Laos Luang Prabang Kuang Si Waterfall Upper

Exploring Laos: the charms of Luang Prabang

In FAM Trip, Laos by Jaclynn Seah8 Comments

When Silkair flew me up on their inaugural trip to Laos, I was pretty stoked to finally get to visit this little landlocked country. We started off in the capital Vientiane, but the historic former capital Luang Prabang has a certain charm and quaintness about it that makes you want to stay. Here’s a look at some of the amazing sights to check out in and around Luang Prabang.

Laos Luang Prabang Mekong River Boat Back

One of my favourite things in Luang Prabang – the Mekong River

Why should you visit Luang Prabang?

It’s easy to overlook Laos when you are planning a trip to Southeast Asia – not surprising as this landlocked country is surrounded and dwarfed by China (Huge), Vietnam (omg the food), Myanmar (still pretty new to most), Thailand (OMG THE FOOD) and Cambodia (Ang Kor Wat!), all popular countries on the backpacker trail. Laos shares much history with its neighbours but also has its own unique culture that’s worth checking out, and its relatively low-key nature means Laos hasn’t become all too touristy… yet.

Luang Prabang is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and was the old capital of the Lao Kingdom before it shifted to Vientiane, and downtown Luang Prabang is a compact walkable peninsular bracketed by the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers that you can stroll or cycle around quite easily.

Laos Luang Prabang From Plane

Looking down as we take off

Check out this post about things to do in Lao’s capital Vientiane, and here’s a post I wrote for Yahoo Travel Inspirations about the must-see highlights of Laos worth checking out.

As always, handy dandy Google Map for you to refer alongside the blog post below:


Things to do in Luang Prabang

In Luang Prabang

Further away


Things to see in Luang Prabang

Wat Xieng Thong

If you only have time for one temple in Luang Prabang, then Wat Xieng Thong is your best option. First built in 1560 by King Setthathirat, this was the temple where Laotian kings were coronated and considered one of the most important landmarks in Laos for its historical significance and a masterpiece of Laotian religious architecture. I recommend taking some time to admire the intricate detail on its inner and outer walls – the temple has mostly kept its original form though it was repaired and restored extensively in the 1960s, but there is some beautiful art to be found all over the temple.

Laos Luang Prabang Wat Xieng Thong

Just one of the buildings that makes up Wat Xieng Thong

Laos Luang Prabang Wat Xieng Thong Wall

Look at all the detailing on some of the inner walls

Laos Luang Prabang Wat Xieng Thong Star Me

I love how small this giant star hanging at the entrance of the temple made me look

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Ock Pop Tok

Ock Pop Tok is a social enterprise for women and by women that showcases the beauty of traditional Laotian textiles. Here you can see how the textiles are dyed and painstakingly woven into beautiful garments and buy them to support the local village women who produced those pieces, sometimes even showcasing their craft live at the Ock Pop Tok centre. I ended up buying a pretty cool reversible cap for myself.

Laos Luang Prabang Ock Pop Tok Shop

A display explaining Laotian textile history

Laos Luang Prabang Ock Pop Tok Dye

How different dye colours are achieved with various plants

Laos Luang Prabang Ock Pop Tok Artisan

This lady is a master at her craft – that’s all hand drawn!

Laos Luang Prabang Ock Pop Tok River View

Also, there’s a really nice balcony/chill out area to take in the river view from

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Day and Night Markets

The morning market at Kitsalat Road runs for most of the day, though morning 5am – 9am is probably the most bustling time to visit as the fresh produce is on sale. This market gives you a look at local life and you get some weird stuff interspersed with the everyday sundry, like the wasp larvae filled nests… eek!

Laos Luang Prabang Market Baskets

Traditionally woven baskets

Laos Luang Prabang Market Chicken Cloth

And next to the scarves… chickens doing some synchronised swimming

Laos Luang Prabang Market Honeycomb

Do people eat these? That seems a bit icky!

And when the sun goes down, the night market along Sisavangvong Road has a great atmosphere and also a good spot to score some Laotian souvenirs and craft stuff at very affordable prices. I bought a pair of backpacker pants for just US$3 and patterned drawstring bags for pretty cheap as well. My night photos are kinda shitty so I’ll leave you with this shot of some street food that you can sample as well.

Laos Luang Prabang Night Market Food

hungry? markets are the best place to pick up snacks!

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Bamboo Bridges

The bamboo bridges of Luang Prabang only appear in the drier months when the rivers are low and not flowing too fast or high. I saw 2 bridges in action while I was in Luang Prabang, and crossed one of them. They are a little rickety as they aren’t meant to be permanent – they are swept away during the rainy season – so be careful when crossing!

Laos Luang Prabang Bamboo Bridge

Just a random bamboo bridge

Laos Luang Prabang Bamboo Bridge View

This one has a little toll booth where you pay a very small token to cross

Laos Luang Prabang Bamboo Bridge Crossing

This is what it looks like on the bridge, hold on tight to your belongings! It’s surprisingly sturdy

Laos Luang Prabang Bamboo Bridge Dog

This little doggy was walking by

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Religious Traditions

Laos is a very staunchly Buddhist nation, and one practice worth witnessing is the Buddhist alms giving ceremony or Tak Bat. This is a tradition where devotees offer food and drink to the Laotian monks to consume in their one daily meal and takes place at sunrise.

It is quite a sight to see, monks of all ages in their orange robes walking along the streets en route to the temple, and people quietly putting food and drink into their baskets. The monks often take some of the offerings they have been given and donate them back to temples that they walk past, or give them to other people in need.

Beyond just watching like most of the other tourists, we were very lucky to be given a chance to actually participate in this ritual, where we each had a basket of sticky rice that we distributed to the monks that walked past us. I was surprised at how young some of these monks were. If this is something you might want to participate in, check out this experience offered by Backstreet Academy where a local will guide you through the ceremony and teach you more about the Buddhist culture.

Laos Luang Prabang Alms Giving Monks

monks walking by

Another religious ceremony we participated in was called Baci, a blessing ceremony that is often used as a welcome – ours took place at our Hotel Sofitel Luang Prabang.

Laotians believe that people are made up of 32 organs, each governed by a spirit or kwan. When you travel, you leave a bit of kwan behind and if your kwan gets too dispersed or goes wandering, that’s when misfortune or illness happens. There is a prayer ceremony where the main centerpiece and the strings are blessed, and after that but the elders went around and tied a white string around every person’s wrist, symbolic of them tying your kwan to you and keeping it from wandering.

Laos Luang Prabang Blessing Ceremony

The Baci ceremony and the elders

Laos Luang Prabang Blessing Strings

Hopefully my kwan stuck around! I left them on for the entire trip – you can take them out but they tell you to avoid scissors and if possible just let it fall off eventually. I unpicked each of my knots to be safe when I got back to Singapore.

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Things to see around Luang Prabang

Kuang Si Waterfalls

The Kuang Si Waterfalls is about 45mins drive outside the town and one of my favourite things about Laos overall. This waterfall isn’t particularly tall not spectacular, but it is very pretty and has a lovely teal colour that doesn’t require too much of a hike AND you get the chance to swim in its lower sections.

Laos Luang Prabang Kuang Si Waterfall Sign

A short walk to the waterfalls.

The path to the waterfall is quite well trodden so you don’t need special shoes. Make sure you have your swimwear and maybe pack some snacks so you can have a dip and picnic. Just to note that in the bits you can swim in, there are little crabby things in the water that will nip at your toes, so don’t freak out too much when that happens. You can also pop into a little crevice behind the waterfall and pretend you are in one of those martial arts movies ‘training’ under the waterfall.

Laos Luang Prabang Kuang Si Waterfall Lower Me

Falling down on me

Laos Luang Prabang Kuang Si Waterfall Mid

Maybe about midway up, no swimming here, just pretty water

The upper bits are not for swimming and the highest drop here is about 60m. It can get pretty muddy because of the constant spray from the waterfalls, so watch your step. It’s probably the prettiest bit of the waterfalls.

Laos Luang Prabang Kuang Si Waterfall Upper

Kuang Si Waterfalls

Laos Luang Prabang Kuang Si Waterfall Upper Me

Tadah!

En route to the waterfalls is the Free The Bears Bear Rescue Centre, where you can see 38 Asiatic black bears (also known as moon bears) and other animals that have been rescued from poachers – bears are often targeted for their bile and innards that is used in medicine. We got a bit of a behind-the-scenes look at the bear sanctuary and even got to toss in some of those orange feeder balls.

Laos Luang Prabang Bear Rescue Centre Bear

Bears! We got to throw them food in these orange balls so they could stick their noses in and dig them out

Laos Luang Prabang Bear Rescue Centre Cage

Bears are so much bigger than me and I was already pretty squashed, this was pretty sad :/

Also worth checking out is the Butterfly Park, unfortunately we didn’t have time for it but it’s apparently a very pretty manicured garden and according to the internet, worth a gander.

Getting there

One way to get to Kuang Si Falls is to share a tuktuk or mini van – the ride is about 45 minutes and there are plenty of places that offer tours to this area. Or get your hotel to get a private driver or you can try and bargain with the taxi drivers yourself – it doesn’t hurt to make some friends so that you don’t have to wait around too long for them to fill the spaces. The shared option should cost about 50,000 kip and renting your own private vehicle will be about 200,000-300,000 kip.

There is an option to take a boat some way down the Mekong River and then swap to a land vehicle which might be nice if you don’t have the chance to do the Pak Ou Caves (see below), or even trek through the mountains past local villages if are up to it.

Entrance fee to the falls is 20,000 kip.

Open Daily 8am – 5.30pm

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Pak Ou Caves

Getting to the Pak Ou Caves requires you to take a ride in a traditional colourful long boat down the Mekong River, which is a really pleasant way to enjoy this landlocked country, especially when the weather gets sweltering. Strap in for a long ride though, it takes about 2 hours by boat each way.

Laos Luang Prabang Mekong River Boat Me

Precariously perched on the side of the boat! #doitforthegram

Laos Luang Prabang Mekong River Boat

We caught the sunset on the way back

At the juncture where the Mekong River meets Nam Ou River, there are two caves carved into the side of a steep cliff face called the Pak Ou Caves.

Laos Luang Prabang Pak Ou Caves Cliff

Finally!

A short steep stair climb later finds you in a dimly lit cave, and as your eyes adjust to the dark you realise that the cave is absolutely packed with a variety of Buddha statues, which is simultaneously mesmerising and frankly kinda creepy. It turns out these caves were the end point of a difficult pilgrimage, and all the Buddha statues were left behind as a token by the pilgrims who undertook this annual journey – the collection accumulated over the years to what you see today.

Laos Luang Prabang Pak Ou Caves Statues

Statues near the entrance of the lower cave Tham Ting

Laos Luang Prabang Pak Ou Caves Statues More

More statues of all sizes, shapes and colours

Laos Luang Prabang Pak Ou Caves Statues Close

Love the detail

If you head out of the first cave, there is a pathway that leads you up to another cave further up the hill that you can enter as well. You need your own torch because this one is pretty dark – borrow one from the entrance if you need one.

Laos Luang Prabang Pak Ou Caves Upper Entrance

Entrance to the upper cave Tham Theung

Getting There

Head to the longboat office near the Saffron Cafe to get tickets – the slow boat is 80,000 kip, though there might be faster boat options that cost more from private tour operators if you are short on time. It’s a 2 hour boat ride up the Mekong River to Pak Ou Caves at the juncture with Nam Ou River. You can take a motorbike as well most of the way to Ban Pak Ou and then hop on the boat to cross the river.

Entrance to the caves is 20,000 kip.

Open daily 8am – 5pm

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What did I miss out in Luang Prabang? Tell me what I need to check out.

Looking for more Laos inspiration? Check out this detailed post on things to do in Vientiane, or this post I wrote for Yahoo Travel Inspirations about some highlights of Laos you shouldn’t miss.

I was invited to Laos on a media trip with Silkair where I flew on their inaugural Laos flight to Vientiane and Luang Prabang in 2016. All opinions are my own.

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Comments

  1. It took me around half an hour to fully read your post, but thanks from bottom my heart , its totally worth. I’m happy with the details you have mentioned with the clean images. It was like I also traveling with the post, that place is now added to my travel list, thanks a lot! :))

  2. Luang Prabang looks so beautiful! I’ve never been to Southeast Asia but there is so much to see – and this post gave me some serious wanderlust! The waterfalls, caves, textiles, everything… thank you for sharing this guide, will keep it in mind if I make it over there :)

  3. The details on the stone wall look amazing! Luang Prabang feels laid-back and there are so many options to explore local crafts. I love the photos of the boat ride…the light is amazing.

    1. Author

      Luang prabang is pretty chill and I hope it stays that way! But yeah I’d definitely recommend boating down the Mekong to anyone :)

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