Arriving into Luang Prabang it was clear to us almost immediately that this probably wouldn’t be our favourite destination. Unfortunately in our opinion, it’s a very tourist-centric city where everybody seems to be waving a board at you or trying to sell you something, and they’re quite pushy about it. Something we hadn’t experienced since Phuket (you can read more about that here).
But as we would be stopping here for longer than our usual couple of days (so we could get our Vietnam Visas), we decided to give her the benefit of the doubt, and see what she had to offer and we’re so glad we did.
Table of Contents
From Vang Vieng To Luang Prabang:
There are a million and one tour companies operating minivans from Vang Vieng, it’s just a case of shopping around until you find one at a price that suits you. There is a 40 seater “VIP” bus that runs between the two but we managed to secure a minivan ticket for the same price of 90,000 LAK (€9) and decided to go with this option as it included pick up from our accommodation and, you know, our bags are sooooo heavy! *says in whingey voice*
The journey took us about 6 hours with a stop for the toilet and eating en route. The scenery was beautiful, but the minivans apparently take the “back roads” which are SUPER bumpy. Just sayin’.
Accommodation In Luang Prabang:
Our first few nights in Luang Prabang were spent in the Vang Champ guesthouse. At 60,000 LAK (€6) per night for a double room with a shared bathroom and free tea and coffee, it was fairly reasonable. Unfortunately, as it was our intention to put down roots for a few days and get some work done while waiting for our Vietnam visas to come through we needed somewhere with better WIFI.
We moved to Nocknoy Lanexang Guesthouse. A beautiful little guesthouse, we were initially quoted 80,000 LAK (€8) per night but managed to negotiate down to 70,000 LAK (€7) with breakfast. State you do not want breakfast and you should bag the room for 60,000 LAK (€6) per night, We did!
They have excellent Wi-Fi, free tea, coffee and water. The location was ideal, tucked away down a nice quiet street but only a 5-minute walk from the night market and eateries. There’s no need to book in advance unless it’s peak season, besides you’ll be better off haggling in person.
Things To Do In Luang Prabang:
The main thing to do in Luang Prabang (for us anyway) is sort out your Vietnam Visa, so you’ll be spending a few days here depending on how much you’re willing to spend on the process. If you’re a tight ass like us it will take about 3 working days. You can read more about the Visa process here.
Garavek Story Telling Theatre:
Every day at 6.30 pm at 85 Koun Xoua Road the Garavek Theatre company performs a one-hour show of traditional Laos storytelling accompanied by traditional music played on traditional instruments. Quite a unique and quirky way to take a look into the culture! The performance costs 50,000 LAK (€5).
Phou Si Hilltop:
The typical tourist hotspot for watching the sunset. The grounds, some shrines and a small cave can all be accessed for free, but to reach the top there is a 20,000 LAK (€2) fee. Though we had heard the sunset is super crowded, rumour has it that if you head up for the sunrise almsgiving you’ll get in for free before the office opens!
While this is a beautiful activity and a wonderful thing to experience, we will say if your travels are going to take you to Thailand then hold off and do it there. It seems to be super invasive and touristy here. They have signs up everywhere about being respectful and listing all the DO NOT DO’s! We took this to be a sign (literally) of the type of crowds to expect. Obviously, if you’re only visiting Laos then this is something we would definitely recommend.
At the crack of dawn every day devout Buddhists (some of whom have nothing) line the streets to give what they can to a procession of barefoot monks in thanks and reverence. We went to see this in Sangkhla Buri, Thailand, and it was a truly humbling experience. Just make us a promise, if you do attend, please remember to keep your distance, be respectful and stay out of the way, This is how these people worship and they take it very, VERY seriously. I mean you wouldn’t stand up at Christmas day mass to get a snap for your Instagram, would you?
Cinema Luang Prabang:
Twice daily two hotels screen CHANG, a documentary made in 1925 about life in the Southeast Asian Jungle, its wildlife and the Laos jungle life. Two documentary filmmakers, Ernest B. Schoedsack, and Merian C. Cooper (they made the original King Kong), trekked for one week through the Thai jungle to the village of Kru and spent 18 months with his family.
Screenings are outdoors in the gardens during the dry season and in the restaurant during the rainy season, it is free entry but you are required to buy a drink.
The Sanctuary Hotel, Luang Prabang screens at 6.30 pm and Victoria Xiengthong Palace at 7 pm (minimum 30,000 LAK
(€3) per person to include a drink and bowl of crisps or popcorn)
Kuang Si Falls:
Tours to the falls are widely available from guesthouses and travel agents around Luang Prabang and range in price. Phashoke Guesthouse near the night market was the cheapest we found at 35,000 LAK (€3.50) for a return ticket. The tours leave at 9 am back by 1.30 pm or 11 am back by 4.30 pm.
While the falls themselves are very beautiful and have a great hiking trail which takes you up and over the top with some stunning views (although not to be attempted in flip-flops),
it’s worth going just to pass through the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center which you have to pass on your way, although if it’s not your thing or you’re short on time you can just breeze through. Home to sun and moon bears rescued from the bile farm industry, its beautiful to see these amazing animals lazing around, playing and just generally enjoying their freedom from a life of torture in tiny little cages.
It’s possible to hire a tuk-tuk at the top of the market street but it will cost 200,000 LAK (€20), so if you’re 6 people that’s only 34,000 LAK (€3.40) per person. You should be able to find other people in your guesthouse or hanging around the tuk-tuks to make up your numbers if you’re short.
Alternatively, if you want no time restraints, you could go with our favourite option and rent a motorbike for 90,000 LAK (€9) semi-automatic or 120,000 (€12) LAK automatic. It’s a beautiful drive out and back. If you go with this option we recommend Anousay or KPTD. In the end, we rented through our guesthouse. It was just easier; they brought the bike to us and picked it up when we were done. Also, avoid Khamsay; they have a reputation for running scams.
Buffalo Ice-cream Farm:
En route to the falls, there is a Buffalo farm where they make sustainable dairy products from buffalo milk including ice cream and cheese. Yup, you heard us. Tours run every 20 mins from 10 am to 5 pm and cost 50,000 LAK (€5) for scheduled tours or 100,000 LAK (€10) for guided tours (the difference is you get to bottle feed a buffalo in the more expensive tour).
You can’t go into the farm if not on a tour, but if you’re curious about the products there’s a stand outside where you can try the ice cream for 15,000 LAK (€1.50) a scoop. IT.IS.AMAZING
Royal Palace Museum:
While entry to the grounds and the classic car exhibition is free entry to the palace itself is 30,000 LAK (€3) make sure you dress appropriately, think Buddhist temple. No phones or cameras are allowed but free lockers are provided for you to leave your things in.
UXO Visitor Centre:
A smaller, less in-depth look at the legacy of the secret war waged by the USA and the devastation it left behind. We do recommend you go to the COPE visitor center in Vientiane if you can, but if you can’t this is a great substitute. It’s open Monday to Sunday 8-12 pm & 1-4 pm
Big Brother Mouse:
By far one of the most fun things we did in Luang Prabang was attending the free English lessons in Big Brother Mouse. At 9 am or 5 pm Monday to Friday pop in and help the young Hmong and Khmer students practise their English.
Just show up at the times and remember to speak slowly, use easy words and ask open-ended questions. This is a great opportunity to give back to the community while learning about them and their culture.
For more info on the Big Brother Mouse and what they do click here.
On the market street take the first left down the small lane beside Indigo House, a large blue and white building. Head down the lane and towards the end on the right-hand side are two buffets with all-you-can-eat vegetarian food for only 15,000 LAK (€1.50) per plate (although if you go after the dinner rush at about 8 – 8.30 they’ll let you eat as much as you want). The food is absolutely AMAZING, especially if you’re veggie. And if you’re not you can add meat skewers for a nominal cost.
All in all, we ended up making the most of our time in Luang Prabang. If you have to kill a few days while waiting for your Vietnam Visa to come through there are worse places to do it. The weather was beautiful, the food was fab and cheap, there was plenty to keep us busy and we even got to squeeze in a bit of volunteering / cultural exchange, and if there’s one thing we love it’s learning from the locals.
As always ungraceful guides, should you desire anything more from us our digital door is always open. Please feel free to comment, like, share, etc. but do get in touch, Katie loves answering your messages.
Happy Travels TUG x