- Accommodation: Sayo Naga Guesthouse ($20 USD/night for a triple). Sayo Guesthouse actually operates 3 different guesthouses in Luang Prabang. We stayed in Sayo Naga, which is on a quiet soi about a 15 minute walk from the center of town. Based on the pictures on their website all of their guesthouses look really nice. One of the girls who was in our Gibbon Experience group said that she stayed there earlier in the week and that it was very nice and a good value. We didn’t book ahead, but they had a triple available when we showed up, so it worked out well. Our room was really nice, and had comfortable beds, clean bathroom (with hot water), A/C and fan. I think it’s a great value and I definitely recommend staying here!
- Morning Glory: This was one of our favorite breakfast spots of the trip. They have really good muesli, omelets, coffee and smoothies. And everything is very reasonably priced. It’s located on the other end of town from Sayo Naga, about a 30 minute walk.
- L’etranger: This is a cool 2 story book shop/cafe. The second floor is a good place to chill, read a book, eat some snacks and check your email. There are a bunch of pillows on the floor so it’s very relaxing.
- Joma: This is a very westernized café that serves breakfast and lunch, and it feels so out of place in the middle of Laos! It’s pretty expensive and not exactly the most authentic place in town, but they do have good coffee with free refills, a rarity in Asia. Also, it’s one of the only places with A/C so if it’s really hot out this could be a good place to chill. I think they also have another location in Hanoi and Vientiane.
- Belle Rive Terrace: The Bell Rive is one of the nicest hotels in town that also has a restaurant. We went there for breakfast one morning because my younger Jul told us it was really good. They have great muesli, coffee, fresh fruit, eggs and home made bread. It’s located on the Mekong river front area, which is a beautiful setting.
- Blue Lagoon: Blue Lagoon is one of the nicest restaurants in town. We are all foodies and were craving a nice meal at a good restaurant. In fact talk of food (particularly how much we missed Mexican food) dominated about 50% of our conversations. We heard good things about the menu so we decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner one night. It was probably the most expensive meal we had on the trip, but that is mainly because we ordered a bottle of wine. Even so, the total was $75 for 3 people. At home I would think a $25 dinner with appetizers and drinks is a great deal, but obviously we were on a much different budget while traveling! We all felt a little guilty afterwards, but the food was really good and we are outside in a beautiful garden courtyard, so I think it was worth it in the end. Plus it’s the only time we treated ourselves to wine while in Asia!
- Tamarind: This was a fantastic surprise. We stumbled upon Tamarind while walking along the Nam Khan riverfront area in the historic district (not the Mekong side). This was some of the best Laotian food we had on our trip. We ordered lemongrass fish, chicken satay, soup, pumpkin, and a bunch of other sides. And it was reasonably priced for such a nice restaurant, the total for 3 people was $25.
- Saffron: Saffron is known for its coffee and breakfasts. Both were good, but overrated and overpriced.
- Dao Fung: Located on the main street in the historic district, this is a casual lunch or dinner spot with good pizza and sandwiches. It is reasonably priced and there is also a location in Vientiane.
- Pizza Sassa: Went here for dinner our first night since it’s near Sayo Naga. It looked like such a cute place but the pizza was mediocre and there are definitely better options in town.
- Travelfish’s list of places to eat in Luang Prabang
We ended up spending 4 days in Luang Prabang. It’s a very small town and there isn’t much to do, but we enjoyed having some down time after moving around so much the last few weeks. If you’re tight on time I think 2 days is perfect – one day to walk around town and the other day to go to Kuang Si Falls. Beyond 2 days you’ll probably get bored, unless you need to recoup like us, in which case it’s the perfect place to do so.
Luang Prabang is one of the most unusual places we visited in SEA. It’s an old French colonial town in the middle of nowhere in Laos. There are a lot of great restaurants, cute boutique hotels, and old colonial mansions set along the Mekong River, while still retaining elements of Lao culture as well. We spent almost all of our time in the old historic area, except for one day when we rented bicycles and rode around. It’s so small that it shouldn’t be called a city, I don’t think there’s even 50,000 people who live there! It just amazes me that something like this exists and yet I had never even heard of Luang Prabang prior to researching for this trip. It seems like the word is slowly getting out though, and the town seems to be gearing up for a surge in tourism. They are building a golf course and there are more flights servicing the small airport. I know Vietnam Airways flies from Siem Reap to LP, which is a popular route with people coming from the Angkor temples. And Bangkok airways flies from Bangkok to LP, which is another popular route. And I’m sure Vietnam Airways also flies there from Hanoi or HCMC.
One day we took a songthaew to the Kuang Si Falls, which is about a 20-30 minute drive outside of town. The tuk-tuk ride plus the entrance fee to the falls was 200,000 kip total for 3 people. All of the songthaews hang out on the corner of the outdoor market, near the steps to the temple on the hill, and any of the drivers will gladly take you there. Kuang Si is a series of small, beautiful waterfalls that you can swim in. The water is a beautiful turquoise color and it is really cold, which felt great in the heat. We were excited to swim somewhere since it was so hot in town. There were a fair amount of people there when we arrived, but there was still plenty of room to swim by yourself. Keep walking up towards the top if you’re looking for more room. Sidenote: At the entrance to the falls there is also a random black bear park. Keep walking past the black bears to reach the park (don’t worry, they’re in an enclosure).
Another day we hired a guy to take us out on his boat on the Mekong for a day-trip. This turned out to be a huge mistake. We probably should have booked it through a travel office, but none of them seemed to offer what we were looking for. We found a guy named Ai who was hanging out down by the riverfront in front of the boat landing. He seemed like an honest guy and he promised to take us out on his boat the next day. He basically scammed us and tried to get us to go with another family that were going to see some caves, even though we specifically told him the day before that we didn’t want to do that. He dropped us off on a little island in the middle of the river and said he’d be right back. After an hour he finally returns with his friend and some beers and asked us to pay for the them. At this point we were really angry so we asked him to take us back to town. So just be wary of booking any boat trips on your own and never pay anything upfront.
Our remaining time in Luang Prabang was spent walking and biking around town. We rented bikes (15,000 kip per bike for a 1 day rental) at one of the many places on the main road. You will see a lot of bike rentals and I think they’re all similarly priced so it probably doesn’t matter where you rent them.
One of the major tourist attractions in Luang Prabang is the Buddhist Monks’ alms procession every morning. We never went to watch because I think it’s become too much of a spectacle with a bunch of tourists lined up with their cameras to take pictures, as if the monks are some exotic creature. I understand people’s fascination with learning more about the monks who walk around town in their brightly colored saffron robes, but I think there’s got to be a better way than to intrusively shove a camera in their face while interrupting their spiritual walk each morning.
We bought tickets to Vang Vang through our Sayo Naga. A mini-van picked us up in the morning around 8am and then dropped us off at the bus station in town, where we transferred to a different mini-van. With our packs strapped to the top of the roof and the van full of people we set out on the infamous road to Vang Vieng.