Perched on a peninsula created by the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers lies the city of Luang Prabang, a another long-time favorite of travelers to Southeast Asia. Interestingly enough, however, whereas many travelers actively avoid any destination that largely caters to foreign visitors, they seem to overcome their biases and flock here in droves; where many would normally balk at restaurants offering English menus and Cafes serving the same croissants and muffins as back home, they seem to find a way to look past their “ideals” and pull up a chair; where they would stand back aghast as what they perceive as over-priced tourist stores and silk boutiques, they somehow still find themselves shopping until their bags are ready to burst; and where they would normally be mortified to be in a destination with more “Westerners” than locals, everyone seems to be enjoying a bit of pampering in the spas without so much as a single negative word to speak of Luang Prabang.
Why these contradictions occur (even in the self-proclaimed “hard-core” travelers), I’m not sure, but I’d wager that it has something to do with the ethereal atmosphere created by the blending of French Colonial architecture and Buddhist Wats, the sense of romance exuded by the riverside restaurants with views towards the temple-lined mountains, the beauty of the raw, natural environment juxtaposed the old world feel of the heart of the city; or perhaps it is simply the good company and lively conversation to be had. Regardless of the reasoning, Luang Prabang continues to be one of those few locations that remains imprinted upon ones consciousness, and upon leaving, causes us to instantly yearn for a return:
While strolling around the city, you would hard pressed to miss Wat Phu Si — a temple located directly in the center of town that sits as the crown atop a hill 100 meters high (the top is technically called That Chomsi). Although is doesn’t boast the most dynamic or beautiful structure, what it lacks in physical appearance, it makes up for with a fantastic view over the surrounding region:
If you should grow tired of wandering around the confines of Luang Prabang itself, a great day trip is to visit the Tat Kuang Si waterfalls. Here, visitors can don their trunks and go for a dip in any of the series of cascading, mint-green pools that are created from the falls themselves. Or, if you’re not up for a refreshing but near-freezing swim, you can always just hike around the falls themselves, as I chose to do:
Another reason that Luang Prabang has remained a fabled destination on anyone’s Southeast Asian itinerary is due to its reputation as the culinary capital of Laos. And between the beautiful views of the riverside eateries, the restaurants opened by many of the top chefs in Laos, the European-style cafes, and the fine-dining influences left over from the period of French occupation, it’s not hard to see why. Here are a few of the specialties of the region:
Luang Prabang marks the last destination for me in the laid back and luxurious country of Laos. After this, I get to add another notch to my “countries I’ve visited” belt as I head into Vietnam. My first destination is that of the northern capital: Hanoi. I hear they have some great street food there, so I already know I’m in for a treat. Until then, cheers from Luang Prabang!