One of the most relaxing countries we have visited is Laos. The world seems to float by and from touch-down you are already in a state of ease. Laos is probably about 10 years behind on the tourism scene compared to is neighbours Vietnam or Thailand but the country still knows how to show off. One town in particular which is a tourist hotspot is the lazy town of Luang Prabang. It was named a world UNESCO heritage town in 1995 due to its unique example of the fusion between traditional Lao architecture and European colonial designs. The town of Luang Prabang is certainly something special.
What to do:
Morning alms ceremony – Wake up at 6am and enjoy the peacefulness at the start of the day with tradition. Each morning you will hear the beating of the drums and long lines of monks will leave the temples to walk the streets to collect their daily offerings. Please make sure you stay seated or across the road ensuring you give the monks and villagers space and please have shoulders and knees covered. Women will ask if you want to participate – we recommend not doing this as there are rules to follow and you do not want to be disrespectful of them.
Pak Ou Caves – The highlight of heading to these caves is the chilled out boat trip to take you there. You can either go with a larger group and stop off at the whisky village on the way or hire your own boat (approx. $30 return) to take you to the caves and back (around 2hrs each way). The caves themselves are steep (so wear good shoes) and interesting. They are completely full of different styles and sizes of Buddha statues.
Kuang Si Waterfalls – Located just out of town these waterfalls are very popular. Hire a tuk tuk (approx. $20 return) and head up the mountain (about 45 minutes each way). The walk to the falls is easy and along the way you will pass the Bear Rescue Centre. The falls are a beautiful blue and there are some great spots to swim (and a swing for a bit of extra fun).
Night Markets – Every single afternoon, locals come into town from the surrounding villages and set up a night market at the end of the main road. The entire road is closed every evening and hundreds of stalls are erected ready for tourists to make their way through and bargain hard for the pieces they love.
Hire a bike – Instead of walking around everywhere we recommend hiring a bike to roam around the streets of the town. You will then also be able to explore across the river and out of town into the small surrounding villages.
The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre – If you are planning on heading out to do some walking around the surrounding villages then we recommend going here first. This is a small museum but it contains a wealth of information about the local people and also has a fantastic gift shop with traditional pieces with all profits benefiting the local community.
Tad Sae Waterfalls – When you’re in town, go into Green Discovery Adventures and book a one day walking tour. There are many different routes to choose from – we ended up choosing a three hour walk through rice paddies and jungle (including visiting a local village), a boat ride, an elephant ride and bath at Tad Sae Waterfalls, lunch and then some free time to explore the surrounding area.
Visit the temples – Laos is like Europe with churches – yep, another corner, another temple. There are so many temples in Luang Prabang but if you only want to go to a few we recommend heading right to the bend of the river and checking out Wat Xieng Thong. There are several buildings within one complex, each with beautiful design inside and out.
Cooking class – There are many cooking classes to choose from but our favourite is the one from the creators of Tamarind Café. We have been to this one a few times now and it’s never let us down. A full day cooking class will take you to the morning market and then out to a private location in a gorgeous outdoor kitchen setting where you will learn how to make delicious traditional Lao dishes. Our favourite is the stuffed lemongrass chicken.
Sunset on the waterfront – There are multiple little cafes set up just for this. After a long day of exploring you will be ready for a large Beer Lao and some toasted peanuts to enjoy while watching the sun go down. Take a pick from the array of choices, sit back, relax and watch the sunset over the Mekong. Don’t forget insect repellent.
Royal Palace – If you are into your history and like museums then go check out the Royal Palace. It holds many great artifacts from when the king ruled, and shows how his house was setup.
Get a massage – As we have said before, massages here are a must. A traditional one hour massage will cost you $8 including a tip and trust us, you will be wanting one every day you are there. With so many places to choose from and with the massages being so cheap, we recommend the “trial and error” method if you can’t decide where to go. Or head to L’Hibiscus on the main road. It is a little bit more expensive ($10/hr) but the service is phenomenal.
There are so many places to eat and drink in Luang Prabang but here are our favourites.
Blue Lagoon Restaurant – Traditional high quality Lao food, great for a special treat or a “welcome/farewell to Laos” type meal.
L’Elephant – A great mix of Laotian and French cuisine. Has a great Lao set-dinner special.
Traditional Laos BBQ – These have no names but they are local, cheap and very tasty. We tried the one opposite Tamarind Café; take a seat at the little chairs and tables with holes in the middle of them, someone will bring over a menu where you will choose your meat and then out will come the burning hot coals and the plate. Cook your own BBQ in the middle of the table. It is SO delicious and a lot of fun too!
Joma Bakery and Café – If you are wanting a fix of sweet treats or a taste of home for a snack/lunch head here. Great cookies!
Tamarind Café – Serves absolutely delicious Lao food. The coconut rice dessert is a must.
3 Nagas – Lao food served in a cute outdoor setting. Very yum!
As mentioned previously – head to any of the little places along the watersedge for a nice cool afternoon beverage.
Scandinavian Café – Great coffee.
Utopia – Across the Nam Khan River (either take a boat or the bridge, depending on the season) and walk up the stairs. A lounge area by day and a few more backpackers around in the evenings.
Lao Lao Garden – Also great for the traditional Lao BBQ dinner, but many go here for a few drinks as well.
Depending on your budget there are many places to choose from. Rooms range from $5/night to $500 per night. Here are two places we have stayed and can recommend.
Thongbay Guesthouse – Although this place is out of town (there is a shuttle bus and tuk tuk’s are only about $2-$3 each way) the hotel is right on the Nam Khan River and has the most gorgeous view. The accommodation are little bungalows, decorated simply and our favourite part about this hotel; you can order breakfast the night before and it will be brought right to your doorstep for a breakfast on the balcony the next morning.
Sala Prabang Guesthouse – This guesthouse is in the perfect location. Its spread out over several houses along the street and each room is different from the next. The rooms are gorgeous and all feature hot water and wifi. The breakfast here is overlooking the Mekong river. Simple but great!