5 Things to do in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang or Louangphrabang to the locals, is one of the largest cities in Laos with a population of about 103,000 people.
The city is the capital of the Luang Prabang Province. It is located in north central Laos, at the intersection or confluence if you like, of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers.
Luang Prabang still carries the scars the communist left when they took over in 1975 with many of its buildings and sites still carrying graphic images of being peppered by bombs and bullets.
Before that the Kingdom of Laos used it as its royal capital and seat of government. The city is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
1. Taking the view in from Mount Phou Si
Mount Phou Si is the highest hill point in Luang Prabang and takes about a casual eight to ten minutes hike up its stairs.
Also known as Mount Phu Si, this 100m high hill is in the center of the old town of Luang Prabang and is bordered on one side by the Nam Khan River and the Mekong River on the other.
Mount Phou Si houses several Buddhist shrines and is considered a local religious site. Buy some love birds or sparrows from the mountain base and take them to the top and release them. It is said that this will bring you good luck. And good karma for that matter.
2. Feed the monks!
Everyday about 6am, young monks ascend into the city from over the 30 local Buddhist temples in the Luang Prabang Province, asking for alms donations from the locals and tourists.
They walk briskly down the main street of Th Sisavangvong, holding out their alms bowls in a parading fashion. This monk procession is quite a beautiful ritual to watch, if you can get up that early that is.
3. The Park Ou Caves and waterfalls of Kuang Si
Two of the most popular attractions surrounding Luang Prabang, are the Park Ou Caves and waterfalls of Kuang Si.
There are karst cliffs, tiny river islets and beaches lining along the Mekong which makes for a scenic journey when you head up to the caves, where there are figuratively a thousand buddha figurines.
They are placed here by the locals for devotion and is an active religious site. Then head down to the waterfalls of Kuang Si to take a swim in its crystal clear waters and soothing current. Away from the hustle and bustle of the city, a journey here will be worthwhile for your mind, body and soul.
4. Royal Palace, Luang Prabang
Built by King Sisavang Vong and his family in 1904 during the French colonial era, Royal Palace or known as “Haw Kham” officially, incorporates Lao and French Beaux Arts style in its architecture.
After the communists overthrew the monarchy in 1975, the Royal Palace was then converted into a national museum.
Among the features of the palace is the Crown Jewels of Laos, the King’s reception room, a Buddha statue engraved with large elephant tusks and three beautiful saew mâi khán, which are silk embroidered screens with religious imagery that was crafted by the Queen herself.
Out in the main courtyard you will find a huge statue of King Sisavang Vong too.
5. Shop at the night markets
In the evening at the end of the main street in the Luang Prabang city, an assortment of souvenirs, clothing, jewelry and Hmong village tribe handicrafts are sold by the street peddlers in a flea market setting.
Be prepared to haggle and bargain your way through, as most of these sellers are going to keep resisting your offers until it satisfies them.
Luang Prabang, a city ravaged by communism and civil war, but has bloomed as a tourist hotspot and cultural hub of Laos.
[Image via: indykethdy/Flickr, trippinlarry/Flickr, amanderson/Flickr, strike1/Flickr, wm_archiv/Flickr, ]