Exploring the North
Situated in northern part of the country, in a valley at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, Luang Prabang is a real gem of Laos. The entire place is a perfect blend of ancient past, French colonial influences, Asian tradition and stunning nature. There is something pretty around every corner, from tree-lined boulevards, Royal Palace to over 30 Buddhist temples with gilded roofs.
To be fair it came as a bit of a surprise to me how small Luang Prabang actually is. One of my friends was living there for four months. He was working as a social media consultant for an eco-fashion company and he definitely managed to generate enough hype about the place. I pictured it as a much bigger town.
A Place Full of Temples
When I visited I found it striking that Luang Prabang was full of so many rich colours. The gold of the temple statues and decorations, orange robes of Buddhist monks certainly enhanced that amazing mix.
Exploring the town with such a large monk community is certainly an experience. On several occasions I had a chance to see up close an afternoon call to prayer and I really loved it. It is also possible to observe Alms giving ceremony that takes place every morning. During that ritual monks walk through town collecting offerings made by people.
The Night Market not only transforms the streets of Luang Prabang but also changes the atmosphere of this normally sleepy and relaxed town. Tourists passing by different stalls, browsing through tons of clothing from usual Lao t-shirts to batik wrap skirts or clothing with modern take on Laotian motifs. The buzz is lively and welcoming.
I had many highlights during my stay. They included beautiful temples, especially Wat Xieng Thong on the northern tip of the peninsula, spectacular sunsets by the Mekong river and large monk community. Was my experience very authentic though? One could definitely question authenticity of this small town. It is rather impossible to avoid commercialisation of places like Luang Prabang. I guess the cultural and spiritual side of this small place was compensating some of the tourist trap-like aspects that drove me crazy in Vang Vieng.
Going Out of Luang Prabang
Located just slightly out of town, Kuang Si is a breathtaking three tier waterfall. It is possible to dip into its turquoise water in a middle section and hike to the top to admire the views. This small trip is definitely a must. I would recommend either getting there by tuk tuk or by scooter. Of course you can also cycle 30 kilometers. I think it’s more fun to spend that time exploring the surroundings of the waterfall though.
Indigo Cafe and especially its big terrace on a top floor was my favourite spot in Luang Prabang. I used to hang out there with fellow travelers. Special mention goes to Bianca and Lucy, who shared with me many travel tips as they already visited some countries where I was heading next. They also offered their support when I was recovering from food poisoning. Luckily it happened only once during my 6 months in Asia. My only piece of advice would be that when eating something does not seem like a good idea from the start.. you just should NOT do it! Ignore recommendations and just trust your gut feeling. Pun intended!
Of course foodies can still find culinary delights in Luang Prabang. There is plenty of them. Laap, served either with minced meat or fish, diced veg and heaps of mint to make it fresh, is one of the most famous laotian dishes. Sticky rice is an ultimate classic that accompanies any meal.
I stayed at Kounsavan Guest House and I did not really like it. Although I met some nice people there, the general crowd was not amazing. Let’s be honest, the party vibes are not the best when you are trying to get well and need some rest.