Luang Prabang, Laos isn’t the easiest place to get to, unless you happen to live in Bangkok, Singapore, or a few other cities with a nonstop flight there. The trek is worth it. This UNESCO World Heritage town of just 50,000 has over 30 temples that you can bicycle among, and the tradition of saffron robed monks collecting morning alms is alive and well. It also boasts a bustling food scene, with delectable and inexpensive treats available at the morning market, as well as higher end fare from the many cafes lining its streets. Don’t be surprised to spot the hammer and sickle flag waving from shops and government buildings–the country is communist. The people are wonderfully hospitable, and a visit well worth it. Here are several can’t miss experiences while in Luang Prabang:
Visit the morning market and take a Lao cooking class
Lao food is anchored by sticky rice – in fact, Lao people eat the most sticky rice per person of everyone in the world. Typical accompanying dishes include Larb, a fragrant mixture of ground meat, chili and fresh herbs; green papaya salad; grilled meats, served with spicy dipping sauces; fish steamed in banana leaf; and many others.
A great intro to Lao cuisine is a visit to the morning market to see all the fresh herbs, vegetables and ingredients used, followed by a Lao cooking class. Several are offered by restaurants around Luang Prabang, although we particularly enjoyed our private cooking lesson, which took place at an organic farm just outside town. Our chef instructor explained all the dishes to us, and wasn’t fazed by having my 7 year old as one of the students. Afterwards, we savored a lunch of the dishes we had prepared together-delicious!
2. Stay at Amantaka
There are many boutique hotel options in Luang Prabang, but the best and most luxurious option is Amantaka, with just 24 suites in graceful French colonial architecture surround a green courtyard and a refreshing outdoor pool. We were met right off our flight, assisted through the visa on arrival process, and whisked off to the resort where cool towels and refreshing ginger iced tea welcome drinks awaited us. Even our entry-level suite was spacious, with its high ceilings, four poster bed, sitting area, and bathroom with dual vanities, free standing bath and walk-in rain shower. Bath products were all handmade and frangipani scented, and our suite was refreshed each time we went out, with quintessentially Aman seamless and impeccable service.
In a town renowned for great food, don’t miss Amantaka’s Lao rice noodle soup or homemade toasted muesli for breakfast, complimentary and delectable afternoon tea served each afternoon in the Library, or fried duck spring roll if on the menu for dinner. And among the desserts, the chocolate fondant with Lao coffee ice cream and caramel sauce is outstanding, but so are the homemade ice creams and sorbets if in the mood for something lighter.
3. View Xieng Thong Temple
Wat Xieong Thong is Luang Prabang’s best preserved temple, having been spared during the sacking of Luang Prabang in 1887, thanks to the Black Flag leader Deo Van Tri having studied there as a young monk. In addition to the main temple, with its dramatic roof design and inside, Dharmachakras that depict the circle of reincarnation, don’t miss the Red Chapel, with beautiful mosaics on the exterior, which houses a rare reclining Buddha.
4. Visit Kuang Si Falls
Luang Prabang is warm year-round, so a delightful way to cool off is to visit Kuang Si Falls, about 18 miles from Luang Prabang. I highly recommend visiting on a weekday and not during peak holiday seasons, since the site is very popular with locals as well as visitors and is more enjoyable when not mobbed.
5. Give monks their morning alms at Tak Bat
A well-known tradition in Luang Prabang is Tak Bat – the giving of alms to monks. Please only do this if you can do this respectfully. While it’s not forbidden to take photos, you should keep a respectful distance and not use flash. It’s also difficult if not impossible to do while also giving alms, so opt to do one or the other. Additionally, keep in mind that your shoulders, chest and legs should all be covered, and you should kneel or at least not stand higher than the monks, in order to be respectful.
6. Buy handmade Lao textiles at the night market
Luang Prabang’s night market is less about food, although there is some for sale, and more about woven goods and textiles. Ask specifically where an item was made, since many of the ones now being sold are cheap Vietnamese, Chinese or Thai imports, and it’s more interesting to find traditional handmade Lao textiles if you wish to purchase souvenirs.
Hilary Stockton is the CEO at TravelSort.
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