The highlight of any Laos holiday is the ancient capital of the first Lao kingdom, Luang Prabang. The setting below green mountains and almost completely encircled by the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers is stunning. It is of little wonder that UNESCO has granted World Heritage status and that tourists are regularly talking about it as one of their favourite cities. It has not been badly affected by the increasing number of tourists visiting each year; long may that continue to be the case because Laos tour packages will inevitably include the City.
The City is an education in itself; if you are on a Laos family vacation, everyone is certain to learn a great deal by spending time in Luang Prabang and visiting its major sites, natural and manmade:
• Haw Kham used to be the royal palace and is now national museum. Theirs is often local drama or dance performances in the theatre nearby.
• Phou Si/Chomsy Hill, the main hill in the city, offers great views of the whole region. It's a climb from the bottom and sunrise and sunset are the best times to do it. The northern route has130 steps up to the counter, and further 190 steps to the top. The eastern route is much longer than the northern one and hence less steep; it has more points of interest as well along the way.
• The Mekong waterfront is a must whether you just want to stroll or alternatively enjoy dinner at one of the restaurants as the sun goes down. Prepare for mosquitoes by the way at that time of day.
• Vat Xieng Toung is the oldest monastery and one of the most beautiful in the city. There is an entrance off the Mekong by the way.
• Vipassana temple and park is highly visible from Phou Si. It is golden which makes it stand out and is a shrine for Buddhists who meditate.
• Vat Khili, Vat Sirimoungkhoun Sayaram, Vat Sibounheuang and Vat Sop Sickharam are a few of the small temples worth a little of your time. Really great atmosphere of real temples. Located near Vat Xieng Toung.
• Elephant Village Sanctuary & Resort in Ban Xieng Lom provides support elephants. Nam Ou Elephant Farm in Ban Pak Ou is another sanctuary where visitors can learn about Asian elephants, feed and even ride them.
• Kuang Si Butterfly Park near Kuang Si Falls has 2,800 m² of gardens with orchids, 900 m² of netted butterfly garden and natural fish spa where you can get your feet nibbled and lose dead skin.
• Kuang Si Falls is a large multi-tiered waterfall south of Luang Prabang. There are tours or you can rent a motorbike and ‘’drive’’ yourself. There are several pools on different levels, all of which you can bathe in but there are leeches around.
• Pak Ou Caves, north of the Luang Prabang on the Mekong, have a huge number of statues of Buddha; it is unlucky to throw any away.
• Tad Sae Waterfalls are not as big as Kuang Si, but they are just as beautiful. You can bathe, and elephant rides are also available.