Nothing evokes the character and essence of Laos like the cultural capital of Luang Prabang, filled with temples, old and new in a tree-lined street environment of a town. To top it off, colonial buildings here and there further add to its character. Did we mention the laid back atmosphere? Perhaps its location by the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers has something to do with that. Walk down the streets of Luang Prabang and be mesmerized by her offerings!
The city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 because of its religious and colonial significance. It sits 700 metres above sea level at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers. The Old Town is the main historical section of the city and this area is now the main focus for tourism. There are 33 Wats (temples), a Royal Palace and several other impressive residences to visit. The streets of the Old Town are also lined with French colonial buildings. Luang Prabang only began welcoming tourists in 1989. Before that the city was cut off from the world and therefore remained untouched by western influences. Luang Prabang is still an important spiritual centre and the capital of Buddhist learning in Laos. Every morning, saffron robed monks parade through the streets collecting donations of food and domestic supplies from the town’s residents. Tourism has made Luang Prabang one of the richest provinces in Laos, yet it remains a quiet, peaceful haven and retains a unique, traditional atmosphere.
Luang Prabang is also your headquarters to two amazing nearby stops. Nature lovers will surely get thrills from the towering falls, turquoise blue waters and lush scenery of Kuang Si Falls. And from town, cruise along the Mekong to the ever intriguing site of Pak Ou Caves, where thousands of gold Buddha statues await your arrival.
Without doubt, Vientiane is one of Southeast Asia’s quietest capital cities. Hugging a wide bend of the Mekong River, it looks more like a rambling collection of villages, dotted with a few grandiose monuments, than the engine room of a nation. However, in the mere two decades since Laos reopened its doors to foreign visitors, the city has changed with dizzying rapidity.
Now, the city has a shopping mall, a thriving tourist economy, and some excellent places to stay. That said, Vientiane remains quaint and easy-going, and the people have managed to retain their hospitality and sense of humour. High on the list of any visitor to Vientiane should be Wat Sisaket, the city’s oldest temple, and Wat Simuang, which is the most popular temple with worshippers. Another top attraction is That Luang, Laos’s most important religious building, best viewed at sundown when its golden surface glows like a lamp. Aside from temples and stupas, the museum of Lao art, housed in the former royal temple of Haw Pha Kaew, and the socialist-era Lao National Museum are also worth a visit.