New & Cool in Luang Prabang: The Mekong’s Other Side

New & Cool in Luang Prabang: The Mekong’s Other Side

Bernie Rosenbloom

Board a ferry behind the National Museum and cruise across the Mekong to Ban Xieng Maen Village in Chomphet. You’ll find the Four Temple Tour, Pottery Village, Green Jungle Flight at legendary Hoi Khua (100 Families Waterfall), and Pha Tad Ke Botanical Gardens with a café and shop.

Mekong Ferry to Chompet

The Four Temple Tour

Vat ChompetStart your Four Temple Tour upon landing in Ban Xieng Maen with a short walk up the main road to the 123 steps that climb to the tiny, no-frills Vat Chomphet. The temple sits in a forest on a hill, and looks over the Mekong and Luang Prabang Peninsula, a view that few see. The Thais built the modest temple in 1888, and besides the unique panorama, it is best known for its stupas that house bones of the wives of former kings.  

Next, take the main road southwest for a few hundred metres to Vat Xieng Maen set in Chomphet’s hillside forest overlooking the Mekong. The temple was built in the 16th century, and modelled after the famous Vat Xieng Thong in Luang Prabang town. The entrance has lost some lustre, but still displays its golden ornamentation. In the 19th century, the floor was covered with black, grey, and white French tiles. Next to the temple, a smaller temple stands locked, protecting more than 200 valuable Buddha, with one dating to the 13th century.Vat Tham Xieng Maen

Continue along the main road for a few hundred metres to 18th-century Vat Long Khoun, and explore its grounds and many structures with long sloping roofs and golden entrances. The temple is known as a place of meditation for Lao princes, who are about to take the throne. Inside the main temple, observe the 10 murals depicting the different lives of Buddha. One graphic scene shows giant fish eating villagers. According to local lore, Chinese troops stayed in Vat Long Khoun in 1890, but couldn’t sleep due to the temple’s spirits. So, they painted the walls to protect themselves, which allowed them to sleep.

A path from here delivers you to a short stairway that climbs to a rock terrace lined by a balustrade and flanked by two large, crumbling spirit houses. Here a stone-block archway marks the entrance to Vat Tham Sakkarin (Sakkarin Cave) and the 100-metre tunnel to a small white stupa housing the remains of a former king. The royal family once meditated in the cave, which also features a lower level with an eagle-shaped rock formation. Locals believe that if water drops from the cave’s ceiling and lands on your head, you’ll have good luck. To return to Ban Xieng Maen, take the main road back, or follow the river path.   

Pottery Village

A look around Luang Prabang reveals loads of beautiful clay lamps and pots. Do you want to see who makes them? Head to “Pottery Village”, about 4 km from the Chompet Pier. The people in Ban Chan Village have been pumping out pottery for centuries, and still use their traditional methods.

Pottery Village

According to legend, the first Lao King held a huge celebration after winning a 16th century battle. He asked various villages to deliver different items to the party, and requested Ban Chan bring clay pots. Today, you can watch the descendants of these historic pot throwers create beautiful vessels, and even take lessons and make your own clay pot. You can reach Ban Chan by bike from the pier, private boat from Luang Prabang, or organised tour that comes with a pottery lesson.   

Green Jungle Flight

Dive into an adventure at Lao Green, a 20-hectare nature park and recreation area in Chompet that centres on Hoi Khua Waterfalls. Thrill seekers can tackle an aerial obstacle course that presents a 1-km stretch of zip line with 12 tree-top stations, suspended rope-and-net bridges and swinging walkways, all of which meet international safety standards.

Jungle Bridge

Or, you can stroll along a nature trail through a flower garden and the jungle to a swimming area, restaurant, and campgrounds for a picnic or overnight stay. You can also venture to the base of Hoi Khua falls, or take a challenging three-hour hike to the top with exhilarating views. Several local tour operators offer Hoi Khua itineraries.  

Legendary Hoi Khua Waterfall100 Families Waterfalls

Hoi Khua Waterfalls avoids the tourist hordes as it tumbles 100 metres down a rocky hillside jungle, while offering plenty of swimming holes along the way. Lao Green presents a picnic area next to the falls with small open-air huts, and you’ll find a flower park after a short walk.

According to local legend, years ago, soldiers occupied a village near Hoi Khua (100 Families Waterfalls). Fearing the soldiers, local people hid inside a cave behind the falls. After many days, the soldiers started hearing voices in the cave, so they found a large boulder and blocked the entrance, leaving 100 families to die. The cave and its entrance remains a mystery to this day, and no one ever found the remains of the 100 families for who the falls are named.

Pha Tad Ke Botanical Gardens

Discover the diverse flora of Laos and learn how Lao people use plants in their everyday lives at Chompet’s Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden, reached by a 15-minute Mekong River boat ride from Luang Prabang. The 40-hectare garden showcases some 1,500 different plants such as cycads and tree ferns suited for their unique limestone karst environment.

On a half or full-day getaway, you can enjoy a 35-minute hike around the base of the mountain to Pha Tad Ke Cave, and learn about biodiversity conservation and sustainable agriculture. The gardens also offer free activities, including bamboo handicrafts, local tea tasting, and talks about history and orchids given by local experts. Pha Tad Ke also presents a café and shop by a lotus pond, where you can enjoy a tasty menu and healthy shakes.  

 

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