One interesting little trip from Luang Prabang is the village Xieng Men in the Chompet district on the other side of the Mekong River, where you can find a few temples and also access to a rural area near the most popular tourist place of Laos. The sleepy village offers a nice contrast to Luang Prabang.
You can either cross the Mekong via the car ferry, that departs from the pier behind the Royal Palace. The ride with the ferry alone is worth the journey across the mighty Mekong. Price should be between 5.000 and 10.000 Dong. You will also find plenty of locals offering the crossing with their boats for around 4 times the price.
As soon you arrive on the other side of the Mekong you will find a number of food stalls along the road, and a little building on the right serving nice noodle soup. If you had no breakfast or lunch, this is a nice place for it.
After the stalls make sure you turn right off the main road and then straight right again into Xieng Men. If you stay on the main road you will head somewhere else.
But turn right and the road will lead you to Xieng Men. It really is a rather sleepy but beautiful village. The road there reminds me a little bit of Italy, with the sides of the road a little bit higher. On both sides of the street you see lovely buildings with little gardens that are well looked after. With the different colours of the buildings and flowers the whole village has such a relaxed and peaceful feel to it. It really is beautiful.
In Xieng Men you can also find a few temples. The first one is Wat Xiengmene on the left side. It is a typical Lao Wat, with the usual lovely roof. The interior is not very impressive though in comparison to the temples in Luang Prabang If the temple doors are locked check with the people living on the other side of the temple. They might provide a key.
Further down the road you will see stairs leading up the hill – and on the top you find Wat Chom Phet. This Wat consist of a rather basic temple plus the home of some monks. Overall the temple itself is nothing special – but it is still worth to walk up all the stairs just for the view over Luang Prabang from the top of the hill. Great place to take a few pictures or just to take a seat to enjoy the view.
At the end of the village you will get to the largest temple of the village – Wat Long Khoun, This could be maybe described as the highlight of the temples on this side of the river. The temple itself is not large and not as impressive as the Wats in Luang Prabang, but the old faded drawings on the walls look rather interesting. Otherwise the area around the village offers lots of free space, with the houses for the monks away from the river. If you are interested you can also visit the Wat Tham Sackkalin cave also located in this complex. You have to ask to get the door to the cave opened, and make sure you have a torch as the cave is obviously dark. Inside you can see quite a few old Buddha statues while following the path. It is not a large cave, but something different to see. You could ask for one of the monks to guide you. If you are lucky you might find a local boatman around the temple who might be happy to quickly bring you back to Luang Prabang while the tourists they brought over spent time at the temple or village. Otherwise you have to head back to the ferry crossing.
If you want to do something different turn right off the main road coming from the ferry, but instead of turning right again into Xieng Men stay on the road. You will initially pass a little but very colourful temple on your left. After the temple you really get onto dirt road that will lead you into the rural area of the province. Rice paddies will be on your left side, while on the right in the shade of the hill you see little buildings and hamlets. Walking here has a very remote feel to it, and the locals here will smile at you and wave. it is a beautiful area and a stark contrast to Luang Prabang. I walked around 45 minutes before returning to Xieng Men – if you continue longer you will reach a little village. I doubt that this road is on the usual recommended tourist trails – and maybe this makes it a bit more interesting.
And with all the various road and path this side of the Mekong Delta could be a great place for a longer bike trip – just make sure it is a good bicycle that can deal with the road condition.
Overall visiting Xieng Men is a nice trip for a couple of hours to see something different from the surrounding area of Luang Prabang – and something that is not overrun by tourists. If you want to do a day trip, hire a bike and take it with you across the Mekong to explore the rural area – it could be an interesting and very nice experience.