Luang Prabang is probably the gem of Laos tourism – a visit to Laos is not complete without staying there. Located in the north of Laos on the shores of the mighty Mekong and the much smaller Nam Khan it offers activities for those seeking culture, beautiful scenery, outdoor activities or good food.
The main attraction of Luang Prabang is probably the beautiful Old Town, an Unesco Heritage Site, with some beautiful French colonial architecture, a few Wats, museums, restaurants and markets. For this alone a visit is worthwhile.
In addition you can explore the beautiful surroundings by bicycle, motorbike, Tuk Tuk or even on a boat.
All these places can keep you busy for days alone, but for me one of the greatest things about Luang Prabang is the relaxed atmosphere. Despite being the main tourist destination in Laos it doesn’t feel overrun. You can still sit in one of the many places along the Mekong having a beer or coffee without being hassled by touts. You can just sit down and enjoy the surroundings. The Old town gets very busy when the night market opens (another great attraction of the town), but after 11pm the town closes down, and when leaving the bars at 23:30 or at midnight, the whole town feels deserted.
The beautiful architecture, the views, the people and the great atmosphere makes LP my favourite town in SEA, and I would highly recommend not to rush through it. This towns deserves some time to explore it properly.
Arrival / Departure
In addition of private transport you can reach and depart Luang Prabang in three different ways.
The international airport is around 4km away from town, serving both domestic and international flights. Domestic flights go to Vientiane and Pakse. International destinations are Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Hanoi. Lao Airways leave for all the above destinations, while the large Airlines like Ethihad, Air France, Qatar Airways or Malaysia Air fly to Bangkok. Vietnam Airlines flies directly to Hanoi. Bangkok Airways and Air Asia are the only two low cost airlines flying from Luang Prabang.
The airport itself is not very big, food and drinks are very expensive. If departing from LP it is a better choice getting a baguette in LP itself. Getting a songthraew between the airport and Luang Prabang should cost 50.000 Kip.
The bus station is not too far from the Old Town, around 10 minutes. From here buses arrive and depart o all popular destination – Vang Vieng (~ 5-7 hours), Phonsaven (~6-7 hours) and Vientiane (~9-11 hours)in the south, Nong Khiaw (~3-4 hours), Muang Ngoi, Oudamxai (~6-7 hours), Luang Namtha (~8-9 hours), Pakbeng and Huay Xai (~11-13 hours) in the north. For some routes sleeper buses are available. For timetables I would contact your hotel or guesthouse.
The last method to arrive and depart Luang Prabang is by boat. In the past boats both from Pakbeng and Nong Khiaw (the latter is not possible any longer) arrived at the Old Town. Since 2013 however, boats arrive now at a little pier 10km away from town – by songthraew it takes around 30 minutes. Despite being active as landing point for a year now, it was not in good condition October 2014. You either have to take a very large step or get wet feet. Considering you are packed with a heavy backpack, it is not optimal. On top of some steep stairs you can buy your Tuk Tuk ticket for 20,000. For people departing by boat check prices for transportation with your guesthouse
Luang Prabang offers plenty of accommodation for all budgets and tastes. Along the Mekong and Nam Khan you find old colonial buildings used as guesthouses or hotels. They are a bit pricier, many starting from $50 or more. In the little alleys you can find also nice options, some for a lower price. They all have in common that they offer some flair, but none has a pool. For a hotel with pool you need to get out of the Old Town. Away from the Old Town you will also find hostels popular with backpackers. However, if you find someone to share a room you can easily find a guesthouse offering a room for two or three that is the same price per person as a hostel.
With the amount of guesthouses available it is worthwhile to check the room of different places before deciding where to stay.
Food & Drinks
Luang Prabang offers some great places to eat. In addition of the market you find reasonable priced restaurants and more upscale places. Click here for more details.
While Luang Prabang has not a vibrant nightlife as other tourist places it still has some interesting and nice places where you can enjoy a drink or two. Here are more details.
What to do
Luang Prabang has a lot to offer, from culture to scenery and outdoor activities.
The main attraction is clearly the Old Town, an Unesco Heritage site. With the museums, Wats and food places this area can be a great place to explore.For some shopping visit the daily night market, and to experience some local life visit the morning market or the traditional alm giving ceremony. But please do not interrupt this important ceremony between the locals and the monks. Please show some respect. But it is also important to sit down and enjoy this relaxed atmosphere, it makes this town so special as well, it is not just the sites.
The surrounding of Luang Prabang are worth a visit as well. The Kuang Si waterfall is a splendid place to visit. During the hot days it is a welcome place for a swim. Closer by is the Chompet district on the other side of the Mekong River, which you can reach via a little car ferry. The Weaving village across the Nam Khan river is another popular site to visit. For more active people it is very easy to rent a bicycle and explore the surrounding area as well. For something different there are also cooking classes available.
From Luang Prabang you can also visit Pak Ou cave, join treks or visit an elephant sanctuary. I have not visited these places or joined the activity, so cannot comment about them.
So overall Luang Prabang can keep you easily busy for days – if you like sitting back, relax and enjoy some people watching, you can get lost here. So do not rush through this lovely town – it has lots of charms and beauty, and is my favourite town in SEA.
(stayed in Luang Prabang in October 2012 & November 2014)