Laos – Luang PrabangBack to Story

Luang Prabang - the UNESCO river town

Luang Prabang is situated in the middle of Northern Laos and is arguably Laos’ best known destination – for good reason. This beautiful UNESCO site is where the Nam Khan River meets the Mekong River. The town is situated on a natural peninsula surrounded by limestone hills. The river gives the town a feeling of a slow life but there is a busy commercial aspect with ferries conveying tourists and freight around.


The most obvious difference is the architecture of the town. There is a distinctly colonial feel and it appears wealthier than any of the towns visited. Until 1560 it was the capital of Laos and remains an important centre for Buddhism. Luang Prabang continued as royal capital until 1946 when the title was handed to Vientiane.

Luang Prabang has a temple at every turn so there are lots of opportunities to get away from the crowds and explore these lovely buildings. One afternoon I took the chance to have a chat to some of the young monks who come to live in the temple to study. The boys came from all around the country and many from the villages we had visited near Luang Namtha. They typically leave home in their early teens because of finances to study or the opportunity. Many only visit their families once or twice a year but admitted now they have mobiles they can keep in touch. Their aspirations are like any young men as they hope to study more and maybe attend university.

Since tourism opened up in 1989 there have obviously been great changes. There are a number of fashionable restaurants that would be at home in any international city. There are also many boutique hotels and guest houses to choose from. As a result Luang Prabang attracts a well-healed visitor and the shopping reflects this. Upmarket handicrafts and galleries line the streets in between coffee shops and restaurants.

Night Markets

Well worth the visit is the night markets, which are some of the best in Asia. If you miss out there are smaller scale day markets as well. An early morning start is a must to see the monks receiving alms. As part of their commitment to Buddhism they are not allowed to partake in commerce so the village is responsible for providing their food. It feels more ceremonial than practical these days but it is spectacular to see the long lines of saffron robes. It is imperative though to respect it for the religious ceremony it is and not get in the way, speak to the monks, touch them or get too close to take photographs.

Monks receiving alms, streets, temples

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