Ornate Buddhist temples, fresh mountain air with notes of frangipani and textured silk drapings – Luang Prabang is a luxury travel destination that nourishes mind, body and soul.
Laos’ ancient northern gem spoils the senses with its charming colonial architecture and tropical beauty. Sleepy mountaintop vibes and lingering spiritualism make it difficult to leave. Just strolling down the street reveals a living museum spanning Indochina history and old world kingdoms just waiting to be delved into.
Luang Prabang has much to offer in the realm of high-end pleasures, from elegant fine dining fusing Vietnamese, Chinese and French influences and palm-fringed historic buildings that now hold dreamy boutique hotels and spa sanctuaries. Here are a few of our favourite activities:
Luang Prabang UNESCO World Heritage Tour
UNESCO called Luang Prabang the best-preserved city in Asia, and the entire ancient capital was deemed a World Heritage site in 1995. Classic Lao architecture and colonial structures find a unique synergy against exotic flora and fauna.
Discover the city in an in-depth walking tour with a local guide who can provide interesting tales and insights into modern brick works, pagodas, traditional wooden homes and other architectural quirks.
Tak Bat – Offering alms
Every morning at dawn hundreds of monks wind through the streets of Luang Prabang for the silent ritual of morning alms. Rice and modest food offerings are bequeathed from kneeling villagers and tourists. Put a little more love into the experience by preparing the food yourself from the market as opposed to buying from nearby stands. Monks have been known to become sick from bad goods sold by opportunistic vendors. Photos are allowed in a quiet, orderly fashion. Dressing appropriately is a must.
Dining al fresco at Kuang Si Waterfall is an experience that belongs on every luxury travel itinerary. This gorgeous three-tier cascade boasts multiple turquoise pools and even a couple secret ones ensuring opportunities for real seclusion. Bathing is safe too.
After the perfect romantic picnic experience, guests can visit the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre, also located in the waterfall park is. Endangered Asiatic black bears swing from hammocks and play with tires, safe from poachers and bear bile farms. The centre is also next to the Kuang Si Butterfly Park, with landscaped gardens and a netted butterfly enclosure. A free natural fish spa can help smooth rough feet after waterfall trekking
Explore on a bicycle
There’s no better means of sinking into Luang Prabang’s sweet slow pace than by peddling around. A rich tapestry of scenery unfolds against enjoyable light breezes, rolling past successions of saffron-clad monks and colonial architecture. Cloud-shrouded verdant mountains and towering tropical palms provide the perfect exotic backdrop.
A comfortable starting point for sightseeing might be the Royal Palace, from where you can ride up the Mekong River to the famed Wat Xieng Thong monastery. Just a few minutes away is Phousi Hill for a trek up to gorgeous highland panoramas. Wat Wisunalat, one of Laos’ oldest temples, is a climatic finish for checking out gilded Buddhas and medieval ordination stones.
Cruising the Mekong
The Mekong River is known for being peaceful while still bursting with energy, connecting rural communities across Southeast Asia. Lao people call it “Mother Water” and one trip upstream to see the quiet vitality of river life and you’ll see why. Set out for a once-in-a-lifetime slow cruise in a traditional river barge. Private experiences can be tailored to suit guests’ precise interests, whether stopping in villages to meet farmers and fishers or gazing at riverside temples. Sundown indulgence, with Champagne and canapés, is an absolute must.
Modern boats, bespoke itineraries, bold new routes – Mekong Kingdoms is pioneering a stylish new way of exploring the Mekong. Embark on a journey of curated experiences on Southeast Asia’s most beguiling waterway and experience river cruising as you’ve never known it.
Stay at Azerai
Azerai Luang Prabang is a handsome and architecturally respectful luxury hotel, offering contemporary elegance in a prime location, just steps from the main street. Reflecting the fascinating fusion of Luang Prabang‘s cultural heritage with the current desires of today’s intuitive and savvy luxury traveller.
The first buildings on Azerai Luang Prabang’s unique site were unveiled over 100 years ago in 1914, on French National Day. They were designed as French officer’s quarters and were later adapted by the Laos government. Then, in 1961, the buildings were reconstructed as the Phousi Hotel and soon became the most prominent hotel in Luang Prabang until it closed in 2014. Shortly after, work on Azerai began. Two years on, after being newly constructed on it’s historical footprint, the hotel is re-opened; re-defined as a contemporary classic, inspired by the town’s traditional Lao and French colonial architectures.The hotel is built around a leafy courtyard with a 25-meter pool, surrounded by comfortable loungers and an old shade-bearing Banyan tree with a sacred legacy.
Swimming with elephants
Luang Prabang is the perfect place to get up close and personal with gentle beasts. Visit the Elephant Village sanctuary where pachyderms find refuge from the exploitative logging industry. Located about a half hour’s drive from the city, unforgettable programmes include mahout training, bareback riding and bathing with the elephants in the pristine waters of the Nam Khan river. Another option is the Luang Prabang Elephant Camp where guests can learn about Asian elephants via feeding sessions, jungle walks, mahout training and swimming together in the Mekong. These elephants also came from logging camps, and in some cases were badly abused. This is why stringent rules ensure that the elephants are treated compassionately and daily capacity for activities is limited. Make sure to book in advance.
Shop fair trade
Luang Prabang is a treasure trove for unique handicrafts and artisan products, so save luggage space for take-homes. Multiple shops specialize in selling sustainable village wares such as Ma Te Sai and Ock Pop Tok, which sell handwoven, naturally dyed cotton products. You’ll find a wider variety of bits and bobs at TAEC Boutique, including jewellery, basketry and carvings from various ethnic minority groups across over 30 Lao villages. Meanwhile the Wat Xieng Mouane Showroom sells sculptures and paintings made by monks.
Learn about silk artisanship
Silk is not just a fancy product in Laos. Each pattern tells an important story about the individual weaver, and the village, tribe and ethnicity they come from. Silk is made by hand with raw organic fibres for a unique aesthetic. Purses, dresses and pashminas are available in a wide range of vibrant colours and arrangements, with the most intricate of silk patterns being painstakingly weaved at a rate of just a few centimetres a day. The Backstreet Academy is a responsible tourism operator offering weaving lessons from local seamstresses, who earn fair pay for their work. Beginners are advised to start with cotton and move onto silk later. Alternatively you can also learn more about the craft by visiting a nearby silk farm, where silkworms grow and the spinning process takes place.
In Luang Prabang, wellness is all about organic essences and elegant heritage fittings. Located in a charming historical building, L’Hibiscus Spa offers a range of traditional Lao massages with sumptuous add-ons including aromatherapy and herbal compresses. Boutique hotel Satri House offers its therapies surrounded by landscaped garden and pools. Meanwhile Angsana Spa offers open-air treatment areas set in private greenery, with floral scents from lavender to frangipani filling the air and sandalwood heat treatments beckoning serene awakenings.