Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Luang Prabang, Laos (November 9-12, 2008)

Luang Prabang, the former royal capital of Laos, is one of the country's most beautiful and romantic cities. It is bound by the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers, which join at the northern end of town, adding a distinct island feel to the already laid-back atmosphere. Colorful ancient temples and charming French colonial buildings - now home to an impressive array of art galleries and restaurants - line the small town's main avenues, linked by narrow, stepped alleyways shaded by trees. Amidst the tourists and townspeople, orange-clad monks wander the streets, hiding from the sun behind large umbrellas.

There's no shortage of sights to see in the UNESCO World Heritage city, from the old Royal Palace Museum and nearby historic temples, to the renowned craft market that takes over the main street every evening. Activities also abound, from cooking courses and slow-boat tours, to elephant rides and jungle treks. Slightly further afield, the lush countryside is ripe for exploring, with overgrown trails linking small mountain villages, stunning vistas and pristine waterfalls. Despite all these tempting things to do and see, perhaps the best way to truly appreciate Luang Prabang is to stroll slowly along the riverfront or linger over coffee at one of the many excellent outdoor cafes and simply soak up the spirit of the town.
The glittery temple at the entrance to the Royal Palace
A closer view of the intricate wood carving on the front of the temple
Motorbikes and tuk-tuks crowd the main street leading into Luang Prabang
Restaurants, galleries and internet cafes line Sisavongvong Street
Young monks walk to temple in the afternoon sun
The view south of Luang Prabang from the top of Phu Si mountain, in the center of town

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