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Luang Prabang - Laos

Sunset Luang Prabang Mekong SunsetRickety Bridge Luang PrabangNight Market Luang PrabangWat Xiang Thong

Set on a narrow peninsular between the Mekong and Khan rivers, Luang Prabang is Laos cultural heart. The city is laid back and tranquil, full of colonial shop houses and ancient temples. Saffron clad monks still walk the streets at first light collecting alms and the broad streets echo to the sounds of chanting.

Luang Prabang is firmly on the international tourist destinations since the opening of the nearby airport. Before this it was a long and winding bus journey from Vientiane or an atmospheric two day slow boat from the Thai border. Visitor numbers haven't had an adverse affect on the city though and things remains calm and peaceful amidst the deep jungle.

Royal Palace

Luang Prabang was home to Lao royalty. Their former home, the Royal Palace is now a museum displaying artefacts from all aspects of royal life. The throne room itself is the highlight, lavishly decorated with intricate mosaics, depicting scenes from the nation's history with battles and parades. In the palace grounds is the Pha Bang Buddha, the sacred image the city is named after.

Temples

Luang Prabang's oldest temple in Wat Xiang Thong, situated to the end of the peninsular. The graceful main temple with sweeping roof is made of individual carved wooden tiles and feels ancient inside. The surrounding buildings of the monastry are also intricate and one contains the huge naga headed funerary carriages of Lao royalty.

The sacred Phou Si hill holds several temples, but it's the views that most visitors come for. The city and rivers quickly disappear into jungle and mountainous green hills form the horizon. It's incredibly busy here for sunset - the setting sun over the Mekong turning the city yellow-gold is a magical sight. A better (and less crowded) view can be had from part way up the hill.

Shopping

Luang Prabang has a good selection of shops selling local crafts. However it's the nightly Hmong Market that really shines. Set up every night along the main street, the market is run by women from the local hill tribes. All kinds of handicrafts, woven fabrics and bags, silvery jewellery and carved wooden artefacts are found here, all spread out on the ground under canopies. It's a strangely peaceful place, with a real atmosphere.

Eating

Luang Prabang is home to many good places to eat, from upmarket restaurants to backpacker oriented cafes while the French colonial influence has left a range of cafes and bakeries. However the best food is found at the night market, hidden away down an alley off the main street. Here food is eaten buffet style from many vendors and is very reasonably priced.

Luang Prabang has a charm unmatched anywhere in the region and is well worth a longer visit to soak up it's tranquility and sedate pace of life.

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