I’ve been to a few Asian and I couldn’t help but feel that among the cities that I’ve been to, Luang Prabang is indeed the most beautiful and photogenic of them all. The city is lined with restored French colonial buildings and with Buddhist temples.
Here’s a brief excerpt about Luang Prabang from Wikipedia.
“Luang Prabang, or Louangphrabang (literally: “Royal Buddha Image”) is a city located in north central Laos, where the Nam Khan river meets the Mekong River about 425 kilometers (264 mi) north of Vientiane. It is the capital of Luang Prabang Province.
The city was formerly the capital of a kingdom of the same name. Until the communist takeover in 1975, it was the royal capital and seat of government of the Kingdom of Laos. The city is also notable as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The main part of the city consists of four main roads located on a peninsula between the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers. The city is well known for its numerous Buddhist temples and monasteries. Every morning, hundreds of monks from the various monasteries walk through the streets collecting alms. One of the major landmarks in the city is a large steep hill on which sits Wat Chom Si.”
Ice Cold Beer Lao Waiting for your Arrival
You can travel to Luang Prabang overland via various entry points depending on which country you’d be coming from. I’ve been to Luang Prabang twice and used two entry points. First one is Huay Xai if you’re coming from Chaing Mai, Thailand and the second is Mhuang Khua, if you’re coming from Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam. Check out my post about “How to travel to Luang Prabang from Sapa, Vietnam” if you’re taking the same route.
The easiest route is said to be enter Laos via the Friendship Bridge and proceed to Vientiane and then take a bus up north to Luang Prabang.
Various airlines also serve Luang Prabang such as Bangkok Airways, Lao Airlines, Vietnam Airlines and Thai Airways.
I’m not into much trekking but if it’s your thing, various travel agencies within the city arrange for single or multiple day trekking trips to the nearby mountains. You get to visit various hill tribe villages and see the lush forest of Laos.
For those as lazy as me, hanging out in Luang Prabang Old town is already a treat. There’re so many temples to see and the laidback atmosphere of Laos will make you stay longer in a cafe and enjoy sipping on your coffee or fruit shakes.
Watching the “Monk Procession” every morning also became a tourist spectacle in Luang Prabang. Although monks tolerate photographers and tourists, please excercise common respect and do not point your camera lenses on their faces.
Shopping is also a favourite activity here in Luang Prabang especially at night where the vendors lay out their wares and other novelty items for sale on the main street.
Biking and walking around Luang Prabang are probably my favourite activity here. It’s easy to get lost inside the small quaint brick alleys covered with tropical tress. This is such a lovely place to let time pass by.
The party scene in Luang Prabang is not as big as Vang Vieng but there are numerous bars that you could visit here. Most of them though close at around 11:30PM. There’s one interesting bar here called Utopia where they built a beach volleyball court complete with sand. It must be freaking funny to play volleyball when you’re drunk.
Beach Volleyball (without the Beach) at Night… at Utopia Luang Prabang
There are a lot of guest houses, hostels and hotels to choose from. If you’re going to stay within the Old Town, the rooms (for two) range from $8 up to more than a thousand dollars per night. If you have someone to share the room with then you can just split the cost between the two of you. There are more guesthouses outside the Old Town and the cost might be cheaper but I do suggest that you stay within the old town so you could just walk your way to the temple whenever you wish to.
Your best bet for cheap food is the market near the Ancient Bakery. There’re numerous stalls there selling baguette sandwiches (10000 Kip), Fruit Shakes (5000 Kip), Papaya Sala (8000 Kip), One Plate Vegetarian Buffet (10000 Kip), Grilled Fish (20000 Kip), Grilled Chicken Breast (10000 Kip) and more.
If you have a lot of money to spare and if you crave for some fine dining, Luang Prabang has a lot of restaurants to choose from. One of the most recommended is Tamarind Restaurant (fronting Nam Khan River).
You can go to other Laos provinces via the bus station (North and South) and then head on to neighboring countries. Within Luang Prabang, tuktuk seems to be the only option aside from renting your own motorbike or bicycle. You could also take a boat if you want to go to Huay Xai (en route to Chiang Mai) or other scenic places such as Nong Khiew and Mueng Ngoi.
Take a good look at your money before you hand it out to any vendor. A lot of them look almost the same and if you’re not careful you might lose a few thousand Kip. 50000 looks like 20000 and 5000 Kip, while 10000, 2000 and 1000 almost look identical.
As of the time of writing your $1 will give you 8000 Kip.
Among all the cities in Asia, Luang Prabang seems to have the least touts and aggressive vendors. I don’t fear getting ripped off as well here because prices seem to be almost the same as anywhere else.
Be wary though when walking in unlit streets. I once saw a couple of guys in a motorbike snatched the bag of a tourist. Luckily the tourist was able to hold her bag tightly and she didn’t lose it, but she got bruised badly.
The most common annoyance would probably be the presence of a variety of insects including mosquitoes. The city is sitting beside Mekong (and there’s Nam Khan River as well). The river banks are teeming with insect life and you’ll probably get bitten once in awhile. Bring a mosquito repellent lotion to ward off mosquitoes and other insects.
Luang Prabang is definitely a must see or rather a “must experience” place for all travellers out there. It’s also a nice place to have a short vacation from all the drinking, partying that you’ve done in the neighboring places.