Set on the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, Luang Prabang is one of the most charming cities in Southeast Asia. There are no high rise buildings and McDonalds hasn’t landed here so it feels untouched by the western world.
FINDING YOUR WAY
The main area of Luang Prabang is quite small and framed by the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. There is one main road; Th Sisavangvong which becomes Th Sakkarin. Th Sisavangvong runs next to Mount Pusi and is home to the Royal Palace Museum and Theatre.
HISTORICAL SITES & NATURAL WONDERS
This 100m high hill sits in the centre of Luang Prabang, where the 329 step climb rewards you with fantastic views of the city and the mountains beyond. It’s very popular to visit at sunset so if you’re looking to go off-peak, I recommend visiting at sunrise. It’s incredibly atmospheric with the morning mist shrouding the surrounding mountains. You’ll also see orange robed monks walking the streets to collect alms. At the summit the 24m gilded stupa called That Chomsi is beautiful as it starts to glitter in the morning sunlight. And best of all, you’ll probably be one of a handful of people.
Kuang Si waterfall
Don’t think “oh it’s just another waterfall”, this absolutely stunning multi-tiered beauty is worth taking the time to visit. Turquoise blue waters billow from jungle clad limestone, flowing into pools which are suitable for swimming.
If you chose to swim please only swim in places you are permitted to do so, some areas are unsafe or are considered sacred to locals. Also remember that Laos is a deeply conservative country and that locals will swim fully clothed. People are used to seeing tourists here so you can swim in western swimwear but make sure you dress after you leave the water. Wondering around half dressed in completely inappropriate.
The best time to visit Kuang Si is around November to April once the monsoon is over. If you visit during the monsoon which lasts from about May to October the water is a fast flowing tends to be brown. I visited in September when the water was just starting to turn blue.
Located only 40 minutes drive away you don’t need a tour, just take a tuk tuk. 20,000 kip entry.
Kuang Si Butterfly Park
The park was set up by a Dutch couple in 2014 who wanted to create a research centre and help educate about the beautiful and vulnerable wildlife of Laos. It’s a lovely place to walk around and there is a pretty cafe set amongst plants and a pond. Look out for the butterfly chrysalises which look like little metal pendents.
Find the centre five minutes walk from the falls entrance. 40,000 kip entry.
The Living Land Farm
A fun half day trip to learn the process of farming rice, one of the most important foods in Southeast Asia. Prepare to get muddy! The process starts with plowing a field where you’ll wade through muddy water trying to keep up with the buffalo. You’ll then move onto other fields to plant and cut the rice. At the end you’ll sample flower shaped crackers and khao niaow (sticky rice), a staple of the Lao table. As the name suggests this rice sticks together making it easy to mould into a ball with your hands. You can then squash the ball so its a spoon-like shape and using your thumb, scoop up other dishes or chilli pastes into the rice.
UXO Laos Information Centre & Secret War
Despite not actually being directly involved in Vietnam War, Laos was heavily bombed during the conflict. CIA agents worked in the country to stop the spread of communism but by the end they were arming children. No one in the USA knew this was happening which is why the involvement in Laos is know as ‘The Secret War’. Today, Laos is the most bombed country in the world per capita. During the war millions of cluster bombs filled with smaller bombs called ‘bombies’ where dropped on this tiny nation. Nearly 45 years later, millions of UXOs remain scattered across the country. These continue to kill and injure people every day, in particular, children who are drawn to play with the small bombs. Charities are working to clear the land and educate communities about the risk UXOs, often poorly equipped and funded. It’s important that if you want to contribute to the efforts to only give money to a listed charity. You will see people at the night market selling jewellery and other souvenirs made from the metal of UXOs. Do not buy these. Purchasing goods made form UXOs encourages the hunt for scrap metal and puts lives at serious risk. The UXO Information Centre presents stats and maps to illustrate the sheer scale of the clearing task with displays of bombs and other weapons. There is a small film about the work being done to clear the land and stories from people who have survived despite horrific inguries.
Open from Monday to Friday 08:00am to 11:30pm and 13:00pm to 17:00pm. It’s free entrance but donations encouraged.
When visiting temples it’s important to dress and behave correctly. Buddhist Temple Etiquette
Wat Xieng Thong
The most grand temple with intricately decorated interior and exterior walls.
Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham
One of the most beautiful temples in Luang Prabang, originally built in the 18th century. Open daily 08:00am – 17:00pm 10,000 kip
TAK BAT (GIVING ALMS)
Along the peaceful streets in the early morning, locals sit on the side of the road to give alms to the monks and novices. The traditional offering is sticky rice but any type of food can be given. Participants keep their heads bowed as they drop food into the silver bowls – careful not to touch them – as the monks and novices walk past. If they run out of food they just sit silently with their hands together in front of them.
To observe alms giving:
- View from the opposite side of the street to avoid getting in the way
- Don’t take pictures
- Maintain the silence
- Dress as if you were visiting a temple (shoulders and knees covered) Buddhist Temple Etiquette
Particularly on main street you will see tourists following monks closely to take pictures. Please don’t feel like you can too just because they are.
MARKETS & SHOPPING
Night Market on Th Sisavangvong (main street)
The perfect place to pick up souvenirs or just wonder around. It’s also a great place to sample some delicious street food. Remember, if there isn’t a marked price it’s appropriate to haggle. Have a maximum price you’re willing to pay in mind as it can be very easy to get carried away! You’re more likely to get a good price if you’re friendly and keep smiling.
FOOD & DRINK
Luang Prabang’s night life is very relaxed. It’s all about enjoying a nice meal and a couple of drinks. The national curfew is midnight so all bars will close between 11 and 12.
- Coconut pancakes outside Indigo Cafe at the night market 5,000kip.
- Smoothies and crepes from the stands for 10,000kip.
Bars & Cafés
A chain found in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, offering a great selection of cakes, pastries and light meals. There are two in Luang Prabang, one on main street and the other on the Nam Kan. The latter is my favourite. Sit on the balcony upstairs for a view of the river or grab the table under the aircon on hot days. Try the Chicken and Mango salad then have a couple of scoops of homemade icecream.
Sits on the banks of the Nam Khan river with lots of comfortable seating to relax. I preferred visiting during the day when it’s quiet because at night it gets absolutely packed. When the bar closes at 11 everyone goes to the bowling alley which you’d be best of skipping.
Lao Lao Garden
Sit in a jungle-like garden with lots of colourful lights and drink cheap cocktails. Sometimes there was a bit of a weird selection of dance music.
Find this modern cafe on main street do the best pancakes in Luang Prabang.
A delicious selection of cakes!
Tamarind cooking class
Villa Thony 1 House 1 is a small guest house with a great location close to the river and walking distance of the shops and restaurants.
At the moment there are no direct flights to Luang Prabang from the UK. You’ll need to fly to Thailand or Vietnam and catch another flight. Vietnam Airlines fly direct to Hanoi from London Heathrow and connect with flights to Luang Prabang.
Take the slow boat to the boarder of Thailand and stay in the small town of Houayxay. From here you can explore the forests and the incredible Gibbon Experience. Continue on to Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand by bus.
Take the bus south to Vang Vieng and Vientiane or travel north to the villages. The boarder crossing between Laos and Thailand is really straightforward.
Visited September – November 2016
Little Amy Tours