The Ever-Popular Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang sunsetLuang Prabang is on the list of must-see Southeast Asian cities. With royal roots, pristine temples, French colonial architecture, Buddhist monasteries, chic shops, bustling markets, and plenty of nightlife, Luang Prabang is a tourist dream–albeit less dreamy with all the touristas it attracts. We tried to see past the swarms of Westerners and focus on this riverside town’s beauty, history, and thriving culture and really enjoyed it once we did.

 

luang prabang Wat Tham Phu SiSmack in the center of the old town Luang Prabang is Phu Si hill. High above the streets you understand why this lovely peninsula, with rivers and mountains on both sides, was chosen as the royal center of the “Kingdom of a Million Elephants.”

 

Peaceful parks dot Phu Si hillTemples, shrines, and peaceful parks dot Phu Si hill while ornate staircases lead to different parts of town. Hold the scaly Naga handrail as you climb, just be careful it doesn’t grab you instead!

 

Th Sisavangvong is the main vein of the old quarterTh Sisavangvong is the main street of the old quarter and each evening it closes for the dynamic Hmong Night Market.

 

Luang Prabang Night MarketAs far as night markets go, Luang Prabang is definitely the best one we experienced in Southeast Asia. Hmong textiles’ embroidery and motifs are so vibrant, that no matter the age or even quality of the piece, it’s great fun to browse or buy. We bought a vintage beaded sash and a set of antique palm-leaf rice baskets.

 

Ock pop tok Luang Prabang LaosIf you are into traditional textiles and weaving, we’d recommend a trip to Ock Pop Tok. This fair-trade weaving center offers classes in weaving, dying silk, drawing batiks and is just a pleasant place to poke around or grab a bite.

 

Villa Maly LuxuryAs honeymooners hard at work, we reviewed Villa Maly…a fantastic boutique hotel in a former royal residence. The staff pulled out the stops for us—going as far as to tag our names on the bathroom walls (with permanent paint!) and graffiti the mirror with lipstick hearts! We adored everything about this hotel—service, design, food, location, and history. Stay here if you can!

 

Monks of Luang PrabangThe next morning we set our alarm for 5am to experience the sunrise procession of monks collecting alms. There are over 1,000 Buddhist monks that live in Luang Prabang and each morning they are given sticky rice, fruits, and snacks by devout locals (and now plenty of tourists). Seeing the saffron-cloaked monks stream through the streets and the people that care for them is a beautiful thing, it’s just sadly been sullied by the all tourists hovering and taking flash photography. We watched from a distance and still felt like a bit of an intrusion.

 

Monks at Luang PrabangOne of the most striking things about the monks in Luang Prabang is how young they are. It turns out many rural families send their boys to the monasteries for an education they couldn’t get otherwise. Regardless of when boys join the monastery, most Laotian males serve a spiritual term of a few months to a few years as an essential step to reaching manhood.

 

Vegetable market in Luang PrabangSince we were already out and about at 5:30am we continued to the morning market. In the alleys behind the royal palace, locals lay out blankets with the fruits and veggies they’ve grown, fish they’ve caught, or goods they’ve made. This market made us finally feel like we were in Laos again.

 

Wat Xieng ThongLuang Prabang is a great city to rent bikes and ride along the river, cut through little streets, and explore it’s 80+ temples. At the tip of the peninsula is perhaps the most pristine wat, Xieng Thong, built by King Setthathriat in 1560. The architectural details inside and out of these buildings are incredible…especially the gilt panels depicting erotic episodes from Ramayana.

 

Utopia bar Luang PrabangAs luck would have it our new French friends from the Muang Khua, our RTW buddy Deb Gersten, and this amazing guy biking the world for two years, were all in town and up for drinks! We met at this very cool river bar called Utopia and swapped crazy travel stories from each of our global escapades.


Ever been to Luang Prabang? Interested in going? Let us know what you think with a comment below!

30 thoughts on “The Ever-Popular Luang Prabang

  1. Great post, we’re heading there on Thursday!

    1. Very exciting! Let us know how it goes! If you wake up early for to watch the gathering of the alms, afterwards hike Phu Si hill for sunrise. Unlike sunset, you won’t have the crowds but still have great views! Enjoy!

  2. Luang Prabang is really a special place. Love the video here too it is simply mind blowing! Great stuff!

    1. Loved that the town was so historic but still so alive with communities of monks,artists and expats (for better or worse). For the video, we have so many crazy ones, which one did you see?

      1. China – ahhhh now i cant remember the name of the place but the other worldly one

  3. Amazing night in Laos, our 3rd country together! 🙂

    1. Country #3 with our girl @roundtheworldwithdeb! That was a great night! Can’t believe we didn’t get in a round of volleyball in lol…that Utopia place had it all!

  4. Brings back great memories of my time in Luang Prabang. Great video.

    1. So glad the post brought you back to a happy place,Tim!

      1. It’s just one of those places that sticks with you forever.

  5. We just finished up a few days in Luang Prabang, so this is a very timely post indeed! It’s very much shoulder season right now so the tourist crowds were really not so bad, but it’s definitely clear that LP is by far the most touristy city in Laos (runner up: Vang Vieng). I have to say, the night market in LP was actually pretty disappointing to me, but that’s because I prefer my night markets to be all about the food, less about the merchandise. I did like wandering through looking at all the pretty things, but I definitely prefer the night markets in Thailand and Taiwan where there is a higher food:goods ratio!

    1. Totally agree food night markets are way more fun than crafts. Very cool you came in the off season, I’m sure with fewer tourists the town’s beauty comes through more. Enjoy the rest of Laos and get up to the Muang Sing area if you can!

  6. Love the post. We first visited back in 02 before the airport was operational. We visited again with the kids last year. The difference was huge. At first we didn’t like the new LP, once we found our feet, we ended up staying for 10 days and loved it. I have a fond memory of the first visit , we were shaken down by police outside LP for a bribe. I didn’t have enough money so they suggested I leave my wife to be. I declined and even got the money back I had paid them. The kids couldn’t get enough of the Oreo and banana shakes which truth be told I also loved.

    1. “leave your wife” LMAO….the tenacity of some of these police. thankfully we never got shaken down once on our trip….glad you had a blast though. and glad you liked the post 🙂

      1. Loving the Laos posts Mike. It was a favourite country both first time and last time. We haven’t been shaken down since we travelled with kids. In fact most of the police and guards actually go out of their way to be helpful. Still wouldn’t swap those first experiences for the world. Glad you’re enjoying your slightly longer honeymoon 🙂

  7. I have not yet made it to Laos proper, and yes, I keep hearing so much about it!

    1. Oh you totally should @corinnevail:disqus , it was such a beautiful country, with a nice slow pace of life.

  8. I changed my mind going to Laos after seeing the heat in Thailand. Will go there in January when its cold there.

    1. Oh very cool. Are you planning a big trip to South East Asia @shaileshdas:disqus ?

      1. Yea, I am planning a month trip for next time. I only been to Thailand 3 times.

  9. We are in Luang Prabang now and I must say we have the same mixed emotions. Maybe its because we’ve seen a few less trodden destinations in Laos before getting here? I must say that rather finding the inner peace or magic of the town, I am now re-focusing my search on the tastiest Western food that’s on offer. When in Rome…

    1. We 100% agree. I had a good chuckle at your western food comment–we surrendered and took the same approach lol

  10. Awesome videos….. thanks for sharing …… Have nice trip….

    1. thanks for the love @disqus_vPOx0OjBKD:disqus ! thanks for following along http://www.HoneyTrek.com/Subscribe if you want more 🙂

      1. yes indeed ,, i need more……

        1. So glad @disqus_vPOx0OjBKD:disqus !!!!

  11. We felt pretty much the same about Luang Prabang, great market and so much culture and history. Sadly I did get sick from eating the all-you-can-eat buffet in the market and crawled up Phou Si Hill while still recovering. It is a shame about the tourists watching the Alms-giving, there are even locals handing out flyers about how they should behave and they still get in the monks’ faces! We found it so disrespectful and like you felt intrusive.

    1. Yea it’s the best and worst of cultural tourism. It leaves me with very mixed feelings. Would you recommend it to your friends?

  12. I love to visit provinces in the northeast ( Isarn ) like Khonkaen and
    Sisaket. People are nice and friendly. Interesting culture in Thailand!
    🙂

  13. […] heard the roads from Luang Prabang to Sayaboury were super rough with a couple river crossings in between so we stepped it up from our […]

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