Travel Luang Prabang
One of Laos’ best known destinations is the small town of Luang Prabang. First listed as a UNESCO World heritage site in 1995, this historic city was once the royal capital of an ancient kingdom known as Lane Xang or “The Kingdom of a Million Elephants”. Lane Xang, which existed from 1354 to 1707 AD, was one of the largest and most powerful kingdoms in Southeast Asia. Luang Prabang would later become the capital of The Kingdom of Laos until the conclusion of the Laotian civil war in December 1975. Today visitors are drawn to the town due to its historic significance and unique mixture of French colonial and Asian architecture. The well preserved “Old Town” area, Luang Prabang’s tourism epicenter, is surrounded by dozens of Buddhist monasteries. Each morning well over one hundred barefoot saffron-robed Buddhist monks parade through town collecting alms. This centuries-old tradition has become a bit of a tourist attraction with many visitors waking at dawn to view and photograph the ceremony.
Visitors are more than welcome to observe and even participate in the ancient alms round ceremony. However, tourists should behave in a respectful manor and not interfere or disturb either the monks or the lay people. Observers should wear conservative clothing — long pants or dresses and shirts that fully cover the chest, shoulders and upper arms. If you are not giving alms, stand a good distance away from the monks and remain silent. Photographers should not use flashes or impede the procession in any way. Never touch or make physical contact with a monk. People who wish to participate in the ceremony should purchase sticky rice from the local market the morning of the ceremony.
To get away from the crowds of tourists observing the alms ceremony in Old Town, cross the Nam Khan River via the bamboo bridge to Ban Phanom. The bamboo bridge is a bit of a tourist attraction in its own right. Constructed by hand almost entirely from bamboo, this unique bridge is generally in service from November to July. Just before the height of the rainy season the bridge is disassembled and removed from the river until the water level subsides. The quiet neighborhood of Ban Phanom is home to several monasteries and each day around 50 novice monks parade past the handful of locals and tourists who gather here for the morning ritual. The neighborhood also features several popular restaurants and a guest house or two.
Things to do in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is named after the Phra Bang Buddha image (statue) currently housed on the grounds of the former Royal Palace. The cast bronze alloy image is considered to be the country’s most sacred and is revered by Laos’ Theravada community. Legend has it that the image was created in Sri Lanka and brought to Laos during the first millennium AD. However, in reality it appears to be of Khmer origin, cast circa 1360 AD. The Phra Bang was captured twice by the invading Siamese, but was ultimately returned to city in 1867. The Royal Palace, now a museum, is well worth visiting particularly for people who are interested in Asian art and culture.
Exploring extraordinary temples and observing Buddhist ceremonies are only some of activities that draw visitors to Luang Prabang. The area outside of the town has beautiful and diverse natural scenery which include the famous Mekong River, Mt. Phousi, Pak Ou Cave, Kuang Si and Tad Sae waterfalls. A partial list of activities that visitors participate in includes trekking to ethnic villages, boat tours on the Mekong, mountain biking, elephant riding, visiting museums, taking cooking classes, canoeing and kayaking.
Many visitors choose to stay in the Old Town as the area is full of hotels, guest houses restaurants, bars, convenience stores and travel agencies. However, budget travelers may find it more economical to stay just outside of the main tourism hub where room rates can be considerably cheaper.
Vietnam Tourist Visa in Luang Prabang
Travelers who are continuing on to Vietnam and require a visa affixed in their passports should consider obtaining it in Luang Prabang. Budget travelers and backpackers will find that dealing directly with a consulate or embassy is the least expensive way of obtaining tourist visas. The Vietnamese Consulate General is within walking distance of the Old Town tourism district and provides friendly and efficient service. Currently (Mar 2017), this consulate issues both single and multiple entry tourist visas valid for either thirty or ninety day stays. Applicants have the option of picking up their passports in 24, 48 or 72 hours; however additional fees are charged for expedited service.
Travel to Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang International Airport (LPQ) receives daily flights from a number of Southeast Asia’s most popular destinations including Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur, Siem Reap and Singapore. Domestic flights are available from Pakse and Vientiane. Travelers touring the country by bus can reach Luang Prabang from Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Oudomxay.