Things to Do in Luang Prabang
The Mekong River, the 12th-longest river in the world at 2,700 miles (4,345 kilometers), is the main artery of Southeast Asia. Its flowing waters are the beating pulse for a region that includes the fertile Mekong Delta around Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City, the scenic hills of Laos, and the jungle-lined waterways of Thailand and Cambodia.
Tumbling through the jungle about 18 miles (29 kilometers) from Luang Prabang, the Kuang Si Falls (Tat Kuang Si) are among the area’s most attractive waterfalls, combining a dramatic drop and pools. In addition to swimming in the cool water, swinging on ropes, and enjoying snacks from on-site eateries, you can visit a bear-rescue sanctuary and a butterfly park.
Mt. Phousi (also written Phu Si or Phou Si) dominates the heart of Luang Prabang, rising around 330 feet (100 meters) above the city. Several temples and shrines adorn the slopes, with That Chomsi stupa at the summit. But the main attractions here are the city and river views, which can extend to the surrounding mountains on a clear day.
Also known as the National Museum, the Royal Palace Museum was the home of Lao royalty from the early 20th century until 1975. An attractive combination of classic Lao and beaux arts architecture, it houses collections including state gifts and royal cars. The sacred Pha Bang golden Buddha is preserved in Wat Ho Pha Bang.
A shot (or several) oflao-lao, the national rice whiskey, is a Laotian rite of passage. The Whiskey Village (Ban Xang Hai), just 4 miles (6.5 kilometers) from the Pak Ou Caves on the Mekong River, specializes in churning out this potent stuff. You can watch lao-lao being produced, taste it, and buy it.
The UNESCO World Heritage list identifies no fewer than 34 Luang Prabang temples. If you have to pick just one, opt for 16th-century Golden City Temple (Wat Xieng Thong), the largest and best-known Buddhist monastery in all of Laos. Highlights include a tree of life mosaic, a royal funeral chariot, and the stunning ordination hall (sim).
Set where the Ou River (Nam Ou) meets the Mekong, about 19 miles (30 kilometers) from Luang Prabang, the Pak Ou Caves are one of the most popular sights accessible from the city. A place of worship for over 1,000 years, they are home to thousands of Buddhas left by grateful pilgrims. The lower cave has both more light and more visitors than the upper cave.
Opened in 2016, Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden is Laos’ first botanical garden. Just down the Mekong from Luang Prabang, the 99-acre (40-hectare) site features orchids, palms, bamboos, gingers, ferns, a cave, a permaculture farm, and more. The ethnobotanical garden showcases local herbal medicine traditions.
Along with the Kuang Si Falls, the Tad Sae Waterfall is one of Luang Prabang’s best-known falls and a popular attraction to visit during the wet season. A series of jade-bright travertine pools and shallow cascades, Tad Sae sits close to the Nam Khan River outside Luang Prabang. Other attractions include ziplines and an elephant camp.
Set in the heart of Luang Prabang, the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre is a small museum dedicated to four of Laos’ main ethnic minority groups. Displays include traditional costumes, religious artifacts, and crafts, while exhibits feature signage in French, English, and Lao. The shop is a great source of ethical artisan souvenirs.
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