The jewel of Indochina
Luang Prabang, like the rest of communist Laos, was rarely visited by western travelers for decades, but since the "Jewel of Indochina" was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995, all that has changed. Set in the misty hills on the banks of the Mekong River, the chic cultural capital of Laos is a mix of guesthouses, street markets, and antique shops battling for space with ancient Buddhist temples and French Colonial buildings that have since become posh resorts. Mount Phousi, topped by the gold-spired stupa of Wat That Chom Sii, rises nearly 500 feet in the very center of the city where the panoramic views of the wild countryside make for one of the best photo ops in the city. Most are naturally drawn to the confluence of the Mekong and Khan rivers to the south of the city, where 500-year-old glass-and-gold temple Wat Xieng Thong can be found. The more adventurous can embark on trips to the nearby waterfalls of Kuang Si, caves full of priceless images of Buddha, and rural villages known for everything from weaving to rice wine.