Luang Prabang is Laos’ top destination for a reason. With numerous Buddhist monasteries, a lively ceremony of alms every morning, well-preserved colonial architecture and river walks, it is definitely one of the most charming cities in the world. Unfortunately, it also feels like one of the most touristy.
We spent a couple of days wandering around, as the town is pedestrian-friendly and everything is rather close and easy to find. We woke up at sunrise to observe the alms giving ceremony, where dozens of Buddhist monks, many teen novices, emerge from the monasteries to receive food, mainly rice, from local devotees kneeing on the sidewalks. It’s a beautiful and touching tradition, especially if you manage to catch it without other foreigners… So go early, as it often starts before the reported 6am, and try it both in the main area north of the night market and further south or on the side streets to the east (basically anywhere you see locals preparing).
After having some typical crepes and fruit shakes in one of the numerous shacks on Sisavangvong St. we walked down to Wat Pha Mahathat, to visit the city from south to north. Each temple, though similar in style, was stunning and unique, and offered different insights into the monks’ lives. At Wat Pha Mahathat (also called Wat That), we saw the novices gathering at their dining hall and praying before eating the rice they had just collected. At Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham, we caught a celebration where monks were sharing sweets with local families on the temple’s floor, while presenting offerings to a golden Buddha.
Wat Pa Huak was much older, wooden and full of colorful murals. It was super hot and humid, so we took a break to climb to the top of Phu Si, a hill in the middle of the city that offers a great overview. Then we visited the Royal Palace, which contains the shiny Wat Ho Pha Bang and the museum of lacquered royal halls. The site closes between 11:30am and 1:30pm and enforces a conservative “no shorts”, “no sleeveless shirts” dress code, so plan accordingly.
In the afternoon, we continued walking through preciously restored French colonial houses. We visited Wat Sensoukarahm, Wat Sop, Wat Sirimungkhun, Wat Si Bun Heuang and Wat Xieng Thong, where we chatted with a teenage monk who wanted to practice his already impressive English. It had been a long day, exhausting because of the high temperature, so we welcomed the sunset while drinking coconuts. We checked out the night market, which seemed to have a lot of cool handicrafts and souvenirs, much cuter ones than in most of the countries I’ve been to… but we’re just not into shopping. We are into eating 😉 We found a nice local restaurant, L’Elephant, and enjoyed some delicious and very original specialties. The next day we would walk around Luang Prabang a bit more, and visit the Kuang Si waterfalls.