I had the pleasure of spending almost a week in this sleepy town and would recommend Luang Prabang to the tourist keen on adventuring through waterfalls, hiking, exploring temples, or simply catching up on some reading.
Laos is a deeply Buddhist country with luscious green mountains, a tropical climate and endless temples, which provide the casual tourist the perfect environment to reflect and embrace spirituality.
Perhaps the highlight of Luang Prabang was the Buddhist tradition ingrained in this society. Children who have joined the monastery are willing to chat with tourists and appear content with their lifestyle, which is well respected and offers them an opportunity to receive high-quality education. Most monks leave the monastery after they turn 18 to pursue further education or to raise a family.
My family and I rose early, about 5:30 am, to give alms to the Buddhist monks, who fast during the day and eat only before dawn and after dusk. Historically, the alms ceremony was the main way the town supported the monasteries, by giving them food every morning. Now, giving alms is a popular tourist attraction, and the monks participate mostly due to the encouragement of the government. If you wish to participate in this ceremony, be sure to buy your own fresh fruit or rice, as locals have been known to sell rotten food to tourists. This inevitably results in very sick monks.
For the more adventurous, there’s the option to hire a driver to go to Kuang Si Waterfalls. The waterfalls are about 29 km away from town, and for those who consider themselves to be in good physical shape, the waterfalls offer a full day of somewhat steep hiking. There’s also a bear rescue center nearby.
Perhaps the most memorable aspect of my trip was my solo hike up to Mount Phou Si. The hike has a stairway and lasts less than an hour. At the top, there is an exquisite view of the entire town and the Mekong and Nam Kham Rivers. Additionally, the golden Wat Chom Si stupa provides an ideal background for meditation.
Haw Kam, the former royal palace and now a museum, is worth checking out. The building features a mixture of French and Lao architecture and houses many displays of royal clothing, china, furniture, etc.
Luang Prabang offers a plethora of opportunities to eat; however, I emphasize the deliciousness of the street cart smoothies made with local fresh fruit. Additionally, there’s a food cart near the night market that offers all-vegetarian Laotian fare. Guest houses typically offer a Laotian breakfast to their guests, and Laotian food is very much reflective of its French colonial past.
Be forewarned: Laos is not as developed as Western standards, and I recommend the casual tourist brings along some ciprofloxacin or other antibiotics. My brother spent the week hunching over the toilet with the runs, and the only medical care available was the local town doctor.