The tropical town of Luang Prabang, in the heart of Laos, has a relaxed sleepiness during the heat of the day and comes alive at night, with bustling markets, bars and plenty of places to eat. Rich in culture and arts, delicious food and a short tuk-tuk away from serene waterfalls and caves, there is enough in this town to last you a couple of weeks, if not longer.
See the Monks at Sunrise
Each morning, as the sun is rising, monks walk in a single file down the street in their brilliant orange robes collecting offerings from all the buddhist worshippers, who kneel on mats along the side walk. Little boys trail after them, getting food donations if they can. If you’re prepared to get up at 5.30 am, this is a ritual worth witnessing.
Climb Phousai Hill
This hill stands in the middle of town and a steady trail of people walk up and down at all times of the day. The best views occur at sunrise and sunset, but otherwise, go early before the heat of the day hits. There is also a small temple at the top.
Explore the Palaces and Temples
The Royal Palace Museum is full of richly patterned mosaics, wooden floorboards, golden thrones, drums and gongs, living quarters and the royal car collection. You can the make your way to the Wat Xien Thong Temple, where you will see similar colourful mosaics and elaborate patterns. From here, you can walk down to the river, lined with palm trees and check out the bamboo bridge.
Feast on Baguettes and Coconut Pancakes
On the main street, there are a number of food vendors which offer up baguettes, crepes and fresh fruit shakes. The baguettes are full to the brim with salads, avocado, chicken and whatever else you desire! And they cost around the equivalent of $2.50. Later you might want to pop into the markets for some mini coconut pancakes which explode with tick coconut sauce as you bite into them.
Weave a Placemat at Ock Pop Tok
The Ock Pop Tok Weaving Studio offers fabulous weaving courses. The whole-day experience will give you a tour of the silk factory, where you will learn more about the process of making silk, from worm to fabric. You will also learn about the natural dyes they use and all the brilliant colours they produce, as well as get a chance to prepare the raw natural materials, soak silk and hang it out to dry. An experienced weaver will finally help you to manoeuvre the loom and weave silk into a placemat. The course includes lunch and you get to take home your creation at the end of the day.
Laze around at the Swimming Pool
A short walk from the centre of town, the swimming pool is a glorious haven where you can swim, lounge around in cane chairs under palm trees, play water ball games, have a cocktail from the bar and listen to tunes in the heat of the day.
Take a Cooking Class
Tamarind Restaurant offers a fantastic cooking class, which includes transport to and from the location, a tour at the local markets, the opportunity cook a variety of traditional Laotian cuisine (including the infamous sticky rice) and a big feast at the end. You will also get to take home a recipe book at the end (check out my experience here).
Take a Boat to the Pak Ou Caves
Cruise up the river on a long boat, past towering forested mountains, before arriving at the Pak Ou Caves. Inside the upper cave it can get quite dark, which makes it all the more mysterious. Inside, there are thousands of Buddha statues. The caves are quite cool inside, offering some much needed relief from the soaring temperatures.
Swim at Kuang Si Waterfalls
Situated a short tuk-tuk drive from town, the Kuang Si Waterfalls are something out of the dream Each waterfall spills onto the next, resulting in cool turquoise pools in the middle of the rainforest. At the very top, you will be rewarded with the best swimming hole of all, and not a bad view either!
Enjoy a Lao Massage
Unlike the Thai massages, the Lao massage is done fully clothed and with no oil, but it feels good. You will be given robes to wear and then you can just lie down and relax!
Wander the Night Markets
The night markets are open every evening and are full of handcrafts and a plentiful selection of food. You can find an all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet for 15,000 Kip (that’s about $2.50). So if you’re a starving backpacker on a budget, this is the place for you!
Go to a Bowling Alley
Start off at Utopia, to enjoy a chilled vibe with palm trees and floor cushions, a sand court and a variety of drinks. Once the bar closes, the general trend is to jump into a tuk-tuk and head straight to the bowling alley, which stays open until late and serves beer (which undoubtably improves your aim)!
Attend the Ethnik Fashion Parade at Hive
The Hive Bar hosts different events on different nights of the week. The Ethnik Fashion Parade gives you an insight into the creative and colourful clothing of the Laotian people. If you stick around, you might even see some break dancing!
Chill out at a Book Cafe
L’Etranger is a book exchange and cafe, where you can read and drink coffee all day long. They also show movies in the evening on a TV screen upstairs every night of the week, so if you’re looking for a bit of homely comfort, this is the place to be.
Have you been to Luang Prabang? What did you get up to?