Luang Prabang was once the capital of an ancient Asian Kingdom known as “Lan Xang” – the Land of a Million Elephants. It covered the whole of present-day Laos plus most of Issarn (northeast Thailand). This royal heritage is still very much in evidence today with over 30 gleaming temples and monasteries in the town centre and thoroughly deserves its UNESCO World Heritage status and its reputation as the spiritual centre of the country. The French colonial era is also still very much in evidence, the smell of freshly baked baguettes, the high ceilinged colonial buildings and even some of the older generation speaking French.
The time to see the town at its best is in the peaceful early mornings, when orange robed monks walk the narrow streets and passageways on their daily ritual collecting alms before returning to one of the many monasteries. One of the many highlight of most trips to Luang Prabang is Wat Xieng Thong, which is adorned with many elaborate mosaics and decorated figurines. A close second to this is the magnificent Wat Phu Si, perched on a hilltop overlooking the mighty Mekong River and affording incredible views to town.
The surrounding area is home to many ethnic minority villages, spectacular waterfalls and some stunning scenery, making the region ideal for all levels of trekking and cycling trips. Luang Prabang is easily accessed by air but also by boat, from Northern Thailand down the Mekong River with stops at hilltribe villages en route. Luang Prabang recently became the first World Heritage Site to ban smoking in all public places including temples, public transport as well as hotels, guesthouses and restaurants.