Once you’ve mastered the skill of pronouncing the tongue twisting name of LUANG PRABANG, you can indulge in what this gem of a place has to offer. Deep in the north western parts of Laos, you find this stunning place which nature has adorned with not only one, but two meandering rivers.
However, Luang Prabang (or Luang PABANG as the Lao people say) is not at all the secluded, spiritual hideaway we expected it to be. There seems to be a Happy Hour going 24/7, a night market geared towards us – the tourists, and there’s possibly more guest houses in the little town than actual housing for the locals. Still, you don’t have to look far to find its essence.
Here’s our pick of the best ways to enjoy Luang Prabang
The Buddhist monks receive their alms from the people every morning. It is a beautiful ritual where the monks line up, and fill their little purpose made baskets with sticky rice offered to them by the Lao people. It’s an authentic and ethereal glimpse into the ways of Buddhism.
2. Down by the river
Luang Prabang is a peninsula sitting right between the mighty Mekong to the East and the Mae Kok River – a tributary to the Mekong, to the West. By the river banks you can easily track the pulse that these rivers add to the place. It is still one of the town’s main arteries as far as transport is concerned, and it’s also a great place to haggle for a scenic boat ride. The owners of the commercial vessels are always eager to make an extra buck or two or ten!
3. The village people
Most of Luang Prabang’s inhabitants live off tourism. If you want to experience real Lao village life, you’ll need to rent a bike or a moped and head out of town. Any direction will do, but be warned – all tuc tuc drivers will want to take you to the Hmong village on the way to the Kuang Si waterfalls (check out the milky turquoise pool below the falls in our previous post). What awaits you there is an utterly poor village full of stunning Hmong people milking their tribal heritage for what it’s worth. There are stalls selling hand made stuff to tourists, as well as a traditional game where the Hmong throw a small ball to each other while singing. It is cute, but unspoilt it is not.
4. Get chatting to at least one monk
Luang Prabang is full of Buddhist monks, and although they have a solemn look on their face, they are MORE than up for a chat and a giggle. They are happy to answer questions about their practice, and they are even happier to get the opportunity to practice their English and Geography skills.
5. Take in the views
Possibly the best thing about Luang Prabang is that the shores of the river are lined with bars. Some loud and touristy, others much more low key. Grab a front row seat to see the spectacular sunset as the sky turns golden over the Mae Kok River. Order a freshly made (and absolutely heavenly) smoothie, and allow time to stand still for a few serene moments.
Was there anything we didn’t like?
Well yes. We were not charmed by what is meant to be a charming night market with stalls selling handmade crafts and all sorts of other touristy paraphernalia. The only Lao people in the market were the men and women selling, and although some of the stuff for sale was beautifully made, the market is so big that you end up seeing the same items everywhere.