Luang Prabang, Laos is celebrating its 20th anniversary as a UNESCO Heritage Site this year. It’s a place rich with many cultural and historical gems, from its golden roofed temples and age old monasteries, stunning natural sights to its charming blend of French and Laotian influences. In conjunction with its 20th anniversary, from December 5 – 9, 2015, there will be various events taking place including a market fair of handicrafts, photo exhibitions, artistic performances, an elephant parade; and various conferences pertaining to the preservation and conservation of Luang Prabang’s World Heritage value.

On top of that, here are five of the most amazing ‘off the beaten path’ experiences that you must not miss in Luang Prabang.

1. Buddhist Temples

(C)Brent T. Madison 2008
(C) Brent T. Madison 2008

Visit one of the 30 spectacular Buddhist temples in this ancient town. The best way to explore is by foot or cycling through the little town. You may even have the opportunity to speak to one of the young Buddhist monks. Wat Xieng Thong is its most famous and visited temple and monastery, with ornately designed mosaic tiles and sweeping tier-ed roofs.

2. Mekong River

Mekong sunset
Sunset at Mekong Riverside

Sail down the Mekong River and watch the sun sink into the horizon. Make a pit-stop at the famed Pak Ou Caves, two caves cut into a limestone cliff. The caves hold hundreds of perfectly posed Buddha images of various styles and sizes. For a bird’s eye view of the river and town, climb up Mount Phousi, the main hill in the city, during sunrise or sunset, for that picture perfect shot.

3. Morning Markets

luang-prabang-morning marketVisit the morning market open daily from 5.30am and enjoy fresh local cuisine including Khao Soi – a minced meat noodle soup. Alternatively, venture into one of the restaurants along the main street to have a French meal with BeerLao. You can also take up a cooking class at the hotel with Chef and get hands on learning for local authentic dishes.

4. Alm Giving Ceremony

Luang_Prabang_Monks_Alm_Dawn_01Rise at dawn and receive blessings from the city’s Buddhist monks at the Alms Giving Ceremony. Clearly distinguished by their brightly coloured Saffron robes, kneel along Sakkaline Road and give your alms in the form of handfuls of sticky rice to the monks. A spiritual ceremony that started in the 14th century, this age-old tradition is ever present today.

5. Kuang Si Waterfalls

kuang-si-falls-463925_1280Just 30 kilometres out of town, this beautiful tiered waterfall is a great half day tour. Upon entering the park, walk through the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre that rescues endangered black bears from poachers, before walking through a forest trail to cascades of azure-blue pools. You are allowed to swim in allocated areas so bring towels and swimsuits. The highlight is the main waterfall at 25 metres high.