Sleepy Backwater Town and Ancient Imperial Capital All in One
Most places in Laos are apt to take you back in time, but this is especially true in somnambulant, temple-filled Luang Prabang (City of the Buddha of Peace) in the mountainous north. With a population of just 15,000, it is Laos’s second-largest city, still untouristed despite its former role as royal capital and the center of Laotian Buddhism.
More than 600 saffron-clad monks inhabit its thirty pagodas, of which the most exceptional is the 16th-century Wat Xieng Thong, the Golden City Temple, built by royalty who held court in Luang Prabang until 1975, when the monarchy was abolished. Its many Thai-influenced structures, containing impressive images of Buddha, escaped an 18th-century invasion by Chinese pirates, making it the oldest in town.
Beyond the temples, visitors will find the city’s unpaved back streets exude the same kind of Buddhist calm, with roosters roaming and children at play, while the main streets are lined with handsome French colonial architecture, including the former villa of Crown Prince Khampha.
Now a hotel owned by the prince’s daughter, it offers eleven simple but attractive rooms, a lovely courtyard, and an inviting upstairs veranda, but the Villa Santi Hotel’s chief draw is its surprisingly sophisticated open-air restaurant, which serves full-course Laotian dinners. It’s the most animated spot in town, but even here things are relaxed. Settle in for dinner after a stroll through the daily Nauvengkhan Market.