5 Different Things to Do in Luang Prabang, Laos

Updated on January 29, 2020
Anne Harrison profile image

With a camera in one hand and a book (or a coffee) in the other, I always find enticing byways—such as Luang Prabang.

The monks of Luang Prabang (c) A. Harrison
The monks of Luang Prabang (c) A. Harrison

1. Enjoy a Tropical Storm

Without warning, the rain tumbled from the sky. Laughter filled the air as people dashed for cover. Sheltering on my veranda, I watched the fat drops dance across the garden and onto the road. In only a few minutes, the streets were deserted. Once the tropical rains begin, few venture outside.

Fairy lights hung in the trees lining the street, slowly coming to life as the afternoon light faded. I could just see them through the rain. The path leading down to the road bubbled with water, a small river running down the steps. I could hear nothing but the rain thundering about me. The mighty Mekong was but a stone's throw away, but she flowed invisibly. Another month of these rains and the floods would come, sweeping away bridges and leaving roads impassable.

I soon learnt to find a spot in a cafe or my hotel when the clouds threatened a storm. With a cup of coffee or a cooling drink, I simply sat back and enjoyed the spectacle.

A sudden downpour (c) A. Harrison
A sudden downpour (c) A. Harrison

2. Partake of Tak Bat

The faint sound of drums woke me before dawn: Tak Bat, or the giving of alms, had begun. Every morning, an endless procession of saffron and orange weaves through the streets as monks walk silently through Luang Prabang with their alms bowls.

Although already 32ºC and exceptionally humid, men and women sat quietly on the side of the road, offering each monk some sticky rice as they passed. All was done in silence. By giving rice (or ‘making merit’), Buddhists believe they will not go hungry in their next life.

Monks of all ages passed in slow procession, accepting the offerings in gracious silence. Tak Bat remains a sacred tradition; anyone watching should wear respectful attire with both shoulders and knees covered, and all photos should be taken from a discreet distance.

I'd chosen the far end of town as my vantage spot, where there was not another tourist in sight. Three monks make their way down a steep flight of stairs and into a waiting long-boat. The golden tops of their temple peeped through the forest on the other bank, and I could hear the faint peel of a bell coming across the water.

A buddha near the cave's entrance (c) A. Harrison
A buddha near the cave's entrance (c) A. Harrison

3. Visit the Cave of 1000 Buddhas

After a fortifying breakfast following my pre-dawn adventure, I later headed down those stairs and into my own long-tail boat. Soon all I could see was a wall of green, with the gold or red of a wat peeping through the trees every now and then. The occasional boat lay pulled up to the bank, secured by a stick of bamboo stuck into the mud. Water buffalo stood amongst the undergrowth, with half-naked kids sitting on their backs and splashing in the water around them.

Near where the Nam Ou and Mekong Rivers merge, limestone cliffs rise from the waters, many dotted with caves. The Pak Ou Caves comprise a lower cave (Tham Ting) and the upper Tham Theung (reached by a steep climb). These serve as a retirement home for Buddhas. Thousands have been retired here from temple-duty, usually when they become too damaged for display.

The statues are of all sizes and poses, often covered with dust and cobwebs, many with incense burns and missing digits. Nevertheless, they are still revered, and in the Lao New Year, villagers come by boat to bathe the statues for merit.

Life on the Mekong (c) A. HAarison
Life on the Mekong (c) A. HAarison

4. Cruise the Mekong

Daily life in this area of the world revolves around the rivers. Where else to understand them but on a small boat, cruising forgotten watercourses? A soft breeze drifted over the water, granting some relief from the heat. As the little wooden boat putted further and further upstream, the river gradually became narrower and narrower. Local houses opened onto the water, and kids splashed amongst the mangroves. Long boats were drawn up amongst the trees or tied to a hidden jetty. Fishing nets were strung through the water, or hung on trees, drying.

A maze of tiny waterways opened off on either side of the river, leading further into the unknown. On my own, I would soon become incurably lost. The heat of the day closed down around me. Aside from the river lapping against the boat, the only other sounds were the buzz of a dragon-fly or the splash of a walking fish. Masses of hyacinths adorned the riverbanks, and kingfishers darted amongst the greenery. As the boat drifted along, the heavens opened yet again, and a tropical shower left me drenched within a few minutes. It just as quickly passed, and soon I sat steaming in the heat.

Civilisation seemed far away. This is what I came here to find.

Night lights of Luang Prabang (c) A. Harrison
Night lights of Luang Prabang (c) A. Harrison

5. Return to When Travel Was a Leisurely Affair

Despite the influx of tourists trying to rush Laos into the 21st century, life in Luang Prabang continues at a walking pace. From the air, the gold decorations of the airport sparkled amongst the primeval forest. The heat and humidity engulfed me as I stepped onto the tarmac, yet the air smelt sweet and clean.

With Laos closed to the outside world until the 1990s, the short drive from the airport covers decades (if not centuries), back to an era of romantic, slow-paced travel. Five minutes from the airport, the four-lane highway came to an abrupt end, blocked by a house standing where the road should be. A water buffalo looked on placidly as our minivan was forced to detour along a dirt track, before continuing along the original bumpy road into town. Farms dotted the wayside, along with fields of rice and vegetables. Palm trees swayed in the breeze.

Such is Luang Prabang, a place to pack away itineraries and travel books, and simply enjoy, to wander along unmarked lane-ways and down a beckoning flight of stairs. To watch the monks at their prayers and their studies, or enjoy the colours of a vine in full flower as it embraces a stone archway.

Monks on the Mekong (c) A. Harrison
Monks on the Mekong (c) A. Harrison

Questions & Answers

    © 2020 Anne Harrison


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        4 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        You visit some wonderful places, Anne. Thanks for sharing the information about a place that I'd love to visit. This is a very interesting article.

      • raymondphilippe profile image

        Raymond Philippe 

        4 months ago from The Netherlands

        Your article reads like poetry. Beautiful. Just like Luang Prabang.

      • Sam Shepards profile image

        Sam Shepards 

        4 months ago from Europe

        Yes, Luang Prabang is nice. I really enjoyed my time there and in surrounding area's.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        4 months ago from UK

        This sounds like a real away from it all place. You have described it well and I thought the Roman numerals were appropriate for this article.


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, wanderwisdom.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)