Are you someone who enjoys people-watching? If you are interested in observing how locals go about their daily lives, we have a few suggestions about places to sit and soak up all the sights and sounds of Luang Prabang…be sure to take your camera to capture some memorable moments.
1. Ban Xiengleck
This sleepy village might be close to the tourist parts of Luang Prabang town but it remains very authentic. What will you see if you take a walk or ride a bike through this area? Stray dogs, dirt roads, temple ruins, giant trees and locals enjoying a Beer Lao on their front balconies at the end of the day. You’ll get a real sense of family and community as you walk around. If you time your visit for sunset, head to the patch of palm trees opposite the Luang Prabang peninsula and walk through them, down to the Mekong River…the view is wonderful!
Depending on the time of year, this area is accessible via a bamboo bridge from the Luang Prabang side. During the rainy season you’ll have to walk over the motorcycle bridge to get to Ban Xiengleck.
2. Souphanavong Park
It isn’t a very big park, but Souphanavong becomes a hive of activity at dusk. Locals head to the park to go jogging and play badminton – or to take their kids to ride bikes and kick around balls. At the entrance to the park you’ll find a range of street vendors selling everything from homemade donuts to barbequed chicken feet. All of this happens under the watchful eyes of a towering bronze statue of President Souphanavong that’s almost 6 metres high and weighs 4 tons. The best time to enjoy the atmosphere is just before sunset.
3. Down by the Mekong
No matter what time of day, there’s always plenty to see along the banks of the Mekong River – whether its fishermen casting their nets, women and children bathing or boatmen trying to drum-up business for their tours to Pak Ou caves. One of the best places to see all the action is the boat pier behind the Royal Palace Museum where locals on motorbikes come and go across the river thanks to the Chompet car ferry. It’s not unusual for them to have a chicken or piglet in a basket strapped to the back of their bike. Why not join the locals on the car ferry? Chompet is another fantastic place to observe local ways of life.
4. Pick a temple
The temples of Luang Prabang are very much a place where you can observe Buddhism as a ‘living culture’. There are daily rituals, such as the morning alms ceremony, the beating of the temple drums, as well as evening prayers where tourists are given the chance to hear monks chanting traditional Buddhist scriptures. The wonderful thing about the temples of Luang Prabang is that on any given day, you can stumble across unexpected ceremonies and events – whether it’s the watering of a sacred Buddha statue or a funeral procession for a venerable monk.
Please be aware that temples are sacred places for Lao people and you should always enter the grounds wearing appropriate clothing (covering your arms and legs) – and in a quiet, respectful fashion. Many temples do not allow photos to be taken inside, so you need to check the signs before entering. Please also turn your mobile phones to silent so that you don’t disturb the monks if you enter the temple during their evening prayers.
5. Stade Couvert de la Province Luang Prabang
There’s something slightly eerie about this sporting complex, which was built for the National Games in 2011. Back then, nearly 4000 athletes filled the stadium – competing in boxing, volleyball, cycling, table tennis, bowling, wrestling as well as track and field. These days the sporting arena, which sits surrounded by lush green hills, is a place where locals go for exercise in the mornings and evenings. Most of the sporting courts have fallen into disrepair but that doesn’t stop the people of Luang Prabang from gathering for fitness after work – whether it’s running up and down the long road leading to the stadium, or playing a game of football. If you like capturing interesting images with your camera, we recommend a little trip out to this sporting complex at dusk.