Luang Prabang, meaning literally “Royal Buddha Image”, is a small spiritual town populated by monks, locals and international travellers who have chosen to make it their home.
As well as its unique culture, Luang Prabang is exceptional in both its architectural and artistic merit. Both are remarkably well preserved, reflecting the cultural fusion of traditional town dwellings, sacred structures with those of the colonial era.
Hemmed in by the colossal Mekong River on one side and the Nam Khan River on the other, the old town of Luang Prabang emanates an atmosphere of unique spiritual charm and tranquility, as well as being on the pulse of trendy style and celebrated cuisine. There is an under-stated pastel-hued grandeur too, along with a sense of sacred peace.
Its unique blend of culture, developed over centuries, is very much alive today in the many festivals, rituals and customs such as the ancient Buddhist tradition of Tak Bat, where hundreds of monks emerge silently from the town’s temples, during the mist of dawn, and walk the streets in single file in order to collect food laid out by the local people.
There are colourful local markets, small shops selling finely crafted textiles, antiquities, andlocal designer ware. Of particular lure is the night market, which assembles each evening at 5.00pm and slips away without fuss at 11.00pm. Regarded as one of the most authentic night markets in Southeast Asia, you can purchase a myriad of items, including; silk scarves, wall hangings, lanterns, jewelry, clothing, silver, bags, hand-stitched shoes and slippers, bamboo lamps, even Hmong applique blankets; in a softly lit atmosphere, at a good price, with minimal heckling.
The restaurant scene reflects the small town’s blended heritage and includes Southeast Asian fusion, Lao traditional and French-inspired cuisine. There are many restaurants around the peninsula, nestled along the banks of the two rivers,shaded beneath canopies and large trees. There are also relaxed open-sided dining pavilions from which to enjoy the classic eggplant dip with fried Mekong riverweed and a sundowner. While cuisine is now well defined on the peninsula, a couple of eclectic dining and bar venues, oozing with exotic sophistication in tropically lush settings, have joined the circuit in harmonious style.
The charming blend of old and new, of bygone and trendy, of spiritual and creative, can be enjoyed at your own pace. Luang Prabang is regarded as the cultural jewel of Laos, but for many, it is one of the few places across Southern Asia that offers a hint of how Asia might have felt a hundred or so years ago. Visitors and locals describe Luang Prabang as a ‘magical’ place, somewhere to lose oneself and emerge feeling more enriched.