Luang Prabang stands out among all other towns in Laos, it is called the “Gem of Indochina” for it’s natural beauty blending with the colonial architecture. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was the capital of Laos during the French occupation and no doubt, it is remarkably beautiful!
If you wanna know Laos, go to Luang Prabang.
The town is in between Nam Khan River and Mekong River surrounded by hilly landscapes, the town has numerous temples and monasteries with monks just walking around with normal people and taking alms at sunrise (usually 530-6am), there are houses that are traditionally Laotian but with French colonial inspiration. What I liked about this town is that they still try to maintain the image of the old town in spite of new construction of businesses catering tourists, and perhaps that’s what the tourists liked about it too.
I suggest to book your rooms ahead, as it took us time to find our rooms as everywhere were fully booked and some are too expensive! There are lots of choices like from high-range hotels (US$40-80), mid-range (US$20-40) and budget hostels (US$10-20). Luang Prabang is more expensive than Vang Vieng which caters mainly backpackers, but here it’s mainly for tourists.
We stayed at Sokmexay Guesthouse just along Mekong River with al-fresco restaurants. It’s a bit pricey compared to nicer guesthouses with wifi, but it’s okay already for around US$12 per 2-pax room with free banana haha! We are few steps only to Post Office and Night Market :)
Places we went to:
1. Mount Phousi – a hill within the town centre along Sisavangvong (Night Market), opposite the Royal Palace / National Museum. There are 328 steps going up there at the golden stupa of Wat Chom Si. Halfway, you can visit the Wat Tham Phu Si showing interesting images of Buddha from Monday to Friday :P
On top, you can see a panoramic view of the whole town centre of Luang Prabang, the almost 30 temples and the meeting point of Nam Khan river and Mekong river. It is best to go up there at sunset as the view is enchanting! Though, lots of tourists will be there too wanting to witness the sunset, your choice.
2. Pak Ou Cave – known as the Buddhist Cave, 1.5hour travel by boat along Mekong River. There are 2 temples here, the Tham Ting which is the lower cave with a collection of thousands of Buddha images, and the Tham Phun which is the higher cave which is darker and bigger. Uhm, it didn’t impress me unlike the caves in Vang Vieng though.
3. Whisky Village – it’s a stopover village if you are going to Pak Ou Cave. Here you can see how the rice whisky called Laolao is made. It’s also a village that sells handmade papers and shows Lao silk weaving. We also saw some nice locals making a delicacy which i don’t know what it’s called, it has rice and banana wrapped in a banana leaf.
4. Kuang Si Falls – my favorite sidetrip as it is really fabulous! It’s 30mins away from town center, we took half day trip but I will advise that take this trip whole day as it is so much fun to just relax there, have a picnic and swim (I didn’t coz I might get sick again, water is just too cold!). Outside the falls are shops and restaurants, inside are different levels of blue pools before you reach the almost 50m high waterfalls which is absolutely gorgeous!
5. Bear Rescue Center – it is inside the Kuang Si Falls with live bears! unfortunately they were all sleeping when we were there :( i didn’t witness how other travellers say that these bears play and wrestle around which is very fun to watch.
6. Night Market – a market set up from 5pm to 10pm along Sisavangvong road where you can find local products (and of course china made products too :P) there are also street food which is a good try coz it’s really good and so much cheaper. You should have at least an idea how much a product is as the prices varies depending I guess on your looks/race, so it is advised to do good bargaining skills ;)
7. Haw Kham/ Royal Palace/ National Museum – this is just one place along Sisavangvong road opposite the steps going up Mount Phousi, it is the former Royal Palace and now a National Museum. I didn’t join them going inside though :P
8. Several WATS around town! I only visited few as I am still temple burnt-out from all the temples i visited in the past 2 years :D … Wats I only visited:
Haw Pha Bang (inside the Royal Palace), Wat Pahouak (a small wat on your way to Mount Phousi), Wat Ho Xiang (opposite the Post Office), Wat That (adjacent to Wat Ho Xiang only), Wat Aham (Monastery of the Opened Heart, we stumble upon this wat going to Utopia hehe)
9. Utopia – a very relaxing zen type restaurant along Nam Khan river where you can enjoy good food, drinks, volleyball, foosball, sheesha, reading books, playing boardgames or cards, has wifi! and i get to play the guitar with my Lao Boy hehehe. You can take a power nap too if you wish, while planes from the local airport just passes above you… if you just wanna relax and get lazy, this is the best place to go to! Too bad we were leaving already when they had a Reggae night to celebrate Bob Marley’s birthday :(
10. Dyen Sabai – our last stop before our flight back home. It is same concept as Utopia but they made the river side like a beach shore where you can lie on a sunlounger and enjoy the sun and cheap cocktails along Nam Khan River :P