Luang Prabang - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

Encircled by mountains and charmingly situated at the meeting of the Mekong and Khan Rivers, Luang Prabang, the 'Jewel of the Mekong', conveys an atmosphere of remote serenity and informal splendour.

The heart of a thriving kingdom for more than a thousand years, today it is a sleepy mixture of ancient temples, cobbled lanes, interesting backstreets, French-Indochinese architecture and ochre-coloured colonial buildings. Trees line the streets above the banks of the river where children swim and play, while farmers carefully tend to their tiny, irregular riverside plots of agricultural land. In the mists of dawn, throngs of barefoot orange-robed monks silently make their way from the monasteries to the streets, where locals wait to gain spiritual merit by filling their wooden alms bowls with rice, before disappearing once again into their places of refuge and meditation. Unhurried people drift past stalls of spicy papaya salad, noodles, omelettes and fruit drinks. This is the real Laos, a town with a distinctly village-like feel, but endowed with a historical legacy so rich that it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Tourists to Laos simply shouldn't miss this unique and fascinating city.

The main attractions in Luang Prabang are its historic temple complexes, with about half of the original wats, or temples, still standing. The most magnificent is Wat Xieng Thong (Golden City Temple). Nearby is the Royal Palace with its golden-spired stupa, now a museum, and Wat Wisunalat, the oldest continually-operating temple in the town. Across the river is Mount Phu Si with several temples on its slopes and a monastery on top, a popular spot for its dazzling sunset views of the gilded spires in the town below.

A popular excursion from Luang Prabang is a scenic boat trip past waterfront villages to the nearby Pak Ou caves, filled with images of the Buddha. Also worth visiting is the picturesque Kuang Si Falls, a beautiful multi-tiered waterfall tumbling over limestone formations with clear turquoise pools below.

Information & Facts


The tropical monsoon climate in Luang Prabang is characterised by two seasons, with wet weather from June to October and hotter, dry weather from November to May. Temperatures in the rainy season average at about 79°F (26°C), and in the dry season they reach an average of around 86°F (30°C).

Lao is the official language, but some English and French are spoken.

The Lao Kip (LAK) is the legal currency unit, currently available in denominations of 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 and 50,000 kip. US Dollars, Euros and Thai Baht are also accepted in many places and are more convenient to carry than large stacks of the local currency. Banks, hotels, and jewellery shops all offer currency exchange services. For everyday expenses, carry a mix of US dollars and kip. For larger items, or when the exchange rate works in your favour, use US dollars. For local transport, street food stalls and minor purchases, it is best to use kip. When in rural areas, ensure you carry a supply of small notes as change can be hard to come by. Major credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard are accepted at most international hotels, many shops and restaurants, and a few tourist-orientated establishments in Luang Prabang and Vientiane - but in other parts of the country assume that only cash is accepted. Travellers cheques can be cashed at most banks in Vientiane and other major towns. Banks are open Monday to Friday from 8am to 12pm, and then again from 2pm to 3pm. In Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse and other major towns, ATMs are available from which money can be withdrawn. Note that ATMs distribute only Lao kip, with a maximum of around 1,000,000 kip per transaction.


Shopping in Luang Prabang is a wonderfully rewarding pastime. Don't miss the fresh produce market near the Mekong in Ban Pakam. It's an authentic slice of Laotian life, and best visited in the early morning. The night market opens at dusk each day in the centre of town near Wat Mai. Check out the Baan Killy gallery for high-quality Lao paper crafts, housed in a building that is itself a work of art. Good places to buy quality fabrics are CAMACrafts and Mulberries above Joma bakery, and Erawan Arts which sells exceptional handicrafts from its magnificent 100-year-old premises. The best Laos souvenirs are cotton fabrics, embroidery, carvings and jewellery. Bargaining is expected. Don't be tempted to buy relics as it is illegal to trade in antiquities.

The main attraction in Luang Prabang is the morning Alms Ceremony. Male Laotians from across the country come to Luang Prabang to study Buddhism for at least a year at some point in their life. As such the city is teeming with men and boys dressed in their saffron-coloured robes. Every morning before sunrise the monks proceed through the village along the main street collecting alms for their consumption for the day ahead. This ancient and ritualised ceremony is a sight to behold and a great photo opportunity for those willing to wake up before dawn to go out and see it. Tourists are able to buy rice and foods to give to the monks. Be sure to buy fresh food as there have been scams in the past where market vendors sell old or stale leftovers to naïve tourists. Remember the ceremony is a serious and holy event so be respectful at all times, particularly if you are taking pictures. Women should dress conservatively and know that it is considered extremely rude for a woman to come into physical contact with a monk.

A good day excursion 12 miles (30km) south of Luang Prabang is the Bear Rescue Centre, which can be combined with a trip to Kuang Si Waterfall, located directly opposite. The centre houses endangered Asiatic Black Bears rescued from poachers.

The beautiful multi-tiered Kuang Si falls are worth a trip from Luang Prabang for their refreshing beauty and serenity. Turquoise-green water tumbles over a series of limestone steps and collects in beautiful pools that are surrounded by lush greenery. Walkways lead around the base and to the summit, about 200 feet (61m) up, and there are numerous places to picnic. The falls are about 18 miles (29km) south of Luang Prabang.

About two hours by boat from Luang Prabang lie the Pak Ou Caves, worth a visit if only for the scenic boat trip. A lower and upper cave contain an impressive collection of mostly wooden Buddha statues assembled over the centuries by locals and pilgrims. Each year, hundreds of pilgrims come to these caves to add a statue to the growing collection. The upper cave (Tham Theung) is reached by means of a flight of stairs and requires the use of a flashlight, while the lower cave (Tham Thing) is visible from the river.

Phou Si is a hill near the confluence of the Mekong and Khan rivers, filled with temples. It is visible all over town and as such acts as a navigation landmark for visitors. The views of Luang Prabhang from the top of the hill are worth the steep walk of 355 individual steps. The lower slopes of the hill are dotted with the city's oldest temples, but the best is the golden stupaof That Chomsi at the top, built in 1804. Visit this wonderful attraction in the early morning, when it is cool and the temples are at their most active, or in the evening for the epic sunsets.

The mysterious Plain of Jars in the Xiang Khouang province is an unusual sight, and a must-visit tourist attraction for travellers to Luang Prabang. Hundreds of huge solid stone jars lie scattered about the landscape, some weighing up to six tonnes and measuring about 6 feet (2m) in length. They are believed to be over 2,000 years of age, although their origin or function is unknown. Numerous theories and legends have been fashioned - one such legend states that they were made to ferment rice wine to celebrate a victorious battle against a wicked chieftain in the 6th Century; while other theories claim they were used as sarcophagi, or funerary urns. They are divided into five major groups, with Thong Hai, or Site 1, the largest and most easily accessible site. The jars lie amid thousands of unexploded mines left behind by the war, and as a result only Sites 1, 2 and 3 are open to visitors; the rest are considered too dangerous, and visitors should heed warning signs and keep to well-worn paths. Many guesthouses in the town of Phonsavan offer tours to the sites. While you're in Phonsavan be sure to visit the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) shop to learn about the clearing of unexploded bombs in the area and throughout Laos.

The former Royal Palace, a mixture of French and Lao architecture, is now a museum preserving the possessions of the monarchy. Above the entrance is a three-headed elephant sheltered by the sacred white parasol, the symbol of the Lao monarchy. The most impressive room is the Throne Hall, a dazzling interior of mosaics and mirrors, with displays of royal regalia including glittering swords and the former King's own elephant saddle. The museum's most prized possession, the Pha Bang, a golden image of the Buddha, is housed in a small barred room that was the King's personal shrine. It is the most sacred image in the country, believed to have been crafted in the heavens, and containing miraculous powers of protection over the country.

The most enchanting monastery in the country, and its most talked-about tourist attraction, is the magnificent Golden City Temple at the tip of Laos' peninsula. The graceful, sweeping tiled roof of the main temple is its most impressive feature and the walls are decorated with stencilled gold designs depicting many different traditional tales and, at the rear, is housed a splendid coloured glass mosaic illustrating the 'tree of life'. In the peaceful atmosphere of the compound garden are several shelters, housing rare Buddha images and the gilded royal funerary carriage.

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