With the excitement of the 9 hour slow boat ride behind us we were delighted to arrive in Luang Prabang. We had both been particularly excited about visiting here for some time and were expecting a quaint city with many monks and numerous temples – we were certainly not disappointed!
Luang Prabang used to be the countries capital and is widely considered to still be the spiritual heart of the country. It is virtually picture postcard perfect and you can see what draws the high numbers of tourists here. It reminded us in some ways of Hoi An in Vietnam for these reasons.
The architecture had a distinct French colonial feel (as did a lot of the restaurants specialising in French cuisine and boasting fresh crisp baguettes) as well as a strong indochinese influence. The fact that the small city is a world UNESCO heritage site means that it is largely preserved in this style and there is a noticeable absence of traffic, especially in the old centre.
We found that our favourite way to experience the city was simple wandering around the area, both within the old town and the surrounding areas, people watching and Wat viewing!
The old town is surrounded on three sides by the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers, offering lovely views both from the old town to the surrounding areas and nice versa.
Both morning and night markets dominate the main tourist centre. The morning market has a more local feel and seemed to specialise in food, whereas the night market nearby specialised in local handicrafts.
We experienced some of the more rickety bridges we have experience on our trip!
And, some of the best food we had in Laos. Our favourites was a local tasting menu and Sin Dad BBQ (below) by the banks of the Mekong.
We took a walk around the back streets on a ‘wetlands walking’ trail.
Visited what felt like a billion stunning Wats and temples!
We had a look at the UXO (unexploded ordinance) visitor centre – an eye-opening and informative narrative about the ongoing repercussions of being the most bombed country in the world.
Finally on our last morning we decided to go and see one of the most famous attractions for tourists in Luang Prabang – the alms giving ceremony. Sadly this beautiful tradition is almost totally marred by the huge crowds of tourists overwhelming the monks with flash photography centimetres from their faces (despite numerous signs around the town outlining requirements for respectful etiquette for viewing the alms ceremony), we could only bring ourselves to stay for a short while and retreated to the less frequented back streets.
This was worlds away from some of the alms giving we had seem in Nan, Northern Thailand when we got off the night bus at 5am to see the monks going about this tradition throughout the small city, without a tourist in site (in fact in many ways the monks were more inquisitive about us than we were of them!) Quite a contrast.
Luang Prabang is quite rightly the most visited and revered places in Laos, but we left feeling that it was in some ways a bit of a victim of it’s own success. Despite this we couldn’t deny the city’s beauty, friendly people, fantastic food and cultural intrigue.