Luang Prabang – #1 on Your Laos Itinerary
Beneath a beautiful hill adorned with temples, the provincial capital Luang Prabang sits idyllically at the junction of two flowing rivers that nearly encompass the charming city entirely. Golden roofed temples, decorated with painted murals and mosaics of Buddha’s life, teak wrap-around balconies and 19th century shuttered windows, rugged mountain scenery and lush green forests are all part of the reason why you should come visit Luang Prabang, and see this glorious city for yourself!
Luang Prabang is for sure up there on the list of holiday destinations with stunning scenes, architecturally. The city marries the traditional framework of wooden Lao houses with dashes of European architecture, hinting back to a time when Laos was a part of the French colony of Indochine. Not a city of immense population, but a city with immense charm and character, Luang Prabang has graced the top of Wanderlust’s annual popular choice travel awards for Top City many times in recent years, taking the award in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015.
When visiting Luang Prabang for yourself for the very first time, it’s hard not to be amazed by the organized and tidy little city, which might just be the most charming in all of Southeast Asia.
Getting to Luang Prabang, and acquiring your visa!
The local airport is situated just 5 kilometers northeast of the Luang Prabang, and has scheduled flights from/to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Jinghong, Pakse, Siem Reap and Vientiane.
- Bangkok Airways offer flights from and to Bangkok
- Laos Airlines offers flights from and to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Jinghong, Pakse and Vientiane.
- Lao Central Airlines has daily one way flights from Vientiane for about USD60.
- Thai Airways has seasonal flights from Bangkok from October through to March
- Vietnam Airlines offers flights from and to Hanoi and Siem Reap.
The new Luang Prabang International Airport opened in 2013 and is very welcoming. It’s much larger, very clean, quiet and organized.
Visa-on-Arrival service is available at the Luang Prabang International Airport. The price of the vias is based on the visitors nationality, with USD35 being typical, with an additional processing fee on top of the price. You will require a passport photo to obtain a visa. If you don’t bring a passport photo with you, you’ll be charged an additional fee for them to scan your photo from your passport. Ensure you have USD or Lao Kip or Thai Baht, or else you will need to use the ATM outside the front entrance to the airport, or exchange money at the exchange counter which can be an inconvenience when you’re seeking to simply proceed out of the airport. Exchange rates at the Luang Prabang International Airport are actually quite reasonably competitive with outside rates, unlike many other international airports.
ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) nationals do not require a visa to enter Laos for stays not exceeding 30 days.
Interesting things to see and do on your trip to Luang Prabang!
- Alms ceremony: Be up early, because at 5:30 am monks will be collecting alms of rice along Sakkaline Road near Wat Sensoukharam from kneeling villagers and tourists. It is an authentic activity yet also a Luang Prabang tourist attraction, so be prepared for the large amount of tourists lined up on plastic chairs who are participating for fun. Try to dress appropriately: if you’re giving alms and participating in the tradition, dress with dignity and respect for the occasion. It is a photo opportunity for most visitors, however it’s also enjoyable to simply give your offering and stand back to take in the tradition instead of posing with flashing cameras in front of the monks. You can ask your guesthouse to assist you the night before in preparation for giving alms in the morning. Be wary of merchants in the area who have seized the opportunity to cash in on the number of tourists by trying to sell off stale goods, goods of poor quality and sometimes even unsafe foods. In the past, monks have fallen ill from having consumed poor quality offerings.
- Haw Kham: A former Luang Prabang royal palace, and now a wonderful national museum. Pay 30,000 Kip to enter, which includes the use of a locker to store anything you won’t want to haul around the museum. Photos, videos, travel bags or shoes are allowed, which makes the use of the locker important. The museum opens at 8 am until 11:30, and then again at 1:30 until 4 pm each day except on Tuesdays. There will usually be a form of local drama performance or dance performances in the adjacent theatre. For example, during the month of August on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays there were lovely performances at 6:30 pm of “Search of Princess Sida,” a royal ballet. Keep an eye on the schedule, and plan your visit to Haw Kham accordingly!
- Phou Si/Chomsy Hill: If you’re looking for a picturesque Luang Prabang location, look no further than
Phou Si, Chomsy Hill. This is the major hill in the city, where you can walk to the top and take in a magnificent view of the entire area. It isn’t a very steep climb from the hill’s base, and the sun rises and sunsets make are so rewarding. There is almost a panoramic view once you reach the top of the hill, making the trek to the top worth it. There are two different entrances from the bottom of the hill – one along the Sisavangvong Road to the north, which faces the Royal Palace – another on the east side, along Sisavang Vatthana Road. If you take the north entrance, you’ll walk about 130 steps up to the ticket counter and then another 190 steps to the top of the hill, which is a relatively easy climb even for people with lower fitness levels. Simply stop and take a break if it’s tiring. The eastern entrance is a longer climb than the northern entrance, but is also less steep and offers several points of interest along the climb. Stop to check them out while catching your breath! The entrance fee is 20,000 Kip.
- Sunset on the waterfront: While we’re on the topic of sunsets, why not take a stroll along the Mekong and discover one of the many restaurants along the way. Enjoy a delicious Luang Prabang dish as you watch the sun set on the horizon, turning the sky hues of pink and orange. Not to ruin the mood, but take along some mosquito repellent – you might need it!
- Vat Xieng Thong: Come and see the “Golden City Temple,” the most beautiful and oldest monastery in all of Luang Prabang. Built in 1560,this temple is indeed very photogenic, and is a must-see for anyone in the area. The architecture is simply stunning! The Golden City Temple has well tended grounds, and is the site for many interesting events throughout the seasons. The temple opens to the public at 6 am and closes at 6 pm. The admission fee is 20,000 Kip. You can access Vat Xieng Thong from the road along the Mekong river,or by the other entrance on the by-lane off the Luang Prabang main road.
- Vipassana temple and park : Head to this golden temple, highly visible from Phou Si, if you want to take in an amazing view and learn about this shrine for Buddhists who practice Vipassana meditation. Come and see locals visiting the temple and park to meditate either under the guidance of the monks, or on their own. If you’re inspired to try learning it yourself while in Luang Prabang, you will discover that there are abbots and instructors of meditation who are able to show you the principles of this style of meditation. The ability to practice this authentic form of meditation is an amazing souvenir to be able to take back home with you at the end of your Luang Prabang vacation, and carry with you for the rest of your life. Meditation in Luang Prabang sometimes is performed in combination with fasting, and some take to living in the monasteries during these periods of fasting and meditation. Females also come meditate at the temples, and meditation is the only form of religious exercise women are able to take part in.
Take a Banana Boat Trip on the Mekong!
One of the most interesting ways to see Luang Prabang is by boat! Jump aboard a Mekong Banana Boat and take a trip along the Mekong River, as there are many sites around Luang Prabang that are best explored from the water! Take the sunset cruise and guided trip to Pak Ou Cave, and enjoy a comfortable tour complete with drinks and snacks, seated in padded seats with a roof covering you from the sun, including life jackets, bathroom facilities and an experienced captain.
Come to Luang Prabang to celebrate Lao New Year!
Every year from April 14th to April 16th, Laos celebrates their New Year officially for three days, but the celebrations usually last a full week! Come see the trade fair at the Luang Prabang old stadium, peruse the open markets along the city’s main street, and enjoy the fanfare of the Miss Lao New Year contest as well as the various parades that take place in Luang Prabang over the duration of the festival. Buddha images are cleaned in perfumed water outside of the temples where they are usually housed, and baci are held in local homes – traditional blessing ceremonies. Stupas made of sand are built for good luck, and the renowned Phabang-the Buddha, the Buddha that gave Luang Prabang its name, is proudly displayed and worshipped at Vat Mai.
See Boun Bang Fai, the Rocket Festival!
Taking place just after the Laos New Year is Boun Bang Fai, a fertility and rain making festival just before Luang Prabang’s rainy season begins. Rockets are created and set off into the clouds, “fertilizing” them and encouraging the clouds to bring the precious rains that are responsible for feeding the rivers, fertilizing the fields and bringing life to prabang Luang and the surrounding lands. The Rocket Festival is one of the most colourful and entertaining events in Luang Prabang!
Take part in Boun Khao Padabdinh, the Boat Racing Festival!
Each year in late August or early September (depending on the lunar calendar,) Luang Prabang celebrates Boun Khao Padabdingh the annual boat racing festival. Locals make morning visits to temples in order to make offerings to the ancestors, and perform “merit-making”. During the festival’s afternoon, annual boat racing takes place on the Nam Khan River, in front of riverbanks crowded with people coming to cheer and celebrate the races.
Come to Luang Prabang to witness Boun Lay Hua, the end of Buddhist Lent.
Boun Lay Hua is held each year in October and November, and celebrates the end of Buddhist Lent. At night, candlelit processions make their way through Luang Prabang and banana-leaf boats brimming with flowers, candles and colourful incense are set adrift along the Mekong River.
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