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Visit Luang Prabang, Laos

Monks collecting alms, a skyline of gilded temples and French-colonial architecture in the spiritual heartland of Laos

Legend has it that Buddha smiled when he rested in Luang Prabang, claiming it would one day be the site of a rich and powerful city.

Indeed, from the 14th to 16th centuries, Luang Prabang became the capital of the powerful kingdom of Lane Xang (Kingdom of a Million Elephants), whose wealth and influence swelled thanks to its strategic location on the Silk Route. It was also the heart of Buddhism in the region — Luang Prabang takes its name from the Prabang, a statue of Buddha gifted by Cambodia in 1512.

Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang, LaosFew towns in the world can be said to encapsulate the essence of a country like Luang Prabang does of Laos. The heart and soul of this tiny land-locked nation, this UNESCO World Heritage town sits peacefully amid the jungle-clad hills of northern Laos, waiting to beguile visitors in much the same way as it has for centuries.

By virtue of its UNESCO protected status, Luang Prabang has escaped the ravages of modern development. Its architectural heritage is reflected in the many traditional wooden buildings — only temples are permitted to be built in stone. There’s also a small array of low-rise French colonial villas.

But, it’s the skyline of Buddhist temples spires that lend a special atmosphere to the place. To get your bearings, climb up to the hilltop Wat Phu Si and you’ll be rewarded with views across the town to the surrounding rivers and mountains. The temple of Wat Xieng Thong is a highlight, with walls of vibrant, mirrored mosaics.

Mornings begin in age-old fashion with chanting from the monasteries and wats, followed by the dawn street procession of the monks collecting alms. During the day, many saffron-robed monks can be seen walking through the quiet streets and will often eagerly practice their English on visitors.

Kuang Si Waterfalls in Luang Prabang, LaosWhile days can easily be spent sitting at a roadside cafe soaking up the relaxed ambience, the town is also a good base from which to explore the surrounding countryside. The Kuang Si Falls just outside town are a popular draw, but if you’d like to visit, we can arrange an early morning picnic breakfast before the crowds arrive.

Arguably one of the highlights of Luang Prabang is heading up into the hills. The best way to explore is with a guide from one of the surrounding hill tribe villages, who can lead you through the network of trails. Along the way you might pass a number of villages — a variety of traditional communities live in this region including the Akha, Khamu and Hmong people.

While Laos isn’t known for wildlife, from Luang Prabang you can visit Mandalao Elephant Conservation, a sanctuary focused on education and animal welfare. For exotic flora, you can catch a boat upriver to the recently established Pha Tad Botanical Garden Project, which focuses on developing sustainable agricultural practices.

Getting to Luang Prabang can be half the fun. You can take a leisurely two-day boat journey down the Mekong River to ease yourself into the gentle pace of life. The more adventurous can arrive by road from northern Thailand, via the little-visited villages of Nong Khiaw and Luang Nam Tha.

If you’re pressed for time, you can fly in from Bangkok and nearby Cambodia or Vietnam.

Best time to visit

The best time to explore Luang Prabang is from October to April, when it’s comfortably warm and dry. If you’re planning to arrive by river, boat travel is best between November and January when high water makes passage easy.

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Audley Travel specialist Mark

Start planning your tailor-made trip to Luang Prabang by calling one of our Laos specialists on 01993 838 125

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