Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is the former capital of Laos located in north central of the country, at the confluence of the Nam Khan River and Mekong River about 425 km north of Vientiane. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.

The town is situated on a peninsula formed by the Mekong River and its tributaries in a clay basin surrounded by limestone hills that dominate the landscape. The town’s entire historical section is dedicated to tourism, with everything from former royal palaces to over 33 temples, on the tourist trail.

Luang Prabang’s palm-lined riverbanks, terracotta roofs, golden stupas and saffron-robed monks all come together to form a picture postcard increasingly difficult to find in Southeast Asia.

Luang Prabang is a tranquil city, perched on the banks of the confluence of the Mekong and Nan Kang. (Khang River). There are exquisite views, charming restaurants, quaint temples, a great night market and for the more adventurous some engaging activities within easy reach. The remnants of French colonisation are noticeable, particularly as a comparison with Thailand, with distinctive architecture of shuttered windows, balconies and potted plants. Sumptuous crusty baguettes are sold at many cafes with the punch of home produced Laos coffee and thick condensed milk to sweeten, if you prefer. Some sights are a must; maybe the Royal Palace and National Museum might be best for starters. Built by the French 1904-1909, it is a blend of Lao and French architecture.

The throne shines with mosaic emerald palms, lapis lazuli elephants, silver rivers and golden robes. Royal cars towards the rear of the building are a worthwhile extra. Opposite is Mount Phousi, a hill which affords great views at sunset. Other sights worth visiting, all on foot, and in the central area, are Wat Xieng Thong, the oldest and most beautiful temple in town, Wat Mai Suwannapumaram, Wat Xieng Mouane, and Wat Sensoukaram. When you tire of the temples, drench your thirst with a large bottle of Beer Lao. Iimported hops, give it a distinctive taste. Starting around 50 THB for a bottle, often with a river view to devour, it is an experience to be savored.

Maybe in the afternoon organise a boat trip on the Mekong to visit caves, waterfalls and more temples, boatmen are always looking for custom on the banks of the Mekong. Rent a bike or motorcycle and visit, silk farms, caves, waterfalls and more temples. When the light fades, make sure you find an outside bar overlooking the majestic Mekong, meals and drinks in these flimsy structures, are very reasonable, witness the dying embers of the day, over a cocktail or cold beer, the sunsets can be spectacular. Then saunter on to the Night Market, and bargain with the vendors. Much of the souvenirs on sale are similar to produce found in Northern Thailand. But I found the elephant slippers a must at around 200 baht. Take 30% of the suggested price and haggle.

In the middle of October there is the Awk Phansa festival, this commemorates the ending of the 3 month retreat of monks to temples for the raining season. Curiously Laotians perform some rituals found during the Loy Krathong festival in Thailand; that of floating banana leaf boats carrying candles. There are boat races, and a carnival procession one evening, with Laotian groups and communities, proudly parading their illuminated, decorated floats. After a few further days relaxing; rather than take a flight back to Bangkok, I decided to catch the relatively new daily overnight cross border coach into Northern Thailand from Luang Prabang. An air conditioned bus with wide comfortable seats, frequent stops, will take you overnight to Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai in 14 hours! This bus crosses the Fourth ThaiLao Friendship Bridge, and it is an easy painless formality to enter Thailand once again.

There are other alternatives. Including a slow boat, that takes two days, and an overnight stop in the dusty backwater town of Pakbeng. This is an arduous experience although there is the daredevil speedboat that takes a mere 5 to 6 hours, ear plugs mandatory; it will bring an exhilarating dimension to your travels. Travel Information Flights: Air Asia, Bangkok Air, and Laos Air all fly to Luang Prabang from Bangkok.

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