Why I think Luang Prabang is the most beautiful town in Southeast Asia
There are so many stunningly beautiful places to visit in Southeast Asia; gorgeous tropical beaches, golden glittering temples, emerald rice paddies and lush jungles. This region offers so much beauty to explore, but, for me, Luang Prabang in Laos is the most beautiful town in Southeast Asia.
Once you enter laidback Laos you’ll soon see how it is so different from neighbouring Thailand. It’s almost like stepping back in time compared to Thailand. Many of Southeast Asia’s cities, like Bangkok ,for example, are big, modern, busy cities. But timeless Luang Prabang is known as the jewel of Laos. As you wander through the quaint, charming streets you’ll probably understand why and fall in love with it as much as I did.
UNESCO listed Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang has a long history. In the 14th century the town became the capital of the powerful kingdom of Lane Xang (which means the Kingdom of a Million Elephants.) It was also the Buddhist heartland of the country, both influences that still captivate travellers to Luang Prabang today. Laos then came under French colonial rule. As a result Luang Prabang is an enchanting fusion of traditional wooden Laos architecture, culture and customs as well as colonial, Indo Chinese French architecture and influences. This fusion gives the town its unique features that luckily are remarkably well preserved today.
The entire city of Luang Prabang was granted UNESCO world heritage status in 1995. Which means this lovely town has retained its unique architectural and cultural charm.
The town was built on a peninsula formed by the snaking Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers and surrounded by lush green mountains and jungle. Refreshingly, there’s not a skyscraper, 7/11 or McDonalds in sight. Instead the tallest buildings of the town are the shimmering golden wats (Buddhist temples) and palm trees.
The Buddhist heartland of Laos
Luang Prabang is more like a series of villages joined together than a normal town. Palm trees and frangipani line streets dotted with wooden Laos style buildings and colonial villas with wooden verandas and shutters. You can’t walk more than a street without coming across a historic Buddhist temple – each one seems more magical and beautiful than the last.
Every morning, around 5.30 am, you can witness Luang Prabang’s most timeless and enchanting tradition. Locals, and some tourists, line the streets placing sticky rice into the bowls of hundreds of barefoot saffron robed monks in the traditional Buddhist Alms giving ceremony. If you want to take part, read these tips and make sure you do it respectfully.
The French influence means that eating and drinking in Luang Prabang is also a delight. Especially for the European traveller who might be getting tired of the Southeast Asian diet of rice, curry and noodles, Luang Prabang’s bakeries, baguettes and fusion of French inspired and Laos cuisine won’t disappoint.
Every night a big night market takes over the main street selling all sorts of beautiful traditional Laos textiles and fabrics as well as souvenirs, art, handicrafts and even the elaborate pots which that monks receive their morning alms in.
Colonial heritage and charm
I love to stay in places with history and character. So I loved how there are so many gorgeous heritage guesthouses and hotels in Luang Prabang, many with Mekong river views, where you can stay and soak up the history, culture and heritage of this special and unique town.
I really loved my stay at the Sofitel Luang Prabang. The hotel is set in a historic complex what used to be a colonial fort and the French governors residence.
Traditional Laos wooden buildings make up the lobby and spa and all the heritage rooms are set in original heritage buildings around a serene tropical courtyard and swimming pool.
All the rooms include a private garden area with a private pool, or outdoor gazebo with a bath tub, while inside features an open bathroom and plenty of quirky historic features.
Luang Prabang’s natural beauty
Luang Prabang is also a good base for exploring the incredible natural beauty around. As its situated on the banks of the Mekong river you can take boat trips and explore authentic rural tribal Laos villages, caves, temples and waterfalls all in an easy day trip.
The Pak Ou caves and Kuang Si waterfalls are two places that really shouldn’t be missed. The waterfall was simply spectacular with turquoise blue limestone pools that are oh so refreshing to swim in nestled in tropical jungle. I’ve seen many waterfalls during my travels but Kuang Si was my all time favourite!
For the perfect end to a day in Luang Prabang is climbing up Mount Phousi, a Buddhist temple and golden stupa, and take in the incredible sunset views over the palm trees and glittering temple roofs of Luang Prabang out to the snaking muddy brown Mekong river and the lush mountains beyond. Or if you’re tired after exploring Luang Prabang all day enjoy the sunset over the Mekong with a cocktail or cold Beer Laos!
Surely Luang Prabang is Southeast Asia’s most beautiful town!?
Thanks to Destination Mekong and Mekong Tourism who made this amazing trip possible!
Have you been to Luang Prabang? Did you also think it’s Southeast Asia’s most beautiful town?
If not, which place was your favourite ?
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