What to Do in Luang Prabang

A city of contrasts, Luang Prabang features temples, monasteries, and traditional crafts alongside more modern aspects like a museum devoted to the U.S. bombings in the 1960s. When visiting, be sure to also explore the countryside or cruise the Mekong River.

Khem Khong, Luang Prabang, Laos
Though Luang Prabang earned UNESCO World Heritage status in 1995 for its fusion of traditional Lao and European colonial architecture, the city’s most dazzling structures are most certainly its shimmering, gold-adorned temples. Many are worth seeing, but the grandest is Wat Xieng Thong (Temple of the Golden City), located in the historic part of the city near the tip of the peninsula. Built in the 16th century, the temple features gilded wooden doors that recount the life of Buddha. When visiting, be sure to also check out the rest of the complex, which features a monastery, pagodas, shrines, and residences.
Luang Prabang, Laos
The most popular natural attraction in the area around Luang Prabang, this three-tiered set of falls offers a picturesque outing, with trails meandering through the jungle and turquoise pools scattered about. While it’s indeed very touristy, the area is large enough that you can still enjoy moments of solitude away from the crowds, especially when floating in the water and listening to the falls. An entrance ticket also grants visitors access to the on-site bear sanctuary, which is home to black bears rescued from traffickers.
Many Americans are aware of the devastation caused by the Vietnam War, but perhaps more harrowing was the U.S. involvement in Laos. In an effort to halt the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia, American forces carried out 580,000 bombing missions in Laos between 1964 and 1973, dropping more than 2 million ordnances—the equivalent of a planeload of bombs every eight minutes nonstop for nine years. According to some estimates, one third of the country is still plagued with UXO, or unexploded ordnances. At the UXO Laos Visitor Center, a little south of the heart of the city, guests can view weapons displays and learn more about the offensive, how Laos became the most heavily bombed country per capita in history, and how the country continues to deal with the effects of the bombings to this day.
Luang Prabang, Laos
Aimed primarily at tourists, the Night Market sets up each evening along a few blocks of Thanon Sisavangvong. Lining both sides of the street, with a section down the middle, stalls offer a plethora of souvenirs, from cotton shopping bags and handicrafts to silk scarves, brightly colored lamps, and silver jewelry. There are also food stalls on the side streets, offering a place to refuel between purchases. Even if you’re not in the mood to buy anything, strolling up and down the market aisles is a pleasant, interesting way to pass an evening.
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