As you may know I like to utilize my visa run opportunities. Waking at 5am to spend 12 or more hours in a minivan to cross the border for a few minutes isn't my idea of fun or visiting a country. So I use the necessary border runs to see new places.
Whether you need to make an affordable visa, want a relaxing trip away from Thailand, or want to tick off another country in your Lonely Planet guide, Luang Prabang is a must. I can't believe I left it so long to go, but believe me, the wait was worth every minute.
The UNESCO protected town with no building taller than 2 storeys is a gem of a place. It is a popular backpacker destination, but don't expect boozy bars and discos, this is more a place travellers come to chill out in after some crazy antics in Southern Thailand.
Things close up pretty early in LB, with the only nightlife being a bowling alley that brings together foreigners and locals in a bowling-cum disco vibe. I was told there are a few spots in Luang Prabang to join young Laoation people dancing to the popular Mor Lam-Luk Tuung music and Thai pop songs, but as the town shuts down around 10pm, you will probably find yourself enjoying a Beer Laos outside your guesthouse and turning in early. This way you can wake up and watch the monks pass through the streets collecting offerings from locals and tourists.
Stay near the night market and you will be a stone's throw from the epic Mekong River that winds down through the valleys, carving up the jungle and playing host to wading fisherman casting chained nets into its waters.
The food is very good in Luang Prabang, but if I had to recommend one place it would be the Saffron Coffee shop. You will find an abundance of baguettes and cakes everywhere, a timeless sign of French colonial rule.
If you speak a bit of Thai you can get by bartering in the market and speaking with shop staff, and if you speak Thai-Isaan you will have a considerable advantage as the two dialects are closely related. However, don't expect the open armed welcome you're used to in Thailand; people are more reserved here and don't seem overly bothered by the tourist presence.
Luang Prabang Must Do List
- Wake up early and offer alms to the monks.
- A boat trip at sunset down the Mekong.
- Get a Tuk Tuk to Kouang Si Waterfall and take in the breathtaking views.
- Climb the 328 steps of Phu Si at sunrise or sunset. Take a bottle of water!
- Visit the night market in the evening for great handicrafts. Make sure you barter; traders go in high.
- Visit the town museum for some history and to see the lovely grounds.
- Walk, walk, walk and walk some more. You don't need to go on excursions in Luang Prabang. A stroll will bring you across gorgeous temples, amazing views, and solitary spots of serenity.
I only spoke to a few tourists the entire 5 days I stayed; which I wasn't too fussed about because I was happy to take in the town alone and just kick back with my thoughts. Before long I'd be back in the madness of Bangkok! I did eat with a lovely Irish couple on the last night though (shout to Elly and Paddy – I owe you a drink!).
Anyway, get there if you can, you will not be disappointed. Accommodation wise, anything between $20-40 will be adequate. There are a couple of fancy hotels I believe, but most places are guest house style, beautifully presented in precious woods. I stayed in the Le Sen Boutique Hotel. It was really cosy with a nice hot shower and breakfast included. You'll love it there.
Here are a few videos I took on my walks: