Founded nearly 1200 years ago, this ancient city in the north of Laos is a delightful mix of Buddhist temples and French colonial buildings. Since 1995 Luang Prabang has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage city for its unique blend of architecture and religious culture. Our guide explained that the city has been called such because of the gold image of Buddha, Phra Bang that was gifted to the people of Laos by Cambodia in 11th century. This is on display at the Royal Palace Museum.
At every street corner you notice a shrine or a temple of some sorts. Most of the population of Laos follow Theravada Buddhism. Prepare to be dazzled by the lavish gold interiors of Wat Sene, Luang Prabang’s oldest temple. There is evidence to show that Emperor Ashoka’s (232 BCE) missionaries travelled from India to the Far East to spread Buddhism. There is a serenity and calm about the place and you can’t help wondering if it has anything to do with their beliefs.
It is easy to walk or cycle around. The Mighty Mekong cradles the city on one side and the vegetation is lush. The night markets are bustling with activity and this is where the locals come to eat and catch up. The city also is home to several cafes and restaurants. I was very impressed with the local cuisine served up at the Khaiphean, part of the Tree Restaurant alliance. It is a very worthy cause where all profits are reinvested in training and upskilling their staff.
We cruised for two hours up stream Luang Prabang to visit Pak Ou Caves. Locally called Tam Ting, the caves are filled with thousands of gold-lacquered Buddha statues. The statues range in size from a few centimetres tall to the height of a human and are crammed into the cave which is nestled in a limestone cliff.
My trip highlight was a visit to Kuang Si Waterfall, south west of Luang Prabang (32km). The scenery is spectacular and very scenic. Being winter, the water was freezing cold. For the adventurous, it is possible to walk to the top of the falls via a steep track where stunning views await you at the top.
There are two other world heritage sites in Laos – one is plain of jars and the other is Vat Phou in the Champasak Province very close to the Cambodian border proving that these two countries has close ties for over a 1000 years.