Located in northern Laos, the atmospheric Luang Prabang lies on the banks of the slow-moving Mekong River. The town is home of about 58,000 people with traditional wooden houses, Buddhist temples and French colonial architecture. Literally meaning "Royal Buddha Image", Luang Prabang is most famous for its traditional alms giving ceremony. Every morning at sunrise, Buddhist monks walk in a procession through the streets accepting alms offered by local residents.
Luang Prabang was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Laos for its unique and remarkably well preserved architectural, religious and cultural heritages. This charming town is a wonderful place to experience the rhythms of Buddhist culture, Lao traditions and colonial influences. Visitors will see in Luang Prabang golden-roofed temples, decorated with mosaics and murals of the life of Buddha, wrap-around teak balconies and shuttered windows setting on a backdrop of lush greenery and rugged mountains.
There are so many Buddhist temples to explore in this UNESCO town. The most remarkable temple (wat) in Luang Prabang, one of our favorites, is the Wat Xieng Thong. This wat was built in 1560 with a distinctive swallowtail roofline and gilded carved wood on its doors, especially a stunning glass mosaic of “tree of life” on its exterior wall. It’s also known as the ‘Golden Tree Monastery’, and a gateway to Luang Prabang as its location is close to where the Mekong joins the Nam Khan River.
What makes travelers remember Luang Prabang the most is perhaps the tak bat, or morning alms, with the wonderful sight of the parade of orange-clad monks walking solemnly through the streets to accept offerings from the villagers. The offering, mostly sticky rice, provides an important opportunity for the giver to earn merit. This daily ritual has been practiced in Luang Prabang since the 14th century in this ancient capital of the former Lao kingdom of Lan Xang.
The tradition take place outside of the town too, and if there are only a few monks or novices in a village, the women of the village often take turns bringing food to the wat each morning.
According to Lao Buddhist tradition, males are expected to spend a period as a monk or novice prior to marriage, and being ordained also brings great merit to one's parents. The period should be at least three months, in fact many Lao boys spend years in the wat to gain a general education and a firm grounding in Buddhist doctrine. Therefore, Lao monks usually preside over religious ceremonies, festivals, household rituals and funerals, and they are often leaders in the community. Wats in Luang Prabang are great places to observe novices going about their daily routines, such as receiving alms, sweeping the grounds, studying on the steps of the wats, and participating in prayers.
When not touring around Luang Prabang, you may want to browse local shops for Lao crafts such as mulberry papers and elegant silk scarfs, visit the local market, walk pedestrian-friendly streets lined with French colonial buildings and watch Lao children bathe their water buffalos in the Mekong River.
We really love the day trip from Luang Prabang, we cruise on the Mekong River to the famous Pak Ou Caves which is filled with thousands of Buddha statues. The journey is also a great way to experience the Mekong, witness local life in rural Laos, and relax among the verdant mountains.
Though local monks develop detachment from the world and Lao Buddhist tradition permeates life in Luang Prabang, we should not forgo material pleasures. This UNESCO town has two nice hotels; La Residence Phou Vao and Amantaka. The La Residence Phou Vao is an orient-express property, featuring colonial atmosphere and hilltop views. The new Amantaka boasts the famed Aman touch with Lao style with large rooms and private plunge pool, the hotel occupies the former French colonial-era hospital. Both properties have luxurious spas, great breakfast and excellent dining options.
Luang Prabang and Laos’ capital of Vientiane combine well with many other famous destinations in Vietnam and Cambodia, including Hanoi, Halong Bay and Siem Reap. Contact Incense Travel expert to start planning a private, tailor-made Laos tour.