10 off the beaten track experiences in Luang Prabang
If you know a bit about Luang Prabang already, you know it is a UNESCO valhalla! It has countless of UNESCO temples and natural attractions such as the Khuangxi waterfalls and Pak Ou Caves. This article is NOT about those! This article is for people who are looking for something different and off the beaten track in Luang Prabang – activities that are truly authentic (not just claiming to be). So no, no touristic evening fashion shows or western bar recommendations! In this article, we, at Backstreet Academy help you to find the local people hidden outside the main peninsula, in the little villages beyond the tourist-filled city. Think Laotian hosts who have spent years perfecting their craft and who are more than happy to share it with you!
You can go medieval by becoming a blacksmith at a knife-making course, craft your own crossbow with 90 year-old grandfather Chai Song or go Fishing by the Nam Khan River and these are just a few of the options if you are looking for the best off the beaten track experiences in Luang Prabang
1. Knife-Making with Master Blacksmith
The creation of steel tools and weapons was a major landmark in human history, enabling us to rise above the animals, build farms and establish ourselves as the major race in earth’s history. This age old tradition is still being practiced very much the same way as it has been in this little village just outside Luang Prabang.
Mr. Phan is a master blacksmith, with more than 2 decades of experience in smithing various metal tools. He supplies to many farmers and shops in Luang Prabang. He is extremely passionate about his job and will make you feel like a true blacksmith! At the end of this Knife-Making experience with this Master Blacksmith you will actually have your own blade to take home! Complete with a customized bamboo or wood handle and sheath!
Making your own customized blade just like a medieval blacksmith, you didn’t think you could do that in Luang Prabang right!?
2. The Unseen Laos: A journey into the heart of Kamu communities
Over several trips to the countryside of Luang Prabang we’ve come across a variety of activities that truly represent how the average Laotian go about their daily lives. The Unseen Laos; A journey into the heart of Kamu communities, gives you a glimpse into those lives.
On this trip (30 min from Luang Prabang), you get to meet La, a mother of 3 who is happy to share her experiences with you! Although La has never gone to school, we can promise you, one day with her will make you a lot wiser! You will participate in activities like rice husking with a traditional mortar, working in the farm and hunting crabs in the streams. And like a true local, even learn how to set up a mouse trap!
If you are looking for a off the beaten track experience in Luang Prabang, we suggest you spend the day here!
3. Rice Farming
Try this hands-on experience, while looking out over breathtaking views of endless rice fields with majestic limestone cliffs in the distance! You get to go to the rice fields where the life of a lot of Lao people begins! Try the 14 stages of planting rice! Right from the selecting of grain, plowing the land with a buffalo, all the way to harvesting. And of course the best part: eating it! Enjoy rice made in a variety of innovative ways paired with the essential Jeow Bong – a chili made with buffalo skin, giving it a very fragrant smoky flavour that goes exceptionally well with sticky rice. After this Rice Farming experience, you will never look at rice the same way!
4. Crafting Crossbows with veteran Hmong Hunter
Make a traditional crossbow completely by hand! That’s what Backstreet host, 90 year-old Chai song can do in less than 3 hours. Join his Crossbow Crafting experience to learn this amazing skill from him, complete with crafting your own little bamboo arrows! Then disassemble and bring home the innocent looking pieces of wood (woohoo, no border security problems here!)! After you’re done, have a duel with Chai Song and see if you can shoot better than him! Our bets are on Chai Song; he has never lost a duel before thus far!
5. Experience almsgiving and meditation with a monk
To join this extraordinary experience, you may have to get up earlier than ever, but we can tell you that it is more than worth it! Alms Giving or Tak Bat, is one of the the greatest ceremonies in Buddhism, especially in Luang Prabang. At 5.30 in the morning, hoards of tourist witness the procession (mostly through their camera or phone screen). However, not many get to experience it from the inside!
During the Alms Giving Experience you get to participate in this holy procession with a local host. You get to learn the ins and outs of this procession after which you will line up together with all other devotees giving out food to the monks walking past. But that is only the start!
You get to have breakfast at a Lao morning market together with the locals and get the inside tour of Wat Mai, an impressive temple which is one of Luang Prabang’s largest and most richly decorated temples.
But our favorite part… Getting to head to a temple and learn the art of meditation from a senior monk himself! You can ask any questions you might have about meditation and buddhism as well as have a real inside look at the temple and activities they do there. During this day you truly get to experience this UNESCO town from the inside.
6.Traditional Hmong Shaman Ceremonies
A shaman is a traditional healer who navigates the spirit world to determine and treat the spiritual causes of disease. There are many situations when a Hmong shaman performs a ceremony, such as to treat an illness, to make someone live longer, to bless a house or to ease the angry spirits, and there are many more!
Traditional Hmong religious beliefs are animism, life is seen as a continuous circle of birth and rebirth, and the Hmong believe that there are two worlds which are physical and spiritual that coexists side by side. They believe in many types of spirits including ancestral spirits, house spirits and spirits in the natural world.
According to Hmong cosmology, the human body is the host for a number of souls. If one or more of these souls are isolated and separated from the body it can cause disease, depression and death. As the results, when it comes to treating illnesses, the Hmong believe in the healing power of shamans instead of doctors.
Did you know that in Luang Prabang you can actually be part of a traditional Hmong Shaman Ceremony?! I can tell you, this is very off the beaten track! Luckily the shaman is very patient in answering questions about Hmong culture and he is not offended if you believe in different things.
7. Fear Factor Cooking Course
You will NEVER EVER forget this day!
Even when it comes to cooking courses there are off the beaten track options! And this one is not for everybody! What you see on this picture is not beetroot soup but a dish that actually includes raw goat’s blood (yes, really!).
In this course, the host will take you into the back of their cooking corner’s restaurant where you will learn how to cook 4 extremely “interesting” dishes. Next to raw goat’s blood it will include; fried toad, goat testicle soup and goat colon (cooked in its own dung, small intestine, liver, lung and kidney which makes it taste bitter).
Old people believe that goat dung is a kind of medicine to heal your body because goat eats almost every plant, but they don’t eat bad stuff, so that is why its stomach and intestine became a special medicine. And lucky you, that you get to try it!
Maybe you could use some liquid courage to go along with this, right? How about a cup of snake, gecko, or even goat’s testicle wine? It will only cost you around $1 per cup!
For the really adventurous; you can book this Fear Factor Food Cooking Course by clicking here.
8. Kayaking & Rafting
Eating goat poop or seeing a shaman ceremony might be a bit too much of the beaten track for you (we could totally understand)!! In that case, you might want to consider a totally different experience like kayaking or rafting!
Luang Prabang is a fantastically located for rafting and kayaking and there are plenty of tour companies offering a choice of excursions! There are easy riverside kayak tours for those who enjoy to take their time but there are also tours that include hiking or going to a Hmong village. There are even two day trips available that include cliff jumping into the Nam Xeuang River and a night at a Khmu hill tribe village. Basically you can make this experience, as off the beaten track as you want to.
9. Fishing by Nam Khan River
They say that in Luang Prabang almost all men know how to fish! So if you are there, why not join a local fisherman into the Nam Khong riverbank and give it a try? We do have to warn you! This is not sitting in a boat with your fishing rod, waiting until a fish decides he wants to be your dinner. This is getting yourself down and dirty and really working for your food!
You get to learn a variety of ways to fish, using traps, net’s or simple bamboo rods (oke, so it is possible to use a rod, but using the net is much more fun!). Don’t feel discouraged if it takes a few times to get it right! Throwing a fishing net is a lot more difficult than it looks!
After fishing by the Nam Khan River, you get to set up a fire with your host by the river and enjoy fresh grilled fish with sticky rice! You earned it!
10. Hmong Traditions & Homestay
We saved one of our favorite off the beaten track experiences for last!
What better way to connect with the locals than by staying with them? Get insider access to a Hmong villager’s house inside a local Khmu village. You can not only see both tribes’ way of life, but also how they interact and live harmoniously with each other.
Living on a farm, you will get to participate with lots of farm activities! Such as vegetable farming, sticky rice planting, setting traps, cooking the traditional way and even hunting with crossbows and slingshots!
This is true farm life and a unique perspective on how a Lao farm is operated and how Lao farmers’ go about their daily chores. Participate in every activity, from cooking together with your host to making fires and playing village games with the children (they will think you are hilarious).
Have fun, disconnect with the world and enjoy the real local life with our 10 off the beaten track experiences in Luang Prabang!!