A mountain kingdom for more than a thousand years and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Luang Prabang is endowed with a legacy of ancient red-roofed temples and French-Indochinese architecture, not to mention some of the country’s most refined cuisine, its richest culture and its most sacred Buddha image, the Pha Bang. For those familiar with Southeast Asia, the very name Luang Prabang conjures up the classic image of Laos – streets of ochre colonial houses and swaying palms, lines of saffron-robed monks gliding through the morning mist, the sonorous thump of the temple drums before dawn and, of course, longtail boats racing down the Mekong before the river slips out of view through a seam in the mountains.
If you travel time is limited, top priority that you should go to is the old city, dubbed by the UNESCO World Heritage team as a “historic preservation zone”. In a day, you can easily tour the sights, beginning with the sunrise view from Mount Phousi and the wander around the lively morning market, before heading to the elegant Royal Palace Museum in the former Royal Palace, en route to Luang Prabang’s most impressive temple, Wat Xieng Thong. But whatever you do, be sure to soak up Luang Prabang’s languid atmosphere by wandering in the streets at dawn, when the town’s legion of monks receive alms and life and the city seems to have a little changed from a century ago, or at dusk, when the air fills with otherworldly chants wafting from the temples.
Lao New Year in April is perhaps the biggest festival, but near the end of the monsoon, it brings Luang Prabang to a festive standstill. A visit coinciding with one of these festivals would certainly enhance your stay, though the most popular time to visit remains the cooler months of December and January, when the weather is clear and dry.