Escape Shanghai: waterfalls and hazy mountains in Luang Prabang, Laos

Escape the concrete jungle to this idyllic gem

Photograph: Glebsstock via Shutterstock
Nestled in Northern Laos amongst hazy green mountains and the majestic rivers of Mekong and Nam Khan, the charming ancient wonder of Luang Prabang was once a small royal kingdom before it became a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Besides gilded temples, French-Indochinese architecture, a rich street food culture and the beauty of nature, there’s more to be discovered off the beaten track.

By Cam Khalid
Photograph: courtesy Saffron Coffee


Start your day at the peak of Mount Phousi for a stunning panoramic view of the city as the sun rises from the jungle-clad mountains. Then head to the bustling Morning Market (alleys between Khem Khong and Sisavangvong Road) in the heart of Luang Prabang for fresh locally grown produce, street food and tasty snacks to take home. 

Need a caffeine fix? Get it at Saffron Coffee, a two-storey ‘profit-for-purpose’ café supporting Lao farmers. Coffees are made with quality Lao Arabica, shade-grown and roasted by northern Lao hill tribe farmers.

Photograph: courtesy Mandalao Elephant Conservation


Feed and walk with a group of friendly Asian elephants at the Mandalao Elephant Conservation, a non-riding elephant sanctuary focused on education and animal welfare. It rescues elephants from surrounding camps and treats them with respect. Tap into your inner farmer at Laos Buffalo Dairy Farm and milk the buffalos. The socially responsible enterprise takes pride in its sustainable practices and home-made cheese and dairy products including ice cream made from buffalo milk.

Soak up the picturesque views of the glistening Kuang Si Waterfalls. Don’t forget to pack your swimmers if you’re planning to take a dip in its electric turquoise waters. When hunger strikes, enjoy a meal amidst the magnificent falls at Carpe Diem – tuck into frog legs smothered in lemongrass sauce or chicken laap served with sticky rice.

On the way down, drop by Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre, home to wild moon bears rescued from poachers. Follow the intricate makings of traditional sinhs and scarves, starting from the silkworm to the gorgeous end product at Ock Pop Tok (125/10 Ban Saylom). Try your hand at becoming a master weaver or batik painter at its classes.

Photograph: Filmlandscape via Shutterstock


Witness the spellbinding sunset during a leisurely Mekong Kingdoms (Chao Fa Ngum Road, Hua Xieng Village) cruise down the magnificent waterways of the Mekong River. After, make your way to Sisavangvong Road and satiate your appetite for Laotian bites a la sticky rice, barbecued chicken on skewers and soupy bowls of khao piak sen noodles at Food Street (alley behind Tourist information Centre along Sisavangvong Road).

Once you’re all fuelled up, put your bargaining skills to the test at the neighbouring Night Market (along Sisavangvong Road), complete with all the usual suspects – trousers, pouches and totes adorned in elephant prints – as well as beer tees, magnets and bookmarks. You can also find traditional Lao crafts, screen-printed art, hand-woven items and antiques.

If you're feeling a sit-down dinner, after a day of exploring, treat yourself to a fine-dining experience at L’elephant Restaurant. Savour the flavours of France and Laos by digging into mok pa for (mashed fish and coconut steamed in banana leaf) or kroua prak lot meet (sauteed vegetables and mushrooms) and a selection of local and imported wines.

Where to stay
Photograph: courtesy Rosewood Luang Prabang

Where to stay

Value for money
Smile Luang Prabang Hostel (Ban Vat Nong, Kounxao Road) is a no-frills budget accommodation with air-conditioned rooms and private bathrooms. It’s also a stone’s throw away from attractions like Mount Phousi, the National Museum and Wat Xieng Thong.

Middle of the road
Stay at Pullman Luang Prabang, surrounded by lush paddy fields and misty mountains. The resort is complete with three pools, a luxury spa and a lakefront restaurant.

The big splurge
Unleash your best self at wellness-centric retreat Rosewood Luang Prabang. Set in the jungle on the outskirts of the town, the luxe hotel is an idyllic hideaway.

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