The picturesque and charming city of Luang Prabang is Laos’ main selling point to tourists. With small roads and cute alleys, surrounded by waterfalls, caves and forest, it is easy to find something for everyone, from street shopping to jungle adventure. Luang Prabang was our first stop in Laos (after a 2-day slow boat) and we explored both, the city and the natural surroundings.
Once the residence of President Sisavang Vong, the Royal Palace in Luang Prabang was probably the simplest royal palace we’ve seen so far. Combining both Lao and French architecture, the building stood out more for its size than for its looks. A palm tree avenue led the way, along with beautiful views of the nearby Hor Phrabang.
No pictures were allowed inside and one must wear appropriate clothing (covering shoulders and upper legs) to visit the museum. Inside, a set of nicely decorated rooms and corridors displayed artifacts and gifts from other nations. We were surprised how even the king’s crown was made out of wood and not some precious metal. The highlight for us was the reception room, which had walls entirely covered in canvas paintings of daily Lao life. Each section of the painting was best observed when the actual time of the day matched the time on the depicted painting.
It was easy to see the tall golden chedi situated on the top of the 100m high Mount Phu Si from nearly anywhere in the city. Although there were a few temples along the steep way up and on the top of the hill, Mount Phu Si was famous for its panoramic city views and the sunset over the Mekong.
The entire city of Luang Prabang was visible from the top, including the tree-covered mountains in the horizon and the Mekong river cutting through them. The low sunset light made the city shine in a mix of gold, red and green colors. It was interesting to see how even the second largest city in Laos was still so underdeveloped and basically in the middle of the forest.
Kuang Si Waterfall
At some 30km outside Luang Prabang, the beautiful Kuang Si waterfall was worth the one hour trip it took to get there. We arranged a minivan on the streets of Luang Prabang to get us to the park and after a lot of confusion switching to other vehicles, we finally arrived.
After entering the park (20,000 kip, USD 2.50 per person), we took a small path in the middle of the woods to get to the pools. Along the way, there was a bear rescue center with several bears that have been rescued. Just a short walk from the bears, we saw the first of many pools.
The crystal clear water flowed down the many levels of limestone humps and gently dropped into the turquoise-jade colored pool, forming an idyllic oasis in middle of the jungle.
As we walked upstream along the seemingly endless pools and falls, we marvelled more and more at the color of the water and the elegance of the falls and pools. A water wheel at one of the stronger falls added more charm. No wonder we found many painters sitting in the park, trying to depict the same beauty on their canvases.
When we finally got to the top-tiered pool, we were blown away by the majestic waterfall. The multi-tiered Kuang Si Waterfall dropped some 70m into a set of the same pools we had been seeing all along. Lush green jungle surrounded the waterfall, while the water spray from the waterfall reflected the sunlight in the perfect angle. A wooden bridge crossing in front of the waterfall completed the setting.
It was so relaxing to just sit there, close my eyes, listen to the sound of waterfall and feel the gentle water spray on my face. I could have sat there for hours and not gotten tired of the view.
As we suspected, Laos has been more about its natural beauty and adventures than sights in the city. We learned to live and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of Laos in Luang Prabang. If our first impressions of Laos were not the greatest, it was certainly growing on us. Before we left Luang Prabang, we made sure to visit the elephant village nearby and spend a day with these giant creatures!
For more pictures from Luang Prabang, please visit the gallery!