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Imbued with unique influences from the East and the West and located at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, Luang Prabang in northern Laos is an unparalleled crossroads, both literally and symbolically. Spectacular gilded wats (Buddhist temples) and traditional night markets pepper this UNESCO World Heritage Centre, as do modern comforts and 19th-century European colonial architecture. Visitors to Luang Prabang will find Buddhist monks roaming the paved streets, which are lined with boutique hotels and restaurants serving French cuisine.
However, Luang Prabang offers more than just cultural and spiritual sites. There are also opportunities for outdoor adventure, all within easy reach from town, where travelers can jump into a natural plunge pool, climb a mountain or soar over the lush landscape.
Here are five ways to experience the idyllic outdoors of Luang Prabang.
Wade in the Pool at Kuang Si WaterfallsNot many places can match Kuang Si’s cascading, aqua beauty, which is perhaps why it has become one of Luang Prabang’s biggest claims to fame. The intricate, three-tier limestone waterfalls are made up of several drops and basins, and many of the pools are accessible to hot and weary travelers for a cooling swim or dip.
Pack a picnic, and hop on a tuk tuk to get there. Or, better yet, if you’re feeling more adventurous, rent a motorcycle. Spend some time at Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre, a nearby bear sanctuary, which is home to the adorable and endangered moon bears.
Hike Mount Phou Si and Visit That Chomsi If you can forgive the masses who flock to the top of Mount Phou Si in the heart of Luang Prabang’s old city center, then you might just be rewarded with a spectacular view of the sun setting over the city. Requiring around 300 steps, the climb to this roughly 328-foot-high hill isn’t too difficult.
Also atop Mount Phou Si is the golden, sacred site of That Chomsi. Recommend that clients buy some flowers before their climb, which they can give as an offering to Buddha at the stupa.
Zipline at Green Jungle FlightAt Green Jungle Flight park, it’s the Hoi Khua Waterfalls and the lush jungle that set the mood for an aerial adventure. Only an hour’s drive from Luang Prabang, the park offers an intrepid experience in a canopy of trees. Its network of bridges, rope courses, ziplines and platforms is a test of endurance, upper body strength and daring for all skill levels.
Here’s a place to stir your sense of adventure, so much so that even getting there — 35 minutes by boat, then a truck ride — is its own undertaking. Carve out a day for this trip, as a restaurant, a cafe and a peaceful flowering garden are also on property.
Take a Boat to Tad Sae WaterfallsWhen traveling to the Tad Sae Waterfalls, take the time to hike, stop in a small village to meet with locals and kayak on the river along the way. Of course, the stunning, travertine waterfalls must be your last stop — after all, they are the main attraction. A refreshing swim in the waterfall pools is just the ticket after few hours spent in the sun.
Visit the Plain of Jars It’s hard not to be astounded by the megalithic stone jars that pepper the plains of Xieng Khouang Plateau. Not only are they one of the best remnants of prehistoric life in Southeast Asia, but they’re also associated with Iron Age burial practices and play a role in the Lao people’s local legends. A walk through these sites is like a journey back in time.
There are more than 90 Plain of Jars sites scattered across the province, but Sites 1, 2 and 3 are the most visited. Since not all areas have been cleared of unexploded bombs from the Laotian Civil War, it would be best to hire a trusted guide.