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A trip to Laos would not be complete without spending at least a couple of days in the ancient capital of Luang Prabang. Situated on a peninsula between the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers, the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang is home to approximately 32,000 people. Despite the hoards of tourists that descend upon the city, it is still a fairly undiscovered and laid-back destination, rich with history and making a tremendous attempt to hold on to age-old traditions and customs.
Luckily for us we were able to spend 5 nights in Luang Prabang, but we could easily have spent many more. Below are our top 8 picks of things to do when you visit this friendly northern Laos city.
1. ROYAL PALACE MUSEUM AND WAT HO PHA BANG
A visit to the Royal Palace Museum (on Sisavangvong Road) is worth the entrance fee to see traditional Lao art pieces and former Laotion family royal residence. P.S. be aware that you will not be able to enter with any bag (no matter how small) or even a DSLR camera around your neck (they insist visitors leave all items in lockers)
2. HANDICRAFT NIGHT MARKET
Each evening as the sun starts to set, the local vendors set up their spaces along Sisavangvong road and the Handicraft Night Market comes alive. This is the best place to find local crafts, T-shirts, scarves, and every other sort of imaginable souvenir. Don’t forget to barter – the starting price for tourists will probably be about three times more than you should end up paying.
3. TAK BAT – ALMS GIVING CEREMONY TO THE MONKS
Watching the dawn break as hundreds of saffron-clad monks walked barefoot with their begging bowls past locals and tourists handing out sticky rice and other offerings was a surreal moment. If it is something you wish to observe or participate in, it’s best to ask the people where you’re staying for their assistance – where is best to watch, time, offerings, etc.
4. MOUNT PHOUSI
The absolute best place to view Luang Prabang and surrounding area is from the top of Mount Phousi – located in the center of town. There are almost 400 steps to get to the top, but along the way are a variety of interesting and unique statues and sculptures. The sunset from the top near the stupa is quite spectacular, but very crowded. There is an entrance fee – approximately US$3 or 22,000 KIP. (Remember: What goes up, must come down!)
5. CAFES AND RESTAURANTS
Eating our way around Luang Prabang was very easy – there are so many fantastic choices of cafes and restaurants to suit every budget and culinary style. Some of our favorite local-style meals were at:
6. CROSS THE NAM KHAN RIVER BAMBOO BRIDGE
It is only possible to cross over the Nam Khan River on the Bamboo Bridge in the dry season. Why? In the rainy season it gets washed away by high water and has to be rebuilt when the level has dropped. There is a charge for crossing, which supposedly goes to pay the family that builds the bridge each season – US$0.62 or 5,000 KIP.
7. MEKONG CRUISE TO PAK OU CAVES
A Mekong River cruise and visit to Pak Ou Caves (about 25 km upstream) makes for a terrific day trip. There are many tour companies around Luang Prabang that book the cruise and include the cave visit. This slow cruise is the perfect way to view local life along the Mekong. Expect to pay approximately US$25 or 200,000 KIP for the cruise and entrance to the caves.
8. SUNSET ON THE MEKONG RIVER
Take a stroll along the Mekong River in Luang Prabang around sunset and you are afforded a brilliant sunset. There are quite a number of cafes and restaurants on the road overlooking the river that make excellent options to sit and enjoy a fruit shake, BeerLao or cocktail as the sun dips behind the mountains.