The Soothing Charm of Luang Prabang

36 comments
Asia, Laos

Haw Pha Bang at The Royal Palace Complex

I carefully opened the curtain, peeked out the window and sighed. The day didn’t look too promising. Clouds were hanging over the sky, casting a dim grey hue from above. But it was so quiet, so peaceful. No honking, only a faint noise from nearby houses hinting at the usual morning activities of local people. The loudest thing I could hear was the crowing of roosters, a natural wake-up call. This is Luang Prabang, and after a few days here in Laos’ second city, I knew that it was exactly how every day started in this picturesque town – where time seemed to pass so slowly.

Sluggishly we walked around the eastern part of Luang Prabang’s old town where we stayed during our visit. Empty streets were festooned with the refreshing colors of blooming flowers. Occasionally motorbikes broke the silence, but only for a few seconds until the noise faded away and left the streets as silent as they were. A few activities were spotted along our stroll: a lady drying out bright yellow wafers under the sun which gradually shone through the clouds; some locals making casual banter over their breakfast; and shop owners preparing for business in the off-peak tourist season.

Before the French occupation in 1893, Luang Prabang was the royal capital of an eponymous kingdom for centuries – as early as the 7th century when the town was still called Muang Sua. It remained a royal capital of the unified Kingdom of Laos until the communist takeover of the whole nation in 1975. Having endured numerous annexations from foreign nations – Khmer, Siam, Champa and eventually French, Luang Prabang showcases the diffusion of various cultures from its past, notably in the surviving buildings inside the old town’s perimeter. With a population of a mere 50,000, this tranquil town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 due to the abundance of French colonial buildings, ancient Buddhist temples and the preserved traditions of the locals.

Dubbed the cultural capital of Laos due to its rich history, Luang Prabang hosts many elegant Buddhist temples (wats) along its grid-lined streets. The most important and famous ones are Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Sen. Other wats which are often included in the must-visit list of every traveler in town are Wat Tham Phu Si and Wat Chom Si, both perched on the summit of Mount Phu Si – right in the heart of Luang Prabang’s old town. However, contrary to the first two wats, the latter are rather modest in size and ornaments. The vista from the summit is the sole reason for people to climb all the way up the hill on a well-paved staircase.

Staying for three days in Luang Prabang taught us the best way to enjoy the town: taking our time, very slowly. When we were not visiting any temple or doing any activity, we could always find a reason to savor scrumptious Lao food and have another glass of watermelon chilli granita. Fortunately for us, Luang Prabang has some of the best Lao restaurants in the country.

When we thought that there was really nothing else to do in Luang Prabang, we were offered a day trip to Tat Kuang Si waterfalls on our last day in town. Unbeknownst to us, it would turn out to be the most challenging and physically exhausting activity that we did in Laos.

View of Luang Prabang Valley from Mount Phu Si

Notice The Golden Pagoda?

French Colonial Buildings

Shops at The Old Quarter

An Empty Street in The Tranquil Town

Wat Nong Sikhunmeuang

Drying Wafers Under The Sun

Serenity

Colors of May

Related Posts: Lao Food: I Lao You!, The Long Road to Luang Prabang, The Wat and The Waterfall

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

36 thoughts on “The Soothing Charm of Luang Prabang”

  1. What gorgeous photos Bama! I didn’t manage to get a good one of Wat Nong, the wafers or the staircase – that one has to be my favourite!

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    • Thanks James! But your pictures on Wat Xieng Thong were gorgeous! Mine are not as good. When I saw the wafers I knew I had to take a picture of them. 🙂

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  2. Pingback: The Long Road to Luang Prabang « What an Amazing World!

  3. Fiona.q says:

    i like your first shot a lot. the building looks so interesting and beautiful!

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  4. Pingback: Lao Food: I Lao You! « What an Amazing World!

  5. Nice !! Thanks for bringing back really fond memories of my visit here (also in May). I assume that you did come out early one morning to see the monks? I may have to look through my old LP photos again. Maybe I will post photos from old trips one of these days to relive them… (probably not, I’m too lazy)

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    • Thanks! Was it hot and humid when you visited LP? Because when I did I constantly sweating! Then the owner of the hotel told me that May is always the hottest month of the year. The thing is we were so lazy to get up early in LP (blame the ambiance! :)) and the only time we saw the monks in the morning was on our way to the airport on the last day in LP. Maybe you should, Lauren! I’d love to know how it looked like and what has changed since then.

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      • yes it was so hot and humid !!!! ick. I can’t believe you missed the monks going through town 🙂 but I’ve missed plenty of things people say I “must do” and oh well, not end of the world. so awesome your trips

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      • Every time I missed some “must see or do” things, I always makes it a reason for another visit. 🙂
        So are yours! And Nepal, that is awesome!

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  6. What a nice post. I have a post on Luang Prabang in “drafts” and you hit many of the same spots as me. Just loved the open air market in the mornings and loved my stay at La Residence Pho Vau. Thanks for bringing back the memories of one of my favorite places.

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    • Thanks David! Well, it’s a small town anyway so chances are everyone who posts on Luang Prabang will hit the same spots. 🙂

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    • I’m glad this post brought back some good memories to you, Andy! Thanks for dropping by!

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  7. Wow, great images and story! As you know we will be in Northern Thailand for a couple of weeks coming August. You kind of convinced me to visit LP for a couple of days..

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    • Thanks Emiel! I think LP is really worth a visit. But I’m not sure if August is in the peak season or not. I do hope you’ll have a great time with your family though. If you have more time you might also want to visit the capital – Vientiane – as well.

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    • It does in every way. Having done South America, Southeast Asia would be a breeze for you!

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  8. Photo Media says:

    Aah brings back nice memories. Love the old streets and the colonial style buildings. Didn’t get up to Phu Si though … was too exhausted 🙂 The sixth image from the top, the corner building is it the Chang Heritage Hotel ? If so I stayed there for nearly a week … superb hotel 🙂 These are really nice shots !

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    • I myself was quite exhausted after climbing Phu Si – and it was the hottest month in a year! I’m not sure if that is Chang Heritage Hotel because apparently some places have moved, for instance Tamarind. Thanks for your lovely comment! 🙂

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  9. I have never been to a city/town or built up area where my soul has been at peace like it was when in LP. Great Post and pictures, thanks for letting me re-live the memories

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    • LP does it to many people, including me. I’m glad this post can bring back good memories to you.

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  10. Pingback: The Wat and The Waterfall « What an Amazing World!

    • Hey Bart! Luang Prabang is one of those places that really slows you down, in a good way. When I was there I felt like I could write a book, or a lot of articles just because the old town was so peaceful and laid back. A perfect place to wind down and just relax. You should fly through KL or Bangkok though.

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