Among the countries of Southeast Asia, Laos’ star has steadily risen in recent years. Its stunning landscapes, friendly people, exceptional cuisine and ultra-relaxed atmosphere draw nature lovers, foodies, culture vultures and those just looking to chill out. You’ll find all of those attributes – and more - in Laos’ former royal capital, Luang Prabang.
Adventure is usually the first thing that comes to mind with travel in the region, but Luang Prabang flips the script. It effortlessly exudes romance; a walk around town is like an unfurling series of almost unbelievably beautiful vignettes. One moment you’ll see monks in citrus-hued robes sweeping up piles of fuchsia bougainvillea petals, the next you’ll stumble upon a temple covered in glittering mosaics and gold paint, and then next you’ll catch a glimpse of slow-moving longboats plying the legendary Mekong River. And as strangers greet you with a “sabaidee” and a smile as you walk through a cloud of floral perfume floating from a nearby garden, you’ll almost need to pinch yourself to remember that this place is, indeed, real.
Spending a few days here, and getting into the rhythm of the place, is ideal. But no matter how long you’re able to stay, these are the must-do activities that capture the romance and relaxation you’ll find in Luang Prabang.
* Temples: For a small town, Luang Praban has more than its share of beautiful temples – 32 to be exact.
You can make a day’s excursion of visiting as many as you’d like, or simply try visiting one per day. Above all, don’t miss Wat Xieng Thong, one of the most religiously and historically significant temples in the region, and the best example of Luang Prabang-style temple architecture. Dress respectfully, covering shoulders and knees, whenever you visit temples.
* Cuisine: Lao cuisine is completely unique among the famed foods of its nearby neighbors of Thailand and Vietnam. Spicy, pungent and complex, it utilizes unique ingredients like water buffalo skin, Mekong river algae and local roots, plants and berries to delicious effect. Taking a cooking class will show you exactly how to coax these amazing flavors out of humble foods. The classes at Tamarind, which is also one of the town’s top restaurants, are in high demand, so sign up ahead of time.
* Crafts: Weaving and other textile arts have a long tradition in Laos, and this traditional craft form is being kept alive by dedicated artisans. Silk textiles with incredibly intricate patterns are a popular souvenir from Luang Prabang. Ock Pop Tok is a fair trade shop that helps support weavers and artisans, and they have a beautiful selection of scarves, garments, home textiles and more.
* Nature: Luang Prabang can get hot, and the best way to cool off is with a trip to Kuang Xi Waterfalls.
The milky turquoise water and cascading pools are a mesmerizing sight, but it’s even more fun to go for a dip – or send yourself flying off a rope swing into the water. There are changing cabins at the falls, so be sure to bring your suit, as well as some sturdy shoes for the sometimes slippery hike between all of the different falls.
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