Luang Prabang, in the north of Laos, has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1995, due to its rich architectural heritage. This means there are no buses or trucks in the city centre’s streets, with most travel around the town done on foot, motorbike or occasionally by tuk tuk. The town centre is situated on a peninsula of land that is formed by the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers, and encircling the city in all directions are vast mountains.
The town wraps itself around the steep hill of Phou Si, upon which is a temple, and climbing to the top is a rightfully popular activity to do early evening to see the last of the warm light on the river, as the sun spectacularly sets behind the mountains.
Photos by Ben Journee
The streets of Luang Prabang are an incredible fusion of architectural vernaculars, bringing together seamlessly very different styles and histories. There are scores of ornate Buddhist temples, with intricate gold decorations and gently curving rooflines. And sharing the streets are charming houses that fuse the traditional Laos wooden housing style with a flavour of French provincial architecture, complete with blue shutters. And further to this remarkable amalgam are buildings designed in a full blown French colonial style.
As if this wasn’t charming enough, the streets are finished with overgrown climbers, and the bougainvillea has been given the freedom to fill the alleys and climb over the entranceways. Perhaps inspired by its artistic history, the town’s style has been maintained and enhanced by uniform signage (which could seem a bit contrived, but equally shows a real pride in the town’s reputation), and shops have been opened with rather stunning collections of arts and crafts, aimed at a rather gentrified market. Needless to say, we couldn’t afford anything. In Luang Prabang, wealthy middle-retiree-aged tourists out number backpackers. But we nonetheless adored the charming streets, and enjoyed even more the peaceful morning yoga on the river, strolling the night markets, sitting in the beautiful temple courtyards, watching groups of monks wander the streets, and of course, the stunning Kuang Si waterfall.
The Kuang Si falls, which are situated in a nature reserve, are a natural gem of Luang Prabang. Water from the 60m high cascade collects in small pools, which step all the way down the hillside like rice terraces. The water is an incredible menthol blue, and despite the scores of visitors and daily swimmers, the forest still dominates over the environment, growing in and around and over the pockets of water. Kuang Si is your quintessential waterfall, and sitting under the falls was just one of those perfect moments.