Image of Vat Saen, Luang Prabang © Jean-Marie Hullot / Creative Commons
Walking around the picturesque, riverside town of Luang Prabang with its French colonial villas, traditional tribal houses, and magnificent gilded temples, it’s easy to see why UNESCO called the former old capital of Laos “the best preserved city in Asia.” A World Heritage Site, Luang Prabang possesses a wealth of history and a rich blend of Indochinese European culture evident in its structures and cuisine since King Fa Ngum founded the first Lao Kingdom in the 14th century.
The mix of heritage is evident in many French colonial houses around town and at the Royal Palace Museum or Haw Kham. Designed in the French Beaux-Arts style and traditional Lao architecture, the palace was originally the residence of Laos royalty and has been converted into a museum to give visitors an education on Lao history and culture.
As Luang Prabang was the centre of Buddhism in the region until the 16th century, it has 33 Buddhist temples, many of which you can visit in a day or two. One of the most visited temples is Wat Xieng Thong. Previously used for important royal ceremonies, it’s a beautiful example of Buddhist architecture. Be sure to see its sweeping low roofs and richly detailed wall mosaic.
The food in Luang Prabang is also not to be missed. Whether in the markets or upscale bistros, you can find the balanced and flavourful traditional Laotian dishes and Gallic cuisine. Sample its different hearty noodle dishes (Khao Poon Nam Pa, Khao Poon Nam Sin); laap, a minced meat salad eaten with fresh vegetables; and the ubiquitous sticky rice and jeow, the spicy Lao chili paste. For a taste of what the French left behind, have a Khao Jee Sandwich, a French-Lao fusion of a baguette sandwich, and the full-flavoured Lao-style coffee as you lounge in a café, linger, and watch the idyllic Laotian life pass by.
Image of Luang Prabang © freeikon / Creative Commons.
Similar Southeast Asia Experiences
For other former royal towns in Southeast Asia, visit the citadel of Hue in Vietnam; Bagan in Myanmar; and the Angkor temple complex in Cambodia. For other cultural experiences, visit Malaysia’s cities of Melaka, Penang and Ipoh; check out Singapore’s cultural precincts; and go shopping for cloth in Chiang Mai in Thailand.