One of my all time favorite cities is Luang Prabang in Laos. On our Asia trip we were supposed to stay in the city for a couple of days, but in the end said a painful farewell after nearly two weeks. The city has a relaxed feel, mainly due to the lack of western influences and limited number of tourists around.
How to get there and away
There are multiple ways to reach Luang Prabang. We arrived by slow boat from the north, as we just did the Gibbon Experience. These slow boats start in the north (just across the border from Thailand) and work their way down the Mekong in 2 days, with a stop over in a small village for the night. This is definitely the scenic option providing you have the time.
Flying into Luang Prabang airport is also possible with direct flights to Bangkok (Air Asia, Bangkok Airways, Lao Airlines), Hanoi (Lao Airlines) Vientiane (Lao Airlines, Lao Skyway).
If you come from other places in either Laos, Cambodia or Thailand there are always busses available.
Where to stay
After spending 2 nights in the jungle during the Gibbon experience followed by two full days on a slow boat on the Mekong river we decided to spoil ourselves, and opted for the My Dream Boutique Resort hotel in Luang Prabang. The hotel couldn’t have been any nicer, with beautiful rooms, a swimming pool and a lush garden. The hotel came with free of charge rental bikes, which made the trip to the city center easy in just under 10 minutes. The hotel is approximately $65 per night, including breakfast.
If you fancy spending less on accommodation there are loads of cheaper accommodation options available in town as well.
What to see and do
The city itself is made for lazy sightseeing and just see life pass by. We got rental bikes from our hotel and spent a lot of time just biking around, sitting down for a fruit smoothy and observe life. In the evening this is especially fun at the night market, taking place in the city center. The night market takes place every night, and is a good place to pick up a cheap dinner and some souvenirs.
If you want to escape “city” life a good day trip is to the Kuang Si Waterfalls. They are easily reached by tuk-tuk or shared minivan, and rides are offered across town. Just make sure to haggle for a decent price. There is an entrance fee to the waterfalls (approximately 2 euros) but this also allows you to visit the Asiatic black bear sanctuary. The waterfalls itself are pretty massive, and ideal to relax and swim around in for a couple of hours before heading back to Luang Prabang.
After hanging around in the city for a week we decided it was time to start exploring the country side. After asking around and reading up on reviews we decided to book a tour with White Elephant excursions and tours. They are sustainable, and have small tours for you to learn more about Laotian daily life.
We decided to opt for a 2 day adventure: 1 day mountain biking through villages, sleeping at a homestay and kayaking back the next day. We were the only two people in the tour together with both a guide and a driver. It was a super experience that I’ll soon elaborate on in an separate article.
One of our favorite activities is a cooking class, and the one in Luang Prabang organized by Tamarind is the best one we’ve done so far. This article is about the cooking class and our adventures into the Laotian cuisine.
Volunteering at Big Brother Mouse was something we were told about and we wanted to try it out ourselves. Big Brother Mouse is a foundation aimed at providing amongst other things, English lessons to young monks. Twice a day (9am and 5pm) you can simply show up and have a chat in English with the young monks. It is a win-win situation: they are improving their english, and we got to learn about Laos life and why pretty much all young boys become monks for a while.
Where to eat
The food scene in Luang Prabang is amazing! Our favorite dishes laap (mince meat salad) are a must try, as well as tam mak hoong (spicy green papaya salad), nam khao (crispy rice salad). The best Laotian restaurants to sample some of this fair are Tamarind, the local institution that is also responsible for the great cooking course we did in Luang Prabang. Dayen Sabai, across the river and in feels like miles away from the rest of the city. Finally, not really a restaurant but a type of restaurant is Sindad, Laotian bbq. I have heard that the scene changes frequently, so best to ask around. The food is fresh and yummy.
As Laos used to be a French colony there is a good offer of proper bread and coffee. Some of our favorite little cafes were L’etranger Books and Tea, Saffron Espresso Cafe and Joma Bakery Cafe. The last one being more American then French, but if you’re craving a bagel with salmon this is the place to be.
Luang Prabang Map