yourself standing in front of various ways to explore Luang Prabang, such as trekking, cycling, kayaking or rafting. To many people, trekking is a must-do in Laos travel. From the centre of Luang Prabang, you can do trekking to some remote Hmong and Khmu ethnic villages, Kuang Si waterfall, Tad Sae waterfall, Pak Ou caves, etc. Bicycling is also a common activity for enthusiastic explorers. There are some cycling day trips that allow you to go to rural villages and mountains, or the traditional craft village such as Pottery Village. Kayaking is usually added in the trekking and cycling tour. One of the most famous kayaking area in Luang Prabang is Nam Xeuang River and Nam Khan River.

 

Luang Prabang - Laos travel
A cycling trail in Luang Prabang

Watching Alms giving

Laos in general and Luang Prabang in specific are home to numerous Buddhist Temples and monasteries. As a result, watching Alms giving takes place is advised by many travelers. This is a very revered tradition for local people, tourists are not forbidden from involving in the ritual, as long as they can show the respect. Alms giving is a daily ceremony and starts as the sun rises. You should buy offerings, usually food, and then knee down to give your offerings to monks.

 

Alms giving - Luang Prabang
Watching Alms giving takes place is advised by many travelers

Royal Palace Museum

If you have limited time in Luang Prabang, you should pay visit to Royal Palace Museum, where you can grab a lot of knowledge about history and culture of the city. The museum is in a spacious garden on one of the main boulevards of Luang Prabang. This complex used to be the residence of the king with a French colonial style design. The palace was transformed into museum and opened to public since 1995 when the Communist came to power in 1975. Coming here, you will have chance to see the royal house of the king in the pass, which of course was well maintained and renovated. Besides, you can also visit an area of exhibition that shows the royal religious objects, weapons, statues, paintings from the history of Laos.

 

Royal Palace museum
Royal Palace museum – a view from outside

Wat Xieng Thong

Additionally, you should put Wat Xieng Thong in your list of temples in Luang Prabang. Also known as “Golden Tree Monastery”, this site is said to be a great work and represents Luang Prabang’s Buddhist Temples. This site witnessed the coronation of Laos King. Hence it became very significant and famous to both domestic and foreign travelers within Laos tours.

 

Wat Xieng Thong
Unique architecture of Wat Xieng Thong

Shopping in Luang Prabang

Similar to Vientiane, Luang Prabang offers tourists with handicrafts, textiles and jewelry. Night Market on Sisavanvong street or shops inside the Chinese district are places you should visit for purchasing souvenirs. Nevertheless, nowadays, plenty of local shops around the town will sell gifts for you too. Night market is nightly gathered from 17:00 to 23:00; beginning at Wat Mai Street along the town center. The night market is open inside a pedestrian zone, it means all streets are closed off. Sellers will offer you apparels, ceramics, bamboo, lamps, blankets, bed covers, handicraft and silk scarves. One useful tip is that products displayed at night markets are offered at higher price than day time shops; thus make sure you learn how to bargain for better price here. If you want to buy fresh products such as meat, vegetables and herbs, you need to drop by Phosi Market instead.

 

Night Market in Luang Prabang
Night Market in Luang Prabang

Advisably, you should spend at least from 2 to 3 days in order to have enough time exploring this ancient and tranquil city. I am sure Luang Prabang will treat you well. In another blog, we will go into further details of attraction list you must visit, good hotels and restaurants in Luang Prabang during your Laos travel.

 

Minh Vu – Travel Specialist

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