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Luang Prabang: The Heart of Laos

Jack Bryant / 22 June 2017

Having UNESCO heritage protection since 1995 the charming city of Luang Prabang is the cultural heart of Laos and is one of the best-preserved cities in South-East Asia.

Sunset in Laos
Sunset over the beautiful Luang Prabang, the greatest city in Laos? Image provided by Jack Bryant

With a rich mixture of French architecture, Buddhist temples and stunning waterfalls all adding to the atmosphere of the place, Luang Prabang is a great city to spend a few unforgettable days with some unique attractions:

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The Kuang Si Waterfalls

Kuang Si Waterfalls=
The Kuang Si Waterfalls, Luang Prabang

If short on time in Luang Prabang this is the one thing that you have to see and do. 

Located 40 minutes outside of the city the Kuang Si Waterfalls are made up of several tiers of clear turquoise water cascading over stunning limestone formations. 

The first few tiers that you see are great for swimming and relaxing in, the further you go up the more dramatic the waterfalls are. 

A twenty minute climb to to very top waterfall offers great views of the pools down below and a chance to get away from the crowds whilst taking a refreshing dip.

Climb Mount Phu Si

The view from Mount Phu Si, Luang Prabang, Laos=
The view from Mount Phu Si, Luang Prabang, Laos

It's a 329 step walk to the viewing point on top 100 metre tall Mount Phu Si which is right in the centre of town, opposite the Royal Palace Museum. 

The mountain is crowned by a 24 metre gilded stup, but the real reason to climb is for the 360 degree panoramic views across the whole city and beyond. 

Wait until either sunrise or sunset to climb to the top as it will be far too hot under the midday sun. Be warned that it does get busy for sunset so make sure you get there early to get the best spot.  

Visit a Wat (or 33!)

 Wat Xieng Thong, Buddhist temple in Luang Prabang World Heritage, Laos. Image © Jack Bryant
Wat Xieng Thong, Buddhist temple in Luang Prabang World Heritage, Laos. Image © Jack Bryant.

There are 33 Wats (Buddhist Temples) located in Luang Prabang and most welcome foreign visitors to have a look around inside.

Some of the more popular ones include Wat Xieng Thong, with big sweeping roofs and a stunning ‘tree of life’ mosaic;  Wat Xieng Mouane, a place of learning for young monks in the artistic skills of preserving temples; and Wat Wisunarat, the oldest temple in Luang Prabang.

Be sure to dress modestly and don’t be afraid to have a chat with a monk as they like to practice their English.

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Watch Local Life

Morning life in Luang prabang, Laos=
Morning life in Luang prabang, Laos

Having been declared as a place of “outstanding universal value” by the UN nearly two decades ago a simple walk about town illustrates why it was awarded this title. 

The ever popular La Banneton is arguably the best place for a buttery croissant and refreshingly does NOT have free wi-fi.

It’s picturesque, with charms of a quaint French town blended with the spices of Asia. Just sitting back in a cafe with a flakey croissant and coffee watching local life pass by is a popular pastime for both tourists and locals alike. 

Tak Bat

Monks during the early morning alms giving in Luang Prabang, Laos on 10 April 2013  © Catwalk Photos / =
Monks during the early morning alms giving in Luang Prabang, Laos on 10 April 2013 © Catwalk Photos /

The early morning alms ceremony is the daily ritual of monks silently walking down the main high street to collect food offerings from the local worshippers. 

This is a spectacular sight beginning just before dawn has become an iconic image of Luang Prabang. 

However, there is talk of this being stopped as too many tourists are starting to forget that this is a religious ceremony and get in the way of the monks. 

Visit now while you can!

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There really is something for every type of traveller here in Luang Prabang and a good rule of thumb is to allow more time in this city than you would expect.

There are bound to be more things that interest you than in this short guide - bartering at the night market, cycling to remote villages, cookery classes, exploring caves, eating in great restaurants and sipping cocktails with views of the Mekong - Luang Prabang truly is the heart of Laos.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.