Beautiful, sleepy & quaint. A few words that come to mind when I think back on our visit to Luang Prabang, the royal capital of the former Kingdom of Laos. This beautiful little gem has managed to remain a bit under the travel radar, despite being named a UNESCO site in the 90’s & with the recent floods of investment, you can tell it is still a bit of a travelers’ Wild West.
The beautifully revived Indochina French-era architecture is a treat. Many of the buildings have been renovated for guesthouses or restaurants, taking a cue from the growing tourism business. We had some of the best food in all of Southeast Asia here! It is almost a perfect blend of Vietnamese & Thai, with a flare now thanks to the increased interest in local culinary chefs! If you are skeptical, just pop into Toui (I still miss their pumpkin curry), Lao Lao Garden (still very local) or spend an afternoon like we did in L’Etranger Books and Tea (I highly recommend their well-known chai tea).
The town is crowded with plenty of great bakeries; another leftover gift from the French is the love of good pastries & bread. We were hopped up on sugar for hours after devouring a fresh apple tart & giant cinnamon bun.
It may sound like we just did a lot of eating, which wouldn’t be incorrect, but the best part of Luang Prabang is that you can just relax. There’s no real rush to go anywhere or do much of anything but enjoy the naturally beautiful surroundings, lush green mountains & the meeting of the Mekong & Khan rivers. Any halfway decent evening & you can make the roughly 300 stair journey up Mount Phousi to enjoy the sunset. With 360 degree views & numerous Buddha temples on the climb up, it is worth every step.
“Luang Prabang” literally translates into “Royal Buddha Image” (google it) & is a fitting name for the town. In addition to the sacred “Phra Bang” itself, considered by many Buddhists as claiming the right to rule, the town is dotted with various other temples & Buddha icons. Wat Visoun is the oldest, dating back to at least 1513 & Wat Xieng Thong (Temple of the Golden City) is one of the most famous & important monasteries in all of Laos.
The Royal Palace Museum is also worth a visit (though we could never find reliable information on when it was open or not, which resulted in us just walking by each day until we could go in). Officially the Royal Residence of the Laos Royal Family until the Pathet Lao seized control, it was opened to the public as a museum in 1995. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed inside the temple or palace, but it had some of the most ornate rooms we’d ever seen!
Finally, the night market is absolutely worth a trip (or two or three) up & down the block. Larger in size than we expected, given the relative size of the town, it appeared to have plenty of local handicrafts & trinkets. Given that we had already seen many of the goods 1000 times before in other marketplaces, I believe most were actually local, but then again who knows. Either way, they were pretty cool!
Luang Prabang turned out to be quite a surprise for us. Beautiful landscape, amazing places to eat & a completely chill, backpackers haven. It certainly won’t fly under the radar much longer; the word is out about this amazing town & we think it’ll quickly become the next go-to spot. It opened our eyes to the possibilities of Laos & peaked our interest to see the rest of this beautiful country!