Luang Prabang is without a doubt a very touristy town. After reviewing much travel literature lauding its esthetic, historical and cultural significance, I wondered if I would be disappointed with the reality of the place. But I found that it matched its reputation.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Luang Prabang is characterized by peaceful Buddhist monasteries and quiet streets lined with pretty French colonial villas. During my stay the town was crawling with tourists and it was evident that the local economy was almost exclusively focused on serving us. Still, though I was visiting during the touristic high season, it did not seem crowded or overdeveloped to me.
The central area of Luang Prabang lies on a slim peninsula created by the merging of the Khan River into the Mekong. Most tourists moved about the city on foot or bicycle, thus limiting motorized traffic.
There was a bustling night market on the main road consisting of an endless line of stalls covered by tarpaulin tents, under which the vendors, mostly women, displayed their colorful wares. When business was slow, they would curl up for a nap or play with their babies.
As far as getting a glimpse of the culture and lifestyle of the majority of Laos, Luang Prabang was probably the furthest thing from authentic. But in contrast to Vang Vieng (and many other tourist havens I have visited), I perceived a healthy energy and respectful interplay between the locals and the tourists.