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Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is Laos's religious and artistic capital, and its combination of impressive natural surroundings, historic architecture, and friendly inhabitants make it one of the region's best stopovers. The abundance of ancient temples led UNESCO to declare Luang Prabang a World Heritage Site in 1995, and since then it's been bustling with construction and renovation activity.

But the charm of Luang Prabang is not exclusively architectural—just as appealing are the people, who seem to spend as much time on the streets as they do in their homes. Children play on the sidewalks while matrons gossip in the shade, young women in traditional dress zip past on motor scooters, and Buddhist monks in saffron robes stroll by with black umbrellas, which protect their shaven heads from the tropical sun. Some 36 temples are scattered around town, making Luang Prabang a fine place to explore on a rented bicycle or on foot. When you need a break from temple-hopping, there are plenty of appealing eateries and fashionable boutiques. Waking early one morning to watch the throngs of monks make their alms runs at dawn is highly recommended. Your hotel should be able to tell you what time to get up and suggest a good viewing spot.

Locals may approach you to buy food from them to serve to the monks, but this is not wise. The locals often give packs of unsuitable rice or other junk to turn a profit. Speak to someone at your lodging or a reputable agency in town about how best to donate to the monks.

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