Few tourist footsteps used to imprint the sedate rural enclave of Luang Prabang. Since opening its borders to the world in 1989 and most significantly, over the last five years, more and more foreign visitors are now walking on the cobbled streets of this ancient capital.
World Heritage status, granted in 1995, encourages equilibrium between commercialism and history in Luang Prabang's main tourist areas. The Old Town, with its many temples and colonial buildings, is the pulling force of the tourist arrivals.
It is home to 33 temples, a Royal Palace and a range of impressive colonial residences. Luang Prabang is also the Buddhist learning epicentre of Laos and the city is famous for the daily morning alms procession of the monks. Saffron graces the scenery as monks walk barefoot, collecting food donations from local Laotians. This ritual has been rooted in the area’s religious heritage for centuries. The city is the only region in Laos where ethnic Laos people make up the majority of the population. Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai ethnic groups primarily populate other regions.
In line with the city’s World Heritage recognition, many businesses have opted to preserve Luang Prabang's rich past through the renovation of colonial buildings. French colonial mansions, former homes to colonial rulers and royalty, have therefore been converted into resorts, restaurants and boutiques. As the foreign footprint has taken hold, resorts and hotels have sprung up to provide accommodation to suit every budget, where its the opulence of the Luangsay Residence, offering timeless style in a unique historically designed property, or the more modest backpacker budget options located on the banks of the Nam Khan River.
Visitors also enjoy a wide array of activities to suit a variety of ages and passions. Kuang Si waterfall is one of the most visited attractions in the region. Situated 29 kilometres south of the city, the three tier waterfall forms many turquoise pools, as it flows downstream and the main fall boasts and impressive 50 metre cascade. What better way to take in the lush landscapes then trekking? Local companies are paving the way in local ecotourism with treks specifically designed to benefit the villagers you meet en route. During the trek, visitors can also take the weight off of their feet and bond with nature by taking a ride upon the back of an elephant.
For those that want to meet local people and learn more about their way of life, creative tours in and around Luang Prabang offer classes with a Laos artisan in a natural dye or weaving techniques. Another way to get involved in local culture is to join on of many cookery classes offered. Food is central to Laos culture; from the morning market visit, to the preparation, to the manner in which it is eaten, so learning the techniques and rituals greatly adds to the stay.