Luang Prabang, Luang Prabang
Concierge.com's insider take:
The former royal capital of Laos, lovely Luang Prabang has an air of faded grandeur, with French colonial buildings jostling ancient red-roofed Theravada Buddhist temples and stupas with gold spires beneath Mount Phousi. A narrow, mile-long peninsula between the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers holds the historic district, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Considered the best preserved city in Southeast Asia, it's packed with gracious homes, shophouses, and temples, including gorgeous 16th-century Wat Xiang Thong. Inside the temple, gold-stenciled wooden pillars support a ceiling decorated with dharma wheels. Outside, the layered roofs swoop almost to ground level, while the rear wall gleams with a masterful Tree of Life mosaic. Every dawn, hundreds of monks gather at Wat Xiang Thong and other temples for tak bat, a 6 am walk through the misted streets to gather alms.
Another highlight is the former Royal Palace. Built in 1904 and now a national museum, it displays antique howdahs, lacquered manuscript boxes—and a bit of moon rock collected by Apollo 17 (a gift from President Nixon). The museum's prized possession is the Pra Bang, the town's eponymous standing Buddha image, reckoned to be 90 percent gold and revered as a source of spiritual protection for Laos. Exhibits at a new cultural museum, the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre, document the country's rich ethnic mosaic (856-71-253-364; www.taeclaos.org).