UNESCO has designated the entire city of Luang Prabang as a World Heritage site, ensuring its preservation and protection for future generations of visitors. Perhaps more than any other destination in Asia (with the possible exception of Angkor Wat), Luang Prabang is viewed by visitors as a true discovery and one that captures the heart and imagination of every new arrival. The city was once capital of the expansive Lanna Kingdom, which covered large areas of northern Thailand, southern China and all of Laos. Remnants of royal heritage remain in the royal palace, which is now the National Museum. The wooden temples of Luang Prabang are amongst the most delightful in Asia, with roofs that sweep in majestic curves almost to the floor. As elsewhere in Laos however, it is not so much the buildings but the attitudes and atmosphere which delight visitors. Luang Prabang is ideally explored by bicycle or on foot, with frequent stops at street-side markets, cafes and temples.
Average daily maximum temperature in
Luang Prabang, surrounded by jungle and ‘cut through’ by the flow of the great Mekong River, has a typical tropical-monsoon climate.
The dry season is split into two halves, with the latter months being the hottest. During its ‘coldest’ months (December and January), temperatures can settle at around 17°C and nights and early mornings can be chilly. Once you reach March temperatures start to rise and come April and May it can peak as high as 33°C+.
During the wet season (May to October) you can expect heavy downpours for short periods, most commonly during the night or early morning.
Initially this rarely lasts more than an hour or two, and helps to clear the air, leaving bright blue skies in its wake. Come August and September the rainfall can be more prolonged.
Near Pak Ou caves, downriver towards Luang Prabang is the village of Ban Xang Hai, famous for its manufacture of rice whiskey. Ban Xang Hai, a small village near Luang Prabang, is an example of the very rapid development the region has experienced over the past five years.
Located about 25 km from Luang Prabang, Pak Ou Cave hosts thousands of interesting small and bigger Buddha images, mostly donated by local people. The cave entrance is clearly visible from the river and accessible by boat, while the higher level can be reached by climbing some stairs. Other highlights include a rice wine village at Ban Xhang Hai, a weaving village at Ban Phanom, and temples in Luang Phabang.
Luang Prabang is an UNESCO World Heritage city, but also a small Laos town trying desperately to hold onto its traditional culture within a developing region. One aspect of local culture that tourists can visit and take part in, is the early morning alms giving ceremony.
Each morning, as the sunrises, hundreds of Buddhist monks will descend from the 33 local Wats (temples) to collect their daily alms.
This is an age old tradition that dates back to the 14th century when this tradition was introduced, and involves the local people rising early, preparing food and making offerings to the monks.
Not only is this one of the ways for Buddhists to make merits, it is also the only food that the monks are permitted to eat for the day and is therefore a very important ritual.
Tourists are currently welcome to be involved in the Alms Giving Ceremony, although we ask our travellers to please be aware of the routine of this ritual and to respect the closely observed etiquette.
Some points to be aware of are:
- Wear appropriate clothing – Keep your shoulders, chest and legs covered as a sign of respect. If in doubt, dress like a local as you will rarely see a Buddhist with exposed skin.
- Do not touch or get to close to the monks and do not interrupt the procession.
- Take photos from a distance and do not use a flash.
- Take your shoes & socks off and kneel with your feet under you and pointed away from other people.
- Observe the ceremony in silence.
- Women should not talk to monks directly and should have their head lower than the monks when offering.
Obtain safe offerings – If you wish to participate in this ceremony, it is best to prepare the food or fruit yourself. Please ask your guide for advice and assistance with this.