Luang Prabang - Laos
Nestling in a slim valley shaped by lofty, green mountains and cut by the swift Mekong and Khan rivers, LUANG PRABANG exudes tranquillity and casual grandeur. A tiny mountain kingdom for more than a thousand years and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.
Ho Chi Minh City
Luang Prabang, a small city surrounded by mountains and lying at the confluence of the Mekong and Khan rivers, is an enchanting place, with a strongly religious Buddhist atmosphere as evidenced by the many temples including the golden Wat Chom Si which dominates the city from its perch atop the holy Phu Si Hill. Laos' second-city - if you can describe it as a city - lives life at a much slower pace than most other cities in Asia. Life revolves around the temples and marketplaces which are dotted all over town. In the afternoons, Luang Prabang effectively goes to sleep and a somnolent atmosphere prevails. The landscape around Luang Prabang is strikingly different to the gentle lowlands around Vientiane. Mountains dominate the city and its environs, and the rivers in the area often give way to enchanting waterfalls, rapids and cascades including the beautiful Kuang Si falls. Accommodation ranges from simple guesthouses to luxury converted colonial villas and newer, more modern operations. Dining out in the city is a pleasure with a wide range of cuisines on offer from local delicacies to excellent French and other international menus. Nightlife is low-key, though enjoyable none the less, and new bars and other venues are opening all the time. Combine all this with a rewarding shopping experience and great excursions available close to base, life in Luang Prabang might be slower than usual, but it's certainly never dull.
Do go/Don’t go
Pleasantly cool and dry weather arrives from November to February, but corresponds with a peak in tourist numbers. The wet season (peaking in August) is not a complete washout, though, as showers are usually brief and paint the countryside in a vivid palette of greens.
Geeting there & away
Planes: Wing your way into Luang Prabang International Airport from Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Siem Reap or Hanoi, among other regional airports. Bangkok Airways (www.bangkokair.com) and Vietnam Airlines (www.vietnamairlines.com) offer the smoothest flight connections.
Boats: Several cruise boats connect Huay Xai (the bustling Mekong River port on the Thai border) with Luang Prabang – handy if you’re coming from Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai in Thailand. Luang Say Cruises (www.luangsay.com) offers a two-day river experience, with an overnight stay in the rustic town of Pak Beng. Don’t even consider the speedboats unless you enjoy tinnitus, cramp and death-defying velocity.
Taxis: There are no metered taxis, but plenty of jumbos (eight-seater motorised three-wheelers) or tuk tuks. You’ll hear the more diminutive vehicles before you lay eyes on them: the two-stroke engine whines like a hornet. Your ride will cost few US$; a little more if your jumbo is, ahem, jumbo-sized.