Luang Prabang is a quaint town in northern Laos right on the Mekong River. It’s a popular tourist destination but you never feel crowded and the city still feels authentic. It’s the hub of many day trip activities but the city itself is fun to explore and contains many temples and a great night market. One of our favourite destinations, we rearranged our schedule to stay a few extra nights here, and would’ve stayed even longer if we didn’t have the rest of SEA to explore!
How to get There
We arrived by overnight bus from Huay Xai. It was the bumpiest, curviest and most mountainous bus route that we experienced, and was definitely an intense way to lose our night bus virginity. For this bus you buy a 125,000 kip ticket for half a bed. Yes, you read that correctly. We didn’t know that until the driver came along and looked at our tickets, then tried to explain as well as he could that we did not each get a bunk, but that we were both on the top. Alex is 6’1″ and Devon is 5’7″. Squishing ourselves and our small backpacks into a bed about as wide as a twin bed and about 5 feet long was quite a feat. Sleeping was a whole other issue, and the blaring Laotian music over the bus speakers didn’t help. We couldn’t imagine having to share that space with a stranger, so solo travellers choose wisely. All inconveniences aside, we survived the trip and arrived at the Luang Prabang bus station at 7:15am after a 13 hour long trip. We used MapsMe and decided to walk the 2 km instead of taking a tuk tuk for 40,000 kip (though they lowered their prices as we walked away) and it was an easy hike.
There are other ways to get from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang. A popular route is a slow boat down the Mekong River which seemed pretty fun. However it takes two days, with one stop in Pak Beng (a dirt road town with nothing exciting to do from what we’ve heard) for about 200,000 kip (not including your stay in Pak Beng). You can also take a fast boat which can get you there in about 6-7 hours for about twice that price. Our friends had taken the fast boat from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai and said they were crunched up into a ball the whole trip due to the overly packed boat. The fast boats have also been known to be pretty dangerous as the drivers sometimes speed around corners or hit debris and flip the boats. Our friends also said that the scenery along the Mekong is pretty cool to see, for the first hour…then its all the same.
We chose the overnight bus route as it saved us a day or two of travel, saved the cost of a hostel as we travelled overnight, and a bunch of our friends were taking the bus as well. After the fact, we were told the overnight buses weren’t the safest route of travel either (breakdowns, driving along massive cliffs) but in the end nothing is 100% in SEA and you take what you can get.
Coming the other way, the trip between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng is about 6 hours on windy mountain roads, and costs about 125,000 kip. We took a minibus for this drive, which is apparently cheaper and quicker than a full sized bus, and it had A/C.
Where to Stay
- Boungnasouk – We stayed at this guesthouse on Khem Kong Rd. along the Mekong River. It was 50,000 kip/night for a room with two single beds and an ensuite bathroom. Fairly clean, and free water if you have a water bottle to fill up. A large local family also lives there but they’re very nice and didn’t bother us. They also love Canadians! They have a curfew and lock the doors at midnight but we checked with them beforehand on a night we were going out, and they said we could just knock and they would let us in. Wifi only worked on the main floor, not in the rooms. You cannot book Boungnasouk online, but if you’d like to book in advance you can find cheap accommodation in Luang Prabang here.
What to Do
- Wat Xieng Thong is a very important Laos temple. A couple different buildings and amazing carvings and colour. It’s located close to where the Nam Khan River branches off the Mekong. It cost 20,000 kip to get in.
- Wat Tham Phou Si and Wat Chom Si are both on Mount Phou Si in the middle of town. Take some time during the afternoon to climb up and explore the mountain (and see Buddha’s footprint!), then find a spot to see the sunset. Cost 20,000 kip to go up the mountain.
- Royal Palace Museum – The museum had a lot of artifacts owned by the royal family that lived there back in the 13th century. Haw Pha Bang temple is in the same complex. It also had a cars exhibition around the right side of the main building. Entry cost 30,000 kip.
- Night Market – The main road (Sisavangvong rd.) is shut down every night and outfitted with countless tents to transform it into the Luang Prabang night market. You can find handmade jewellery, elephant pants, souvenirs and scarves. Pretty much everything you can think of. Our personal favourite were the buffets near Kitsalat Rd. (east end of the market) where you could sample Laos foods for a flat fee of 15,000 kip (no meat though, that was extra).
- Kuang Si Waterfall – About an hour tuk tuk ride from Luang Prabang, this waterfall was amazing and you can easily spend a day here exploring, swimming and just hanging out. This was hands down the best waterfall we saw throughout our trip, it took at least an hour to walk around and see all of the turquoise water cascading down the falls. There are a couple stalls to buy drinks and food in the lot where you’re dropped off, and on the way you can walk through a Sun and Moon Bear sanctuary! Costs around 50,000 kip/person depending on how many people you have (we had 3) for a tuk tuk ride round trip and 20,000 kip to get in.
- Monk Walk – Waking up at 5:00 am was totally worth it to witness monks and novices walk the streets and accept gifts of food and share blessings with locals. With a limited understanding of their culture, we sat respectfully away from them and did not take photos. This was a very special experience to see how sacred this way of life is for most of the locals here. If you choose to do it, please do not try to participate; respect them and their beliefs.
What to Avoid
- Pak Ou Caves – We did not end up going to the caves ourselves, but our friends were not impressed. The boat driver said they were seeing three caves but they were only able to access one due too flooding or wrecked entrance points. There are more impressive caves in Vietnam anyway.
Where to Eat
- Night Market – Buffets down the side alleys of the night market we’re great for a large amount of food for only 15,000 kip! Meat isn’t included in that price, but you
could get some if you paid extra.
- Saffron Cafe – An americanized cafe just around the corner from our hostel, they had amazing coffee and fancier breakfast foods.
- Sandwich and Smoothie Stalls – Near the main roundabout at the corner of Sisavangvong Rd. and Kitsalat Rd. are a line of smoothie and sandwich stalls. Great cheap sandwiches, and the start of our fruit smoothie addiction. You have complete control over what’s on your sandwich and a choice of real fresh fruit your smoothie.
- Indigo Hotel Balcony – On the top floor of Indigo Hotel is a cool hangout spot as long as you buy something. Higher end food and drink. Great view of the main street and good wifi if you ask. You can also sneak into the computer room if you need to.
- Utopia – The main backpacker hangout in Luang Prabang is a little hard to find but definitely worth it. Really cool vibe and massive bar/restaurant has seating overlooking the Nam Khan River and a beach volleyball court as well. Cheap drinks too, you could get Lao whiskey and mix for 15,000 kip.
- Bowling – Most bars in Luang Prabang close at 11pm, with the exception (for reasons unknown) being the bowling alley. So when you’re being ushered out of the bar, don’t be surprised by the massive line of tuk tuks waiting and yelling out bowling alley. Find some friends and split the cost and go on a drunk bowling adventure!