Two things that were right away obvious to me– the unknown tourist who entered Luang Prabang, the ancient capital of Laos, for the first time– was the interesting mix of French colonial architecture and a culture soaked in Buddhist custom.
It is for this extremely factor that the town was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. I admit, I did not know much about Lao tourism ahead of time, viewing the country as overshadowed by that of its neighbours, so this journey was quite the journey of discovery for me.
Local hospitality is evident in that there is a local custom-made for inviting and bestowing blessings upon travellers alongside an offering of fresh food. On our opening night at the hotel, we were invited to a rather profound Baci event where a group of elders prayed over us and recited Buddhist chants before connecting white strings around both wrists. We were to keep them on for about three days and they must not be eliminated by cutting, lest we attract misery.
Luang Prabang prides itself on the architecture of its various Buddhist temples. There are no less than 30 in the city, each with its own distinct history, decorations and spiritual significance. Most of these temples are quite close to one another, making it easy for any traveller to cover a minimum of half a dozen temples in a day on foot.
Wat Xieng Thong is amongst the more iconic temples in the city. The premises home more than a lots shrines and structures in different sizes, some adorned with lovely emerald green concepts.
The Haw Pha Bang is another spectacular landmark temple in the city, situated on the grounds of the Luang Prabang National Museum, though it is deceptively brand-new. Inning accordance with our guide Kham Pheang, building and construction of the shiny golden temple was formally finished in the last decade, in contrast to the other temples that have actually been around for a few centuries.
The adjacent Luang Prabang National Museum is in fact the previous royal palace, where the royal families of Laos utilized to reside. The structure is the best example of the blend of conventional Lao and colonial French architectural designs here. The museum homes numerous artefacts relating to old Lao culture and personal belongings of the previous royal households. The throne space, in particular, is quite a sight to behold.
The Kuang Si Waterfalls is one of the most widely known waterfalls in Luang Prabang. It is an excellent area for taking photos and visitors can also swim in the icy-cold swimming pools downstream or simply just admire the gorgeous pool surrounds.
Simply throughout the road from the museum is a set of stairs preceding among the best perspective in the city– the summit of Mount Phousi. There are 328 actions to arrive (for referral, Batu Caves has 272 actions, albeit much steeper ones) but it is the best place to view the sun setting over the Mekong River, as obvious by the big crowds of European and Asian tourists alike collected their daily.
There’s a little something for tourists at sunrise, too. Every early morning, at the crack of dawn, Luang Prabang locals and travellers line up on stools along the stretch of Sakkaline Road and wait with a pot of sticky rice or other food in hand, from the local breakfast restaurant. Right on cue, numerous orange-clad monks walk down the street file, accepting these alms from the homeowners and tourists. There are just as many travellers standing around, eager to obtain photographs of this day-to-day spectacle.
If you love to see a city on foot, as I do, Luang Prabang’s large street markets deserve checking out, even if you just intend to take photos. The morning market occupies a long stretch of a back road that runs parallel to the main street, Sisavangvong Road, with one entrance near the National Museum. This is where many residents opt for fresh fruit and vegetables and other groceries however there are likewise local snacks and ornaments that tourists can opt for.
When the sun goes down, the main street itself comes alive with the well-known night market. Unlike the early morning market, the night market focuses more on handicrafts and other ornaments that travellers might purchase. Handmade fabrics are commonly produced in Laos, so there is an abundance of traders offering handcrafted headscarfs, local clothes, bags, table linens, blankets and more.
Crafting a tale
To get a better glimpse of Luang Prabang’s handmade fabric market, one should take a trip out to the towns, far from the city. Our group made a journey down the Mekong River by boat to Restriction Xang Hai, a town that is widely known for another homemade product: whisky. Travellers can observe how the villagers distil what is basically a yarra valley wine from rice into earthen containers, as well as get a taste.
Strolling further into the town, we discovered that every home has a loom that is operated by the woman of the house. Our guide Kham Pheang told us that in Luang Prabang, every girl needs to discover how to weave as it has been their culture for many years, and it gives females another means to make a living, specifically in backwoods.
In towns such as Restriction Xang Hai, tourists can bargain for the very best prices on handcrafted fabric items, some for as low as 25,000 Lao kip (RM13.90) for an easy cotton headscarf. Using silk and the incorporation of more elaborate patterns raises the rate of the product. Headscarfs offered in the city go no lower than double this price. A set of cotton headscarfs that I later purchased a craft centre expense me 100,000 Lao kip (RM55.60).
Those taking a trip on a larger spending plan can even invest the day at the Ock Pop Tok crafts centre near the city to find out the best ways to make and utilize natural dyes, and weave their own silk scarves or Hmong-style batik.
Even more down the Mekong River, the Pak Ou Caves is another attraction that’s popular with travellers. The caves contain over 4,000 mini Buddha statues and were traditionally used as a location for prayer and meditation. To check out the pitch-black upper caves, travellers can obtain torches.
A unique moment for me on this journey was checking out one of the local elephant sanctuaries. The Luang Prabang Elephant Camp is one of a number of located in the province, nearly an hour’s drive from town. This one is home to more than a dozen saved elephants, all female. We were welcomed by the friendly two-and-a-half-year-old infant of the camp, Noi, a name that suggests “small”.
Some of the elephants were bathing down by the Mekong River, and visitors can help scrub the elephants’ heads and backs. The one I approached, a gentle giant called Mae Kham Mum, has very rough skin and is covered in scars. Inning accordance with the camp’s manager Mr Tha, she was rescued from a logging camp.
Climbing onto her back was not easy, and was not easy staying up there either. Mae Kham Mum liked dipping in and out of the water, and all that movement eventually threw my accompanying mahout off her back. But for me, I felt an extensive connection connecting with such a mild giant.
The rural areas of Luang Prabang hold just as much appeal as the city, and nothing is more beautiful than the peaceful natural landscaping design and waterfalls of Luang Prabang. Kuang Si Waterfall is the more popular one, fantastic for photography as well as swimming in its icy-cold swimming pools downstream.
Another notable however lower- understood one that we visited was the Hoy Khua Waterfall. The location surrounding this much taller waterfall has actually been become a recreational park with a treetop rope course and a 1.3 km treetop zip line course that ends in a stunning flower garden. Visitors can also go jungle-trekking or swimming in the swimming pool at the base of the waterfall. Fair warning, though, the water here is really deep.
When it comes to the regional food scene, tourists will instantly see that Luang Prabang is not lacking in Western (especially French) dining establishments and lunch cafe options. Regional Lao cuisine bears some similarities to Thai cuisine, though it is not almost as abundant in flavours. Sticky rice is the staple food for locals and Lao pork sausage is a relatively popular dish. Much of exactly what dining establishments provide are regional ranges of salads, though tourists who would choose to provide street food a shot will find many kinds of grilled meat or fish quickly available at street markets.