Surprisingly few tourists bother to cross the Mekong and explore the sleepy village of XIENG MEN, but it’s a real delight to escape the crowds and experience village life so close to the city. A passenger ferry operates regularly between Luang Prabang and Xieng Men, leaving from the landing near the northwest corner of the Royal Palace Museum compound (look for the steep steps down to the riverbank), while a vehicle ferry operates from the slow boat landing. Alternatively, you could charter a boat with one of the many boatmen that congregate by the landings.
Just up from the boat landing, a narrow path to the right leads through the village, full of traditional wooden houses and small noodle shops. After a few minutes, you’ll reach Wat Xiengmene, on the left, which was built in 1592 and extensively rebuilt in modern times – though it still retains its beautifully carved doors. The bamboo forest behind the wat conceals a royal cemetery for those members of royalty who, for religious reasons, could not be cremated.
A little further on, a steep but short climb away from the path brings you to the sim and stupas of Wat Chom Phet. At dusk the views of the sunset from here are spectacular, further enhanced by the sounds of the city carrying across the water. Beyond here, the path is elevated and provides excellent views across the river to the city, before reaching the final temple, Wat Long Khoun. Set in peaceful grounds, it was once used by Luang Prabang’s kings as a pre-coronation retreat involving ritual baths, meditation and reflection. The wat was restored in 1995 by the École Française d’Extrême Orient. Of note are the two Chinese door guardians painted either side of the main entrance to the sim, and the murals within.
Your ticket for the wat includes a guided visit to nearby Wat Tham Sackkalin, which is actually a cave repository for old and damaged Buddha images. As with Tham Ting upriver, this cave is a focus of activity during Lao New Year, when the residents of Luang Prabang come here to gain merit by ritually bathing the Buddhas. There’s not a great deal to see, but it’s rather atmospheric and quite fun to scramble over rocks in the dark. Note that you will be expected to tip your guide at the end.