STYLE

Starter For 10: Luang Prabang

09/09/2010 17:13 | Updated 22 May 2015

The old royal capital of Laos, in South East Asia, may still be off the beaten track, but with the celebrity seal of approval from Jude Law and Sienna Miller (who apparently even had a traditional wedding blessing ceremony there) it's time to add it to your must-see list.

But before you brush up your Lao, check out our essential guide to the Unesco World Heritage-protected city.

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Starter for 10: Luang Prabang

Sleep

Take a leaf out of Jude and Sienna's book and opt for utter luxury at the Amantaka Hotel, only a few minutes from the centre of the small town, set between the Mekong and Khan rivers.

The luxury suites in the French colonial buildings overlook a central pool and the hotel's gardens. Prices start from around £385 per night, so if you don't have the A-list bank balance, The Grand is a stylish alternative with rooms from around £50 per night.

Starter for 10: Luang Prabang

Do

Get in the kitchen! The six-hour cooking course run by the Tamarind Cafe includes a tour of the food market, Talat Phousy, along some with some of the weirder ingredients used in Lao food – dried buffalo skin anyone?

Then, at the riverside school, you learn to make a few equally authentic – although less alarming – dishes, like lemongrass stuffed with chicken, fish in banana leaf parcels and coconut rice, before settling back to eat everything you've created. The course costs around £18.

Starter for 10: Luang Prabang

See

There's over 30 temples in the old royal capital, and far from being a tourist sideshow, they're still home to hundreds of monks. But as well as marvelling at the intricate carvings and gold decoration, you shouldn't miss the dawn almsgiving.

Starting around 6-7am and taking place across the town, it's worth getting up early to watch the monks process through the barely light streets to collect alms. The central street, Th Sisavangvong, is a good spot to watch but don't be tempted to buy food from the women selling there as the monks can't accept an offering that hasn't been properly prepared.

Starter for 10: Luang Prabang

Walk

A lot – Luang Prabang is so compact, it's easy to get around on foot. Wherever you wander, don't miss the Royal Palace museum, the former home of the royal family before the communist revolution, now home to the king's elephant chair, religious artefacts and incredible decorations.

Then take a hike up Mount Phou Si in the centre of town. Avoid the heat by going first thing in the morning, or just before sunset – although you'll have a lot of company if you choose the latter option. There's more temples on the slopes and a fantastic view.

Starter for 10: Luang Prabang

Visit

The stunning Kuang Xi waterfalls are around 20 miles outside of Luang Prabang, but it's worth every jolt of the 45-minute tuktuk trip through the countryside to get there – don't even think about cycling unless you're superfit.

The rescued Asiatic black bears at the entrance (www.bearlao.com/luangtat.htm) are cute enough to watch for hours but if you can drag yourself away, the incredibly clear turquoise water of the falls is beautiful. The higher you climb up the path by the cascades, the more chance you've got of having it to yourself. Don't forget your bikini! It costs around £1.50 to get in.

Starter for 10: Luang Prabang

Eat

The restaurant at Three Nagas, one of Luang Prabang's top hotels is stylish enough for the A-list, and while it's pricy for Laos, it's still a bargain compared to the rest of the world.

Set in the courtyard of the hotel's Unesco world heritage buildings, there's gourmet versions of traditional Lao food and some gorgeous desserts – try the hibiscus mint tiramisu. The country's famous Beerlao is on every menu in town, so take the chance while you're here to check out the less common cocktails and wine list.

Starter for 10: Luang Prabang

Drink

Luang Prabang isn't a big party town – the curfew means most bars close by 11.30, and restaurants shut earlier. So get into the relaxed atmosphere with a few drinks at Utopia. Tucked down a string of winding alleyways off Th Phommatha, all you have to do is keep following the signs to the bamboo platform about the Khan river.

Lie back on one of the comfy cushions, enjoy the peace and the stunning views at sunset, and sip your way lazily through a fresh fruit shake. There's a volleyball court if you're feeling energetic, but who wants to bother when you're somewhere so heavenly?

Starter for 10: Luang Prabang

Shop

Every night at dusk, as the sunlight fades, the little red tents of the night market spring up along the main street Th Sisavangvong. With little lanterns illuminating the goods on display, you can simply wander along without getting hassled – or buy anything from bargain T-shirts, to beautiful woven scarves and hangings, carvings, paintings, coffee and parasols.

On the same street, keep your eyes out for Naga Creations, with bargain beaded rings and costlier traditional necklaces available from the French ex-pat shop owner. Or at Satri Lao, there's everything from silk dresses to glazed coconut shell bowls, so it's worth a browse even if the prices are higher.

Starter for 10: Luang Prabang

Further afield

Watching the fishermen and the scenery as you sail along the Mekong is worth making time for, even if you've got nowhere to go. But make the most of the cruise by combining it with a trip to the Pak Ou caves, around 15 miles from Luang Prabang, to see the thousands of Buddha statues hidden away in the cliffs.

Take a torch for the deeper second cave, and arrange to stop at some of the villages on the way back, to see the traditional paper-making methods and try some Lao Lao, the eye-popping local whisky.

Starter for 10: Luang Prabang

Passport, tickets, paperwork

There are no direct flights to Laos from the UK. BA operates two flights a day to Bangkok (www.ba.com) while Bangkok Air (www.bangkokair.com) and Lao Airlines (www.laoairlines.com) both fly to Luang Prabang from Bangkok.

Intrepid Travel (www.intrepidtravel.com) semi-guided tour A Taste Of Laos costs from £285.

You need a visa to enter Laos, which can be bought at the airport. Check the latest regulations at the FCO.

Starter for 10: Luang Prabang

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