A small and often overlooked country compared to some of its better known neighbours, Laos is slowly emerging from its shadows to become of one South-East Asia’s most up and coming destinations. Product Manager Cassie recently returned from Laos, discovering why it remains one of South-East Asia’s best-kept secrets. Here are her eight experiences in Luang Prabang and the surrounding areas not to be missed.
Mekong River Cruise
An unmissable experience. You must spend some time cruising the surrounding stretch of the Mekong and stopping at local river side villages almost impossible to access by road. We include a river cruise to Pak Ou Caves on our ‘Images of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos’ itinerary.
Wat Xieng Thong
Known as the ‘Golden City Monastery’ this is one temple not to be skipped. It is the religious emblem of Luang Prabang, dates back to the 1500’s and is a real architectural gem. It has a two tiered roof, hand carved walls and is covered in intricate mosaics that include a dazzling tree of life on the external rear wall. While it can be possible to get ‘templed out’, this one is a definite winner!
After the rainy season each year a bamboo bridge is constructed over the Nam Kahn River which then has to be removed before the start of the rainy season again. A lovely yearly tradition the bridge is actually very strong and can be crossed for a small fee (which goes directly to support the Lao family that builds the bridge).
The official definition of ‘alms giving’ is the practice of giving food or money to poor people. In Laos it is part of the culture that all males spend a portion of their life as a monk who live with no financial income and have to rely on the general population to survive. The alms giving in Luang Prabang happens every morning at sunrise where long lines of locals gift the monks with food (mainly rice) and is an important part of the local culture. If you choose to wake up early to witness this tradition you can either observe from a distance or you can even choose to take part in it yourself.
Laotian Chicken Larb
I tasted chicken larb on my first night in Laos and have been raving about it ever since. It is essentially a Lao minced meat salad that can be made with a variety of different meats but the chicken was my favourite. Unsure of what to expect it was fresh and full of flavour – very worthy of being (unofficially) regarded as the national dish of Laos. Wash it down with an equally excellent Beer Lao!
Baci is a ceremony used to celebrate special occasions and events in the Lao culture and has been practiced for hundreds of years. White string is tied around your wrist which represents tying the 32 Lao protective spirits to the body to bring good luck and prosperity. A fascinating insight into the local customs and culture it’s definitely worth experiencing if you find yourself visiting Laos.
The former Royal Palace in Luang Prabang is now home to the National Museum and offers a great insight into Lao History and culture. Relatively small in size it can easily be covered in a couple of hours and the exhibits go back a number of centuries through to the present day. Try going with a local guide (which we include on our itinerary) and they can give you some interesting information that may not be covered in the exhibits themselves.
Sunrise/Sunset at Mount Phousi
One for the more energetic and adventurous Mount Phousi (known as the Sacred Hill) is 100m high and located in the centre of the old town of Luang Prabang. If you have the energy to walk up to the summit you will be rewarded with 360 degree panoramic views of the city and surrounding area, a mesmerizing sight to behold especially at sunrise or sunset.