THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO LUANG PRABANG
Gorgeous Luang Prabang.
In only a matter of days, Luang Prabang became one of my favourite places, not just in SE Asia, but in the world.
Since the airport modernised in 2011, more and more visitors have been pouring in to see this sleepy town in north central Laos for themselves.
The old town is dubbed a UNESCO heritage site with its French colonial buildings, dozens of Wats, hazy, green mountains, and flowing, mighty Mekong.
There wasn’t a specific thing I loved the most about Luang Prabang. Really, it was the wandering that I fell in love with.
The slow pace of life encouraging days without real plans, just waking up and deciding what to do. Meandering town, popping into cafes, enjoying strong cold brew and delicious, salty khao soi.
I would have stayed weeks, if I didn’t have a Vietnam visa with fixed entry and exit dates.
It’s the kind of place that, even months later, I can’t stop thinking about.
And, it’s not just a physical beauty. No disputing Luang Prabang is a beautiful place, but its appeal also comes from its spirit. Everyone I met in Laos was friendly, kind and welcoming.
Luang Prabang is a place so peaceful, you feel calmer just by being there. Almost as if you’re able to absorb its vibe.
The Complete Guide to Luang Prabang, Laos: 8 Activites I Loved On My Stay
Exploring The Night Market: A backpacker’s paradise. The night market was my favourite in all of SE Asia- great clothes, jewelry, homewares and linen bags. Can’t forget to mention the tasty coconut pancakes or fresh mangosteen and sugarcane juices. Strolling the market quickly became a nightly ritual.
Gawking at Kuang Si Waterfalls: The most beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever seen, full stop. Picture multi-level, turquoise flowing waterfalls. It’s truthfully reason enough to visit Luang Prabang.
Cruising down the Mekong at Sunset: The Mekong gives you an up-close look at how the Lao people live along the river. While you cruise, you can see fishermen docking their boats for the night, children playing or bathing in the river and families with riverside homes preparing dinner. Coupled with stunning views of lush jungle and towering mountains, it’s simply stunning.
Relaxing in Luang Prabang’s Cafes: Described as a place with the charm of Paris and vibe of Bali, Luang Prabang is the perfect place to chill for a few days. Three cafes to not miss: Indigo Cafe, Saffron and Utopia.
Getting a Firm, but Fabulous Laotian Massage: Keen to escape the water soaked New Years celebrations, I sought out Frangipiani Spa in Luang Prabang. Here, I had a traditional Laos massage, which is very similar to a traditional Thai massage. You’re given loose clothes to change into, and the massage itself is more about stretching and improving flexibility than actually massaging parts of the body.
Observing the Ancient Ritual of Almsgiving: Known as Tak Bat, it’s a sacred Buddhist tradition that occurs throughout Laos. In the early hours of each morning, as the sun rises, local Buddhist monks softly walk the streets barefoot in a single file line, accepting gifts from locals as they go. It’s estimated 200 monks participate in the ceremony in Luang Prabang. The tradition lives on as a way for monks to maintain their vows, including a vow of poverty, and for locals to practice their faith and gain merit. It’s a ceremony you won’t find in all parts of SE Asia, and for that reason, it’s considered special to see in Luang Prabang.
Admiring a Few of Laos Historic Temples: There are dozens of temples in Luang Prabang, just wander the city and you’ll stumble across several. Theravada Buddhism is rich in Luang Prabang, making it unique to other parts of SE Asia. Remember to dress modestly if you choose to enter, it’s the respectful thing to do.
Wandering town, no further explanation needed.
Bonus activity: If you’re in Luang Prabang during the dry season, don’t miss the bamboo bridge that spans the Mekong. It washes away in the rainy season, and is rebuilt each year. There’s a nominal fee to cross, but it’s worth it, both to support the community and see this spectacular part of local life.
It’s a tough feeling to explain, but if you’ve been to Luang Prabang, you’ll likely understand it. Your time there almost feels as if it’s being spent in a dreamy haze.
One thing’s for certain, Anthony Bourdain was spot on when he said Laos was enchantingly beautiful.
The Complete Guide to Luang Prabang: Extra Travel Tips
How to Get There: Flying into Laos is easy, but not as cheap as travelling to other places in SE Asia. My flight was purchased weeks in advance and still cost $80 one way from Bangkok to Luang Prabang. My exit flight to Hanoi was also pricey, $70 one way. Buses and slow river boats are much cheaper, but take a lot longer.
Visa: You can apply for a visa-on-arrival upon landing, make sure you bring USD to pay for it. Once secured, your visa is good for three months, single entry only. However, it’s easy to get another visa if you need to leave or extend- practices are similar to Thailand (~$30-40 USD, depending country of origin).
Where to Stay: There are plenty of hotels and hostels in the old town. I chose to stay slightly outside of town at a jungle resort, My Boutique Dream Hotel. They offered a free shuttle to town, or you could walk across the bamboo bridge, making it easy to be in the centre of the action within minutes.
When to Go: Laos has two seasons, wet and dry. The wet season is April – October, and the dry season is November – March. I visited in early April and didn’t encounter any rain. Temperatures were quite warm, but there weren’t many mosquitos, which seems like a fair trade off.
Currency: Convert at the airport or withdraw from any of the ATMs in town. As in Thailand, be prepared to have cash to spend for smaller purchases.
WiFi: I bought a local sim card, which are offered on a day need basis, e.g. mine was for three days. I don’t remember what I paid exactly, but recall it being very affordable. Many places in town also have wifi, and it’s a small enough place that you’ll be able to wander without getting lost if you don’t have service.
Have you ever travelled to Luang Prabang? What would you add to the complete guide to Luang Prabang for first time visitors?
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