1 Live, sleep, eat, and breathe within a UNESCO World Heritage site. The old city centre of Luang Prabang is an exceptional example of the successful fusion of the traditional architectural and urban structures and those of the European colonial rulers of the 19th and 20th centuries. Its unique townscape is remarkably well preserved, illustrating a key stage in the blending of two distinct cultural traditions. And what makes this UNESCO site remarkable is that it is a living breathing town that you can experience first-hand by staying within its precincts.
2 Explore the Pak Ou Caves. One of Luang Prabang’s most famous sites, these limestone caves near the Mekong have been a place of worship for more than a thousand years. When pilgrims completed the difficult journey to the caves, which lie 25 kilometres upriver from Luang Prabang in a cliff 15 metres above the water, they left behind a Buddha idol. Over time they added up, and the caves are now filled with thousands of Buddha images in varying sizes and styles. See the lower cave and then get to the upper cave, a 10-minute trek up some steep steps. You’ll need a torch to see anything, but the effort is worthwhile. The cave shelters thousands more Buddha images and, with far fewer tourists than the lower cave, feels like the serene place it originally was.By river, the trip takes two hours from Luang Prabang and you can go with a tour agency, buy a ticket from the boat dock or charter your own boat.
3 Ponder over the mysterious Plain of Jars. Visit the Plain of Jars in Phonsavon, located between Vientiane and Luang Prabang. One of the country’s strangest landmarks, the Plain of Jars contains dozens of stone “jars” that date back thousands of years. This is considered the most distinctive and enigmatic of all Laos attractions. The mysterious jars were carved from both sandstone and granite in various sizes from very small to about 3.5 metres high and are thought to be more than 2,000 years old. Legend has it that they were made to store rice wine while some believe they were for storing the dead.
4 Giving alms to monks - Tak Bat in Luang Prabang. Follow your expert local guide to roads in Luang Prabang few tourists know about and watch monks take alms at the various temples throughout the city. It’s an incredible sight to witness - a single file line of orange robed monks carrying bowls to collect offerings in front of them. The monks line up in order of age, with the eldest monk going first. Locals and tourists alike lay offerings of food, flowers, and incense into their bowls. Make sure to always remain respectful and to be dressed appropriately as this is an important local tradition that locals are privileged to even view, much less take part in.
5 Experience a Baci Ceremony. Fusing Buddhist and animist beliefs, the Baci ceremony is one of the most revered traditions in Laos. Join locals at a serene hillside temple for a special, private Baci. Illuminated by candles and surrounded by fabulous views, this is a magical spot for a blessing ceremony. As the sun sets, special trays of flowers and other offerings will be laid out. Join the locals to touch the tray while chanting Buddhist mantras. The rhythmic chants are calling for good luck and good health to be brought upon the baci participants. After the chanting, cotton bracelets will be tied around everyone’s wrists with special, individual blessings being offered.
6 Laap up some Oh Lam! While most travellers are familiar with Thailand's curries and noodle dishes, and Vietnamese banh mi are no longer a novelty, the cuisine of Laos has yet to make the same inroads. Among the country's signature dishes are laap, a salad with meat "cooked" by marinating in lime juice, like a ceviche. The Hmong people are responsible for oh lam, a popular stew with mushrooms, gourds, beans, and other vegetables.
7 Watch the ballet in Luang Prabang. The ‘Phra-Lak-Phra Lam’ is the national epic of the Lao people. It tells a Jataka story – of a previous lifetime of the Buddha. This mesmerising ballet is the Lao version of the Sacred Poem, and is performed every Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening in the Royal Palace of Luang Prabang.
8 The Kuang Si Waterfall in Luang Prabang cannot be missed! The waterfall falls in spectacular pools with bright turquoise water. The lower pools are perfect for swimming in and the bridge at the base of the main 60metre waterfall offers the perfect photo opportunity. If you're fit, climb up alongside the waterfall to the very top where you can view the waterfall from the top, swim in the pools or rent a bamboo raft and paddle up stream.
9 Night market in Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang night market is something not to be missed when visiting this charming city. It's an amazing sight and offers the most extensive collection of handicrafts in the country. More than 300 handicraft vendors sell their hand-made products here every night. The market showcases an extensive variety of handicrafts made by local ethnic groups. On display are many types of textiles, exquisite ceramics, antiques, paintings, coffee and tea, quilts, shoes, silver, bags, bamboo lamps of different shades and sizes, and even rare spices. What most shoppers like about the traders here (as well as in Laos as a whole) is that they don't force people to buy anything. Most local traders in the Luang Prabang night market speak little English. Taking a leisurely walk through the night market is an enjoyable experience in itself.
10 Overnight cruising on the River Mekong. A river cruise down the Mekong is as exciting, diverse and surprising today as at the time it was explored by Lagreé and Garnier, the two Frenchmen who were the first western surveyors to reach the region. Their expedition of 1866-68 moved up the river in small dugout canoes. As they were at the mercy of the elements – sun and rain, intense heat and cold - their journey was an extremely dangerous and strenuous affair. Today, a cruise on the Mekong is considerably more comfortable with a choice of several mid-range to luxury cabin cruise vessels. The river is still a wild force of nature, but it flows with a mix of calm and ease that alternate with most dramatic and exciting shore sceneries - tropical lush green mountains, impressive rock formations and secluded villages along the river banks.