Luang Prabang is often the No. 1 destination for travelers headed to Laos. This ancient royal capital is located in the northern part of the country and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage City in 1995. The tiny town is surrounded by mountains and is situated at the meeting of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, and though the prices here are among the highest in the country, there is never a complaint by those making the journey to visit this famous site—it’s well worth it. The ancient town's economy is based on tourism and has been since Laos opened its borders to travelers in 1989. The incomparable beauty, unique history, and slew of attractions make Luang Prabang travel one of the best things to do during a holiday in southeast Asia.
Luang Prabang, Laos
Even though Luang Prabang is still the main center for Buddhist teaching and learning in Laos, there are various other Luang Prabang attractions that draw tourists here. There are more than 30 temples to explore, ancient royal palaces, and unmatched vistas that make this site the most popular in Laos, and exploration is easy as everything here is accessible on foot.
There are two particularly notable temples to add to your Luang Prabang travel itinerary: Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Wisunarat. Wat Xieng Thong was constructed in the sixteenth century and is an impressive structure. It is representative of Buddhist architecture and is graced with golden facades, mosaics, painted murals, and Buddha statues.
Wat Wisunarat is the oldest temple situated within Luang Prabang. This unique temple was built in 1513 and was originally made of wood. It was rebuilt with brick and stucco after it caught fire in 1887, but many original features were kept to mark the importance of the wat. Unlike other temples in Laos, Wat Wisunarat is completed with a sloping roof and a stupa that was constructed in 1503.
The Royal Palace Museum is also one of the popular Luang Prabang attractions that gives visitors insight to the history and culture of Laos. The museum was initially built as a royal residence for the Lao king by the French in 1904. However, when the royal family was forced into exile the palace no longer served its original purpose; luckily the majority of the rooms throughout the palace have been preserved, and visitors can now tour the grounds and living quarters to get a glimpse of how royalty lived during their heyday. Wat Mai Suwannapumaram is a gorgeous temple that is situated next to the Royal Palace Museum, and it is well worth adding to your Luang Prabang travel itinerary for its detailed murals and beautiful facade.
One of the most important cultural practices and an example of the importance of Buddhism in Luang Prabang is the feeding of the monks. Each morning, Buddhist monks from the various monasteries in town take different routes to collect food donations so they can enjoy a meal. Observing this daily routine is truly telling of Laos and Buddhist culture that permeates throughout the country, and among the Luang Prabang attractions, this is one of the most affecting and memorable.
Although situated outside of Luang Prabang proper, the Pak Ou Caves and Kuang Si Falls are two other must-sees when in the area. The Pak Ou Caves are located about two hours north of the ancient city via boat. The two caves, Tham Ting (lower cave) and Tham Prakachay (upper cave), are situated on the steep cliff where the Mekong River meets the Nam Ou River. This unique haven used to shelter Buddhist monks and is now a pilgrimage site for Buddhists from all over Asia. The caves were discovered in the sixteenth century and shelter thousands of Buddhist statues and local works of art.
Kuang Si Falls is approximately an hour out of Luang Prabang and is situated in the deep, lush forest of the surrounding area. These mystical falls are a relaxing getaway from the tourist-dominated city. Visitors are able to swim in the turquoise pools, hike the side of the waterfall and take in the surrounding views.
Despite the fact that Luang Prabang is the most expensive city in Laos, it is still an affordable place to visit, and its beauty and many historic sites mean tourists often find it irresistible. A true part of preserved history, the ancient capital attracts historians, architects, spiritualists, and nature-lovers alike. The various temples, natural beauties and relaxed culture all add to the attraction of Luang Prabang and place it on par with any of southeast Asia’s most famous attractions.