The Ancient Spirit of This Place is Still Alive: Luan Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang, with its meld of Franco-Indo-Chinese traditions, architecture and food, was once the capital of Laos and still has that air of importance. The sacred-to-Buddhists Mount Phou Si has gorgeous views of the city and the surrounding mountains and rivers.
Wat Xieng Thong, the region’s most magnificent Buddhist temple and monastery, is lavishly gilded and utterly peaceful, housing a standing Buddha as well as a rare reclining one. Wat Wisunarat is one of the oldest temples, with a sizeable collection of Buddha statues calling for rain. The Royal Palace Museum houses the crown jewels of Laos, as well as a carefully preserved retelling of the country’s history, and the solid gold Prabang Buddha statue. If you’re an early riser, cover up and watch the Alms Giving ceremony, where Luang Prabang’s monks practise walking meditation around the town, receiving rice and food for the day.
For something different, try the Bamboo Tree Cooking Class, which gives you the full experience, from shopping to prep and eating what you cook.
Take a day-trip to Kuangsi Waterfalls by shared minivan or tuk-tuk, and enjoy the beautiful falls. Sharing transport will lower costs as well as turn the day into a picnic of sorts.
The Pak Ou Caves is another great day-trip destination. The upper and lower caves are famous for the thousands of Buddha statues and images left behind by travelling pilgrims to mark their journey. Take the opportunity to cruise down the Mekong River.
LEAVE ON A JET PLANE: Return flights start at 545 USD from Mumbai and 638 USD from New Delhi
VISA: 42 USD (on arrival)
GET AROUND: Luang Prabang is very easy to explore on foot. So give your legs a stretch or treat yourself to tuk-tuk rides. Tourists are chared around 1.5 USD for short tuk-tuk rides. Bike rentals cost around ? 1.5 USD to 3USD/ day, and offer more flexibility.
The eco-friendly E-Bus is a cheap and unhurried way to get around, especially the green line for visitors.
STAY: Luang Prabang’s hostels aren’t too highly recommended, but its guesthouses are quite reasonably priced. Try these options: Villa Ban Lakkam, Lao Wooden House and Lan Kham Riverside. Sala Prabang is not cheap, but is worth the splurge.
EAT AND DRINK: Feasting is a national pastime in Laos, and Luang Prabang is no exception. Fresh, sharp flavours abound, with a variety of succulent meats and robust Laotian coffee on offer. Try the Colonial Cafe Le Ban Vat Sene. Some of the best Lao food in town is at tiny Cafe Toui. Head to the Night Market after 9pm for desserts, like sticky rice and coconut cream, hibiscus smoothies and more.
WHEN TO GO: March to May is hot with hazy skies, but that’s also when the Pi Mai or Lao New Year celebrations take place. June to October is the off-peak monsoon, so prices and numbers plummet. The best time, and peak season, is November to February – this is when reasonable prices and comfortable climates meet.