A city that lies in a beautiful valley at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers.
Our first stop in Laos was Luang Prabang. Traveling from Hanoi we were super excited to be back in some warmer weather. Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most well known cities in the country. Similar to parts of Vietnam, the French influence is clear in the architecture and food, making it a popular tourist destination. Many backpackers come into Luang Prabang via the slow boat from Thailand which is meant to be a very unique experience.
We planned to spend just under a week here, giving ourselves enough time to check out the many temples, hikes and waterfalls the region has to offer. Visiting at the end of February, we got a mix of odd weather, some days being quite warm and others more chilly, especially in the evenings, so it's good to be prepared for both if traveling here early in the year.
Many people come to Laos just to visit this city, making it a bit more expensive than other parts of Laos. We were able to find some cheaper options in terms of eating and drinking, but if you are on a tight budget it may be wise to only spend a few days here.
THINGS TO DO
Kuang Si Waterfall
Kuang Si Waterfall is one of our favorite waterfalls in Laos. A multi-tiered, and rather tall fall that is snuggled up in the jungle about 30-40 minute motorbike ride from the center of Luang Prabang. During the dry season the water is a turquoise blue, one of the most brilliant colors we've ever seen at a waterfall.
Tip: It's important to get here early (before 9am) if you want to get some uninterrupted shots of the waterfall’s different tiers and surrounding hike.
Getting to Kuang Si
You have 3 options to get to this fall. A private tuk tuk, a shared tuk tuk or by motorbike. A private tuk tuk will cost you the most, but will allow you to comfortably arrive when you want without having to navigate your own way there.
A shared tuk tuk has good value but is time consuming unless you are traveling as a group. Around the center of Luang Prabang you will be approached by many drivers asking to take you to the falls. If you agree, you will wait for the driver to find a few more people to fill the seats. Once the tuk tuk is full you'll depart for the falls usually arriving much later than you'd prefer and when there are tour groups and other tourists already enjoying the area.
Although the cost of a motorbike in Luang Prabang is more expensive then in other parts of Laos, and Southeast Asia for that matter, you can choose when you arrive. We chose to arrive at the falls before 9am. We bought our ticket at the entrance, went through the ‘Free the Bears’ Rescue Center, also awesome, and on up to the falls. We were treated with a beautiful morning all by ourselves at one of the most exquisite falls Laos has to offer. Your ticket to the falls includes entry to the Free the Bears Rescue Center.
NIGHT MARKET STREET FOOD
While walking through the night market on Sisavangvong Road, Luang Prabang's main street, you will come across an alley that is devoted strictly to street food. A mix of BBQ, dumplings, soups, grilled fish, and the famed vegetarian buffet. Here you can load up on fried rice, noodles, veggies and tofu for 15,000 Kip per bowl. You can take it as is or hand it to a local in the back of the food stall and they will stir-fry your bowl for you.
If you fancy more than just veggies, grab a stick of BBQ beef/chicken/pork/fish from a stall nearby for about the same price. Definitely get here early (6-7pm) to get the most fresh selection. They have corresponding tables opposite each food stall and you can buy Beer Lao to wash it all down with.
Most travelers don’t know about this 10km hike. 10km may seem like a lot but you do not have to complete the circuit to enjoy a nice day on the trail. Along the route you will walk through a few minority villages, see a few rather run down temples, which still cost 10-20,000 Kip each, and trek past a couple of monasteries that are still in use. The trail is easy, although after some rain it could be a bit muddy. There are a few viewpoints and pit-stops for some water and snacks if you need them. This is a good way to use a day and get away from the crowds in the center of town.
SUNSET BOAT CRUISE
There are a number of options for a sunset boat cruise along the Mekong. We particularly liked the one put on by Sa Sa Cruise Laos as they offer a drink option with your ticket and provide a more intimate setting. You can also pop by their restaurant/bar located on the Mekong for a drink before or after.
Update April 29: The Sa Sa Cruise option is closed for now but are hoping to have a new director to open it back up. We hope so too!
There are loads of buddhist temples in Luang Prabang to visit. We picked a select few as most have an entry fee and we were trying to stick to our budget. Overall, the temples that we did see weren't as glamorous as some of the ones we've seen around Asia. The exception was Wat Xieng Thong.