We had a lovely time in the historic district of Luang Prabang. We spent 10 days mostly chilling out and enjoying the beautiful mix of French and Laos in this once colonial town.
Covering just 4 blocks in width from river front to river front, this area of Luang Prabang is distinctly different from the other parts of Laos that we visited. In fact, a marked different can be seen just outside the UNESCO World Heritage Center.
Instead of local marts and hole in the wall restaurants, this historic area is filled with cafes and fancy restaurants (and tour agents, of course).
It used to bug me that historic areas often become so touristy that they lose their local flair, but I have learned to appreciate these places for what they are. And during long term budget travel, it is nice to indulge in some touristy comfort sometimes.
Here are some activities we enjoyed in Luang Prabang:
Taking a sunset boat ride on the Mekong – we booked a private boat for only 100,000 kip (12USD)
Browsing the night market – set up every night in front of Wat Mai, we visited almost every night of our stay because we had to walk through it to get from our guest house to the restaurants. And of course, we couldn’t resist buying a few trinkets and dresses.
Getting up early to see the morning monk alms giving – every morning the saffron robe clad monks make their rounds collecting their food for the day. The locals line up on the street and the monks parade past. We kept our distance and discreetly took pictures It was disturbing to see tourist getting up close to take pictures. It seemed disrespectful.
Visiting the morning market – we have been to a lot of markets, but it never gets old seeing the colorful, strange, and delicious offerings at a southeast Asian market.
Giving in to the persistent tuk tuk drivers and visiting the Kuang Si waterfall for 30,000 kip per person (4 USD)– this multi- level waterfall wasn’t as spectacular as Erawan Falls in Thailand, but it was still a lot of fun.
Climbing the Phousi Hill for sunset – it cost 20,000 kip (2.50 USD) per person. Yes, they charge you to climb the hill, ugh! We could only convince one daughter to climb the 328 steps with us. It was crowded at the top, but the sunset was beautiful and Kali enjoyed taking photos.
Taking a boat across the Mekong to the villages on the other side – for 5,000 kip (about 60 cents) per person we rode the ferry across the river to visit the rural villages. It was very similar to the villages we stayed in in northern Thailand. There were some temples there, but all charged an entrance fee, so we decided not to go in any.
Taking a tour at Ock Pop Tock – the shop in town offers a free shuttle to the weaving centre about 15 minutes away. A short tour explains how the silk worms make silk, describes the dying process, and offers a glimpse of the weavers at their looms.
Sitting in a café – with free wifi, of course. And eating pain au chocolat
Enjoying western food – after 4 months in southeast Asia, we appreciated opportunities to eat western food. We ate most of our lunches at the sandwich stalls, Chicken, bacon, avocado – yum! Our favorite stall was second from the right if you are facing the stalls.
We got also great pizza at Phan Luang. We had to get a tuk tuk driver to take us there and luckily he also agreed to pick us up. The restaurant is a bit far from the historic district especially since it was the wet season and the bamboo bridge was out, but it was worth it.
And we had several nice dinners for under 30 USD. Cerviche, lasagna, and baked camembert – oh my!
We didn’t pay to go into any of the temples in Luang Prabang, but Wat Mai and Wat Xieng could be seen from the street, so we just admired them from afar. We might have been more motivated to pay the fee to go inside if we hadn’t already seen so many temples in Thailand.
We also skipped the Royal Palace Museum and the Pak Ou Caves due to cost. We found lots of other free things to do, so I didn’t mind.
We happened to be in Luang Prabang in October just before Laos Loy Kratong (it is celebrated a month before Thailand’s holiday). We got to see the boats being constructed and the hanging lanterns, but we missed the celebration because our visas were almost up and we had to make our way out of the country. I was super bummed.
All in all, we enjoyed the colonial charm, laid back atmosphere, and cultural experiences in Luang Prabang.