Luang Prabang is Laos’s Shangri-La: sweeping golden roofs and colonial shophouses against a lush backdrop of jungle-covered mountains, and a laid-back atmosphere of peace and serenity.
Try to picture the perfect town, and we doubt you’d even come close to Luang Prabang. That may sound hyperbolic, but it’s true. This is Laos’s Shangri-La: named a World Heritage Site in 1995 for its unique fusion of European colonial and traditional Lao artistic styles, all set within fabulous natural surroundings.
An architectural chocolate box of glittering mosaics, glowing rose-pink walls, sweeping golden roofs and pretty, wooden-shuttered shophouses, Luang Prabang has been the heart of Laos since 1353, back when the country was known as Lan Xang: “Land of a Million Elephants”. Though it hasn’t been the capital since 1975, its glorious cultural and architectural heritage has survived largely intact, and we can’t think of a more beautiful place to spend a few days.
While orange-robed monks file silently through streets each morning, receiving gifts of white rice and alms from the faithful, visitors sip sweet iced coffee on colonial-era verandas shaded by palm trees. Laid-back riverside restaurants line the banks of the slow-moving Nam Khan and the broad Mekong, and the jungle fringes harbour minority villages, crumbling monasteries, and ice-blue, multi-level waterfalls. All this is watched over by Mount Phousi, a sacred hill whose unbeatable panoramic views will make you realise that all this is just a speck in the vast and mountainous wilderness of Laos. Spend a few days in Luang Prabang, and you'll soon see why the Buddha stopped here and smiled.