Unhurried and charming Luang Prabang can shamelessly be called one of the most attractive cities in Southeast Asia. Well, where else in one day will you see the Asian capital of the early 20th century immersed in a sleepy languor, where monks in silks walk with an absent view against the background of Indo-Chinese villas? And from the neighboring trendy restaurants you can smell the aromas of Gallic cuisine. Taken almost entirely under the protection of UNESCO, in the last decade, Luang Prabang has been reborn as elegant boutique hotels are opening here, and local travel agencies are trying to outdo each other in creating new attractions and excursions – from elephant trekking to kayaking trips to aquamarine waterfalls.
Leaving aside these lyrics, a trip to Luang Prabang is worth it just for the fact that this ancient capital of Laos boasts 32 Buddhist monasteries at once, the oldest of which was built in the 15th century.
How to get there
According to wholevehicles, Luang Prabang International Airport receives flights from many airlines, but, alas, not from Russia. You can fly with a transfer on board Air France, Bangkok Airways, Vietnam Airlines, etc. The most convenient way to get from the airport is by taxi, which is best booked in advance through a hotel or guesthouse, as there may not be drivers at the terminal building.
Arriving at Luang Prabang airport, do not forget to apply for a local “city” visa – in fact it is a swindle, but without it there may be problems with checking into a hotel. The cost is about 2 USD per day.
It is also better to get to the capital, Vientiane, by plane, since direct buses between the two cities take as long as 11 hours, and the road leaves much to be desired (ticket price is about 20 USD). The second popular route from Luang Prabang is the city of Huaysai, bordering Thailand, to which buses or boats often depart – speedboats (400,000 LAK and 7 hours) and slowboats (2 days and 220,000 LAK). Tickets for the latter are sold at the office in front of the Royal Palace.
The city center is easy to get around on foot, if you wish, you can take a taxi or “jumbo” (motorcycle taxi), which is parked on the main street of Sisavangvong.
Weather in Luang Prabang
The ideal weather in Luang Prabang is from November to February, but at the same time, the city is at its peak with a natural influx of tourists. March-May is the hottest period, with dust, heat and an almost unbearable afternoon without air conditioning. June-October is the wet season, when prices drop incredibly in an already inexpensive city. If the shower as a constant companion does not bother, then this time can also be called the best for the trip.
Entertainment and attractions of Luang Prabang
It is better to start your acquaintance with the enchanting Luang Prabang from the oldest and most important temple complex of the city – Wat Sientong. The building is an almost perfect embodiment of the classical temple architecture of the capital, when the slopes of the roof, gradually curving, descend almost to the ground. In addition to the bizarre curves of the roof, the wat attracts attention with mosaics, where marvelous birds and animals in silver, lilac and green tones are depicted on a red background. Inside – rich wall panels, wooden columns, golden images of the “wheels of dharma”.
Of course, one cannot fail to honor the presence of the local Royal Palace, whose main treasure is ballet. At the Royal Theater, amazing performances with scenes from the Ramayana and Lao history are shown every evening during the season (ticket prices are low, from 8 USD). The second important action of Luang Prabang is the feeding of the monks. Every morning around 5:30 you can witness a mysterious rite, when locals and tourists sitting on chairs give a pinch of rice to all the monks passing by. You can buy grain boxes for 25,000 LAK. The seller will tell you how to behave correctly during the ceremony: be silent, put rice only with your right hand into the monastic sacks, do not touch the monks, give the latter all the remaining rice from your tuesk.
Further, the paths of tourists disperse through the numerous wats and monastic complexes of the city. In order not to miss anything significant, you can climb Mount Phousi, which towers over the center of Luang Prabang, outline your further route and just enjoy the views of the Mekong. You can climb Phousi from three sides, the most gentle one is from Dara Market (Kitsalat Rd). It is more convenient to go down directly to the center to the main street of Sisavangwong or to the Khan River.
The best and most colorful place for shopping and buying souvenirs is the Sisavangwong night market (open until 22:00-22:30).
Around Luang Prabang
There is an elephant camp 10 km east of the city, where you can not only ride the powerful backs of strong animals through the jungle, but even book a full-fledged “driver” course for a week with accommodation in the camp, feeding and bathing charming owners of trunks.
South of Luang Prabang, about 35 kilometers, there is a beautiful cascade of waterfalls with natural Kuang Si pools. Its main “feature” is the ability to swim (there are also changing cabins). The waterfall consists of a main cascade 54 m high and a series of small cascades, the most full-flowing – from August to November. Right there, on the territory of the national park of the same name, there is a center for saving the Himalayan black bears, a small bazaar and a couple of cafes. And in the vicinity of Kuang Si, there are traditional pile settlements of the Hmong and Khmu peoples, for example, the village of Ban Tat Paen. In addition to the opportunity to see the life and way of life of the locals, here you can buy handmade souvenirs or even stay overnight in a small guesthouse in the national style.
Closer to the city there is another waterfall – Tad Se – but they are not so picturesque, but there are organized excursions from the elephant camp on elephants or directly from Luang Prabang by boat.
Finally, you cannot leave the city without visiting the Pak U caves (from the name of the river – U and the word “pak”, which means “mouth”). The caves are located, as you might guess from the translation, at the mouth of the river with the funny name U – this is a fairly large tributary of the Mekong. Actually, you can get to these “underground palaces” only by boat on the water, on the way for about half an hour (25 km). The complex consists of the Lower (Tham Ting) and Upper Caves (Tham Theung). Inside is a collection of Buddha statues, mostly made of wood. For centuries, small sculptures of Siddhartha Gautama have been brought here by locals and pilgrims. Today they have gathered more than 4 thousand copies.