Introducing Luang Prabang
A mighty river, a long-overlooked food scene, and Buddhas everywhere: why the ancient Laotian city should be on your radar.
Nestled between southern China and northern Vietnam, and once the capital of the Kingdom of a Million Elephants, Luang Prabang has been enchanting travelers since the 7th century. Some 32 wing-tipped, mirror-clad Buddhist temples and more than 100 Franco-Lao historical sites dot the gently undulating landscape between the Khan and Mekong Rivers, earning the city UNESCO World Heritage Site status. And now, it’s become the newest destination for Rosewood Hotels & Resorts.
Here are five reasons why we’re thrilled to introduce Rosewood guests to Luang Prabang.
In the Buddha’s Footsteps
Sunrise is the ideal hour to head for temple-clad Mount Phousi, catching sight along the way of saffron-clad monks making their morning alms rounds. Stop to rub the Buddha’s big belly for good luck at Wat Tham Phousi and to see his footprint at Wat Phra Nua. City views are sublime at the summit, around Wat Chomsi Stupa.
Back in town, the 16th-century Wat Wisunalat is Luang Prabang’s oldest shrine and houses its largest Buddha image. Nearby, at Wat Mai, scenes from one of the Buddha’s final reincarnations line the walls of the temple, also notable for its gilded exterior and five-tiered red roof. Monks chant here harmoniously every evening from 5:30 p.m. Other local standouts include the magnificently gilded Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Sene, which houses a revered 14th-century Angkorian Buddha.
By far the most important of Luang Prabang’s multiple temples is Wat Xieng Thong, or Temple of the Golden City, built in 1560. Its red chapel houses a rare reclining Buddha from the same era.
Another must-see is the miniature, golden Pra Bang Buddha, for which the city is named. Housed at the circa 1904 Royal Palace turned National Museum, it dates back at least 700 years. Devout Buddhists view the three-foot sculpture as a divine protector over Laos.
Hop on a traditional longtail boat for the 16-mile journey up the Mekong River to the Pak Ou Caves, a natural limestone reliquary packed with thousands of rudimentary Buddha statues that pilgrims have been visiting for centuries. Worthwhile stops en route include tribal weaving communities and a village where local farmers distill sticky rice into Lao whiskey.
With a Side of Red Rice
Lao cuisine often gets eclipsed by Thai and Khmer culinary traditions. But it’s distinct—and delicious—with less sweetness than traditional Thai food and more umami flavors. Dishes like suisi pa (Mekong fish in coconut–red chili sauce) and pork sausage stew with pumpkin and coconut milk take center stage at Café Toui, a humble but rightly heralded address for homestyle Lao cooking. Family-owned Manda de Laos also serves traditional dishes overlooking a charming pond. Rosewood Luang Prabang architect Bill Bensley swears by the chicken wrapped in lemongrass at the riverfront Tamarind.
For a quick caffeine fix along the Mekong, order a flat white at Saffron Café—expats consider it the best in town. Later, where the Mekong meets the Khan River, the rightly named Viewpoint Café offers intoxicating views of this sacred city.
Opened a decade ago, the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre collects and preserves the customary handicrafts of Laos’s many ethnic groups. Browse the fascinating galleries, and don’t miss the exceptionally well-curated boutique, filled with Khmu Lue woven vine purses and hill-tribe silver. For more indigenous designs, head by car or bicycle to Ock Pop Tok, a weaving cooperative and café along the Mekong. Here, two British sisters, Heather and Joanna Smith, along with a third partner, Lao weaver Veomanee Douangdala, translate the vibrant traditional designs of nearby native communities into wearable pieces.
Back in town, spend the evening exploring both sides of Sisavangvong Road at the Luang Prabang Night Market. Vendors set out the country’s best selection of Lao and Hmong handicrafts, plus local flavors like dried squirrel stew(!) and spicy buffalo sausage.
Rosewood Luang Prabang
Lush tropical forest confers absolute privacy in each of the 22 luxury tents and villas at the new Rosewood Luang Prabang. Indochine-era inspirations dominate at this remote yet accessible retreat alongside a river and waterfall, just ten minutes from Luang Prabang’s historic center. Open-air rain showers, deep soaking tubs, and wraparound decks orient every guest experience to the pristine environment, ensuring Rosewood’s A Sense of Place philosophy within the brand’s first tented camp.
Café Toui: 72/6 Kingkitsarath Road; +856 71-255-123
Manda de Laos: 10 Norrassan Road, Ban That; +856 71-253-923
Tamarind: Kingkitsarath Road; +851 71-213-128
Saffron Café: Khem Khong Road; +856 71-212-915
Viewpoint Café: Khem Khong Road; +856 71-254-900
The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre: Phou Si hill (behind Dala Market); +856 71-253-364
Ock Pop Tok: 79 Sakkarin Road; +856 71-254-406
Luang Prabang Night Market: Corner of Sisavangvong and Kitsara roads; +856 21-212-248