Luang Prabang embodies everything that’s right about tourism in Laos. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has ample infrastructure to welcome its many guests, but it carefully balances this with a ban on high-rise construction and restrictions on traffic in the city. Rather than building new hotels in Luang Prabang, developers have renovated and restored the existing ones, leaving a spread of posh boutique hotels in charming colonial neighborhoods.
Wat Mai is one of the most beautiful temples in Luang Prabang. It was the most important temple in the city throughout the 19th century, and its bas-reliefs relate ancient Buddhist legends. But the most impressive temple is Wat Xieng Thong, which has been perched on the banks of the Mekong River since the 16th century. While visiting Wat Xieng Thong, wise travelers set aside time to admire the reclining Buddha statue, one of the most sacred Buddhist icons in Laos.
Looming over Luang Prabang is Mount Phou Si. It’s flanked by quiet temples, some of which have been untended for ages. The temple at the top of the mountain is teeming with life, and it’s one of the city’s youngest. Some of the finest accommodation in Luang Prabang is here on the hillside.
The entire city center is compact and easily explored on foot. Be sure to rise early to see the daily processional of monks collecting alms. It’s a timeless ceremony that has played out here for centuries, and it leaves a lasting impression on visitors in Luang Prabang.