Luang Prabang, Laos
At the break of dawn every morning, hundreds of Buddhist monks in vibrant saffron robes march in single file lines, weaving throughout Luang Prabang, collecting alms of rice from fellow believers. This ritual is an important part of the city's cultural heritage, dating back to when Buddhism was first introduced to the area. Modern monks stroll past the top-notch restaurants, boutiques, and spas now attracting a tony audience of adventurous Western tourists.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site offers an array of activities from affordable massages to elephant rides through the jungle. Tucked away in the Old Quarter, high-end spas offer luxurious treatments at affordable prices. At L'Hibiscus Spa, an unexpected treat inside a quaintly ornate French-colonial building, $8 gets travelers a full body massage. Afterwards, they meander to the riverside and savor the aromatic local cuisine at Tamarind (about $5 per main dish).
After touring temples and city lookouts, venture outside of the Old Quarter and cool off at Kuang Si Falls, a nearby waterfall. The $6, 15-minute ride in a tuk-tuk, a passenger cart attached to a motorbike, is itself almost as much of an attraction as the steep cliffs locals dive off into refreshingly icy waters.
The options are endless, and at the end of the day there is reliably something to be found at the Handicraft Night Market, where merchants cheerfully haggle over T-shirts, jewelry, and intricately designed textiles. Regardless of your preferences, Luang Prabang always has something on offer.
More information: If you are looking for some exercise, try biking to Kuang Si Falls. Make sure to get a bike with gears, as the 18-mile ride is hilly, but makes swimming that much more rewarding. Bike rentals are about $3 and can be found on Sisavangvong Road.