In all my trips to Southeast Asia, Luang Prabang had always eluded me. It was always a little too far from wherever I was. It was always a little annoying or expensive to get to. I couldn’t be bothered making the effort. So this trip I finally did it and I was pleased that it’s worth the effort to travel to Luang Prabang, Laos.
Luang Prabang, Laos is generally the northern most stop on many peoples’ Southeast Asia trip if they even go there at all. There is an airport with decent connections at expensive for Southeast Asia prices. However, most backpackers take buses or the slow boat up the river.
On my only previous visit to Laos, I was only in Vientiane; which is not the most exciting place. I never really had the desire to do the infamous tubing at Vang Vieng and so Luang Prabang had to be the destination as opposed to a stop along the way. As I said, it takes some effort but it’s worth the effort to travel to Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang is as relaxed a place as I’ve been. There is just an overarching feeling of chill in the air. I don’t mean cold because it’s hot as hell in Luang Prabang but it’s so relaxed. I’m super laid back so it worked out nicely.
I stayed at the gorgeous Belmond La Residence Phou Vao about 5 minutes or so outside of the main town where most of the budget accommodation is located. It was perfect for me and the pools, yes pools, and room were awesome! It is clearly the best place to stay in Luang Prabang.
There isn’t a ton to make sure to see in town. It’s more of an experiential kind of place. There’s the Royal Palace Museum, which is pretty lame to be honest.
The best thing in Luang Prabang proper is climbing the stairs of the Phusi Temple and checking out the view during the day and at sunset. Just keep in mind at sunset it’s super crowded and it’s a small space so you can feel really chlaustraphobic if you’re prone to that like me. I hate crowds and feeling boxed in but the views are stunning.
The other thing to do in town is basically eat, drink, shop and get massages. The restaurants in Luang Prabang are pretty good and the French influence makes for good bakeries. My favorite spot in town was Café Indigo. They did good cappuccinos and had a cool vibe and free wifi.
The night market is OK if that’s your thing but I never buy anything and I’m not a big market person anyway. There are too many people and they try to haggle with you to buy crap you don’t want.
However, the night market food stalls are open all day and they may possess the greatest fruit shakes I’ve ever tasted. Seriously, the watermelon fruit shakes are the most refreshing thing I’ve ever had. Especially as you’re constantly sweating-it’s perfect.
At night, every young westerner in Luang Prabang goes to Utopia. It’s a very cool, chilled out backpacker bar with cheap Beer Lao and decent cheap cocktails. For the record, Beer Lao is my favorite beer in Southeast Asia.
Utopia has a volleyball court where people actually play while drinking; which is generally not advisable but fun to watch others nonetheless. And after the bar closes around 10:30pm, everyone goes bowling.
I had heard about this but wasn’t really sure what it meant. Basically, when Utopia closes, a fleet of tuk tuk’s line up to take drunken backpackers to bowl and where they can continue to drink.
It’s an interesting concept and one that was pretty fun and funny to be honest. There are very few places open late so this is pretty much your only option in Luang Prabang. No locals go here-purely backpackers and tourists.
Outside of town is the jewel of Luang Prabang in my view. The Tat Kuang Si waterfalls are spectacular. They were so much better than I was expecting and to be honest I wasn’t expecting much at all. Much like the waterfall on my recent trip to Vanuatu, I was pleasantly surprised!
Bring a bathing suit. I did not and wished I had. To be honest it didn’t even occur to be and I honestly did no research on them; which is unusual for me. However, they were still pretty epic to look at and photograph.
On the way from the small village outside of the falls is a bear sanctuary that seems randomly placed. But you can look at adorable little bears and take pictures of them. They are being protected from poachers I was told.
Back toward Luang Prabang, we stopped at an elephant sanctuary. I know some people go crazy about these types of places but this place is supposed to do it the right way and treat them well. That said, I did a 30-minute elephant ride along the Mekong River.
It was beautiful although I have to say I hate riding elephants. It’s so boring and really loses its appeal after a few minutes. Much like riding a camel, mule, donkey or horse-it’s really uncomfortable, smells and is annoying! So after riding an elephant in Bali earlier this year and now in Laos, I am done with elephant riding!
So basically that’s Luang Prabang in a nutshell. It’s not a place where there’s a million things to do like Bangkok. It’s not like Bagan or Angkor Wat where you see a specific thing. It’s just a beautiful, relaxed place where you could come for 3 days and stay for 3 weeks. I honestly wish I had more than 3 days in Luang Prabang. It’s very easy to adjust your pace to slow and as I’ve said, it’s worth the effort to travel to Luang Prabang, Laos.