Minimise your footprint in Luang Prabang with our green guide to the city, taken from travel bible Great Escapes.
Enjoy a puppet show
Every Thursday and Saturday at 7.30pm the kids at Children’s Cultural Centre, a project developed with Unicef, put on a traditional Lao puppet show. Throughout the year the CCC members (aged between 6 and 18) perform in rural villages, using puppetry and other traditional forms to deliver messages about children’s rights and health issues. The rest of the time they learn all manner of traditional arts at the centre, and guests are welcome to learn as well, or help out. It’s all part of a concerted effort to ensure interest in Lao traditional culture is carried on by the next generation. And for families whose children are bored of traipsing round temples, it provides an engaging day out.
The fee for the puppet show goes towards the CCC’s work. The Centre (open 8.30am– 4pm) is located between the Hmong and Dara markets.
Get a massage with the Red Cross
There are plenty of places in town where you can get an invigorating massage for very little money, but choosing the Red Cross means you’ll help to fund projects to provide latrines and water systems to local villagers, and train local youths and tuk-tuk drivers in first aid. It’s a proper massage too: after sweating away toxins in a steam bath infused with 24 different herbs, you’re kneaded and pummelled back into shape by medically trained professionals.
The Red Cross is on Visounlath road. Open 9am–11pm. Email e[email protected]
Make your own scarf
Laos is famous for its silk, and at Ock Pop Tok’s textile gallery you can select your favourite patterns and colours from a range of hand-stitched fabrics, or have clothes made to measure. Or you can visit their weaving centre located in a traditional riverside garden just 2km from the centre of town. Here you can learn how to weave or dye your own scarf in classes lasting from a half-day to a week; you’ll be taught by women working with Ock Pop Tock in an effort to keep their traditional handicrafts alive.
The gallery is on Ban Vat Nong (open 8am–9pm), while the weaving centre is on Ban Saylom (open 9am–5pm). For more info and prices of courses see www.ockpoptok.com.
See moon bears
Tuk-tuk drivers in Luang Prabang will happily take you the 30km south to Tat Kuang Si park, where there’s not only a spectacular 60m waterfall but also a less well-known sight: a rescue centre where you can get close to Asiatic black bears, known as moon bears because of the crescent markings on their chests. The bears here have been rescued from traffickers and poachers, who capture them for their bile (used in traditional medicine) or to sell to restaurants in China. At the centre the bears are free from these dangers, and you’ll see them enjoying themselves swimming, climbing trees or using their long tongues to snaffle up insects in hard-to-reach places.
Go gourmet at Tamarind
Offering a welcome alternative to the typical traveller fare of banana pancakes or coconut curry, Tamarind restaurant is dedicated to revitalizing interest in traditional Lao cooking and ingredients, and runs cooking classes to spread the word. Of course you can just let the chef do the work and tuck in to lunch – dried buffalo or pickled bamboo, say, or for the more adventurous, some of the stranger beasties that you may have seen on display in the markets that day – bugs, worms and frogs. Some you’ll struggle with, but others, such as fried grasshopper, are far tastier than they might look. For anyone keen to challenge their tastebuds while travelling, lunch at Tamarind is a must.
Found opposite the Nam Khan, on Kingkitsalat Rd, Tamarind is open Mon–Sat 11am–6pm. For details and prices of cooking classes see www.tamarindlaos.com.