Luang Prabang is the jewel in Laos’ delightful and unspoilt land. The streets are lined with breezy French colonial architecture and beset with temples and their saffron-clad monks. Graze at delightful coffee shops and restaurants, browse the boutique shops and market stalls, take day trips or just wander, getting lost in the UNESCO World Heritage streets and alleys, slowly syncing with the delightfully sleepy pace of life.
#1 That Spiritual Life
Arriving in Luang Prabang is like switching your phone camera to slo-mo. The town runs on what we call ‘temple time’. Wake up at dawn to give alms to the monks as they walk, barefoot, from their temples. Lower your gaze and drop small balls of sticky rice into their alms bowls, gracefully and thoughtfully, as they pass. A karmic morning meditation. The morning and afternoon pass unhurriedly. Then bookend the day listening to monks chanting in one of the many temples come evening, and feel grateful that tranquil destinations like this still exist.
#2 Fantastic Feasts (And Pho!)
Croissants or pho for breakfast? This is a town where the cuisines of France and Asia collide. While pho indicates Vietnamese influence you’re also likely to find Thai dishes as well as the Gallic baguettes, cakes, charcuteries and more sophisticated fare. For local treats try the Luang Prabang sausages, steamed riverweed, orlam, a comforting stew with meat cooked in a gravy full of veggies, spiced with pepperwood and thickened with eggplant, and of course, sticky rice. Taste them at the beautifully romantic lakeside Manda de Laos, charming, tiny Café Toui or Tamarind and Bamboo Tree restaurants, where you can also learn how to cook them.
#3 Night Outs on the Town
This is not a town for rowdy nightlife, however, there are some fun places to bid goodnight to the evening. The Luang Prabang Motorcycle Club on the main drag serves up a mean mojito, nearby Icon Klub is another tiny cocktail joint and 525 Luang Prabang brings the lounge bar concept to town. Chez Matt is popular for a glass of vino, as are the Indo-chic interiors of Tangor.
#4 Don’t Miss the Coffee…
Luang Prabang’s sophisticated coffee shop scene makes great use of the local coffee. Jomo is home to shabby chic décor and delicious banana cake. Overlooking the Mekong is Saffron, where the cold drip is a renowned and effective heat buster. Le Banneton is a Luang Prabang institution where everyone goes for croissants post alms giving. You’ll spot Dexter’s by its black, grey and white décor in the tiles and paintwork, and their mocha (with real cacao) is heavenly.
#5 Or the Mekong River
Mucking about on the Mekong River is a must. It’s not as if you’re leaving behind a busy metropolis, but the calm of the water takes the pace down even further. A sunset cruise is easy to fit into the agenda and putt-putts you upstream with a ringside seat for watching village life, before turning and floating back with the current as the sun dips below the mountains.
#6 Pha Tad Ke Botanical Gardens
Alternatively, soak up the riverside life during the 15 or so minutes boat ride to the Botanical Gardens. Once there, a charming walk takes you through Laos countryside, both wild and tamed, while learning about trees, plants, herbs and teas. If you have time, the 45-minute trek to the cave is stunning, and you can refuel on delicious food at their café when you return.
#7 Shopping Galore
The daily night market can be a retail aperitif on your way to dinner, or a digestif, (and you’ll probably you’ll buy more), on your way home post dinner and a few drinks. The fun array of fabrics and textiles, handicrafts, a few antique stalls and plenty that’s irresistible to kids, is set out on blankets on the ground. The main street’s boutiques up the quality factor and include antiques at Le Pavilion de Jade, batik at Ock Pop Tok and Passa Paa, beautiful clothes in silk and cotton at Caruso Lao and irresistible indigo everywhere.
#8 Explore Away
Kuang Si Waterfall takes you to the incredibly turquoise lakes and falls for selfies, instas and a cool dip – arrange the earliest trip possible to avoid the crowds. Pak Ou Caves can be done in a day via a boat trip that stops at Ban Xang Hay village for lunch. The Elephant Park Project is one of the more elephant-friendly ways to interact with these delightful giants.