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Luang Prabang

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Laos : Northern Laos : Luang Prabang
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Wat Sen, Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang (ຫຼວງພຣະບາງ), also Luang Phabang, Luang Phrabang and Louang Phrabang is the former capital of Laos and a UNESCO World Heritage city.

Understand

Set at the confluence of two rivers that almost surround the town, and beneath a temple-topped hill, Luang Prabang is a wonderful patchwork of traditional Lao wooden houses and hints of European architecture - reminders of when Laos was part of the French colony of Indochine. Golden-roofed wats (temples), decorated with mosaics and murals of the life of Buddha, sit under the gaze of wrap-around teak balconies and 19th century shuttered windows. All of this is set against a backdrop of verdant greenery and rugged mountains.

As a visitor, you cannot help but be amazed by the tidiness and cleanliness of perhaps the most charming city in all of Southeast Asia. With UNESCO so closely involved and a largely responsible group of local business owners, the pressures of mass tourism development have been held at bay, but for how much longer remains to be seen. Restaurants in the main street cater for luxury tourists. More typical Lao venues can still be found along the Mekong.

History

Luang Prabang rose to prominence as the capital of the first Lao kingdom (Lan Xang - land of the million elephants) from 1353 onwards. The city owes its present name to the Pha Bang, a revered Buddha image (now in the Royal Palace Museum) which was brought to the city by King Visoun during the golden age of Lan Xang in the early 1500s.

The fragmentation of the Lao kingdom at the end of the 16th century saw Luang Prabang become a militarily weak independent city state paying tribute to the surrounding kingdoms. Ultimately the 1887 sacking of the city by the Chinese Haw led the Luang Prabang monarchy to accept the protection of the French, whose influence led to the construction of the many fine colonial villas that sit harmoniously alongside the traditional Lao architecture.

The city fell into decline in the latter half of the 20th century following the reluctant withdrawal of the French, and the 1975 revolution which brought an end to the Luang Prabang monarchy. The relative poverty of newly-independent Laos perhaps helped save Luang Prabang from the ravages of 20th century city planning.

Haw Kam, Luang Prabang

The reopening of Laos to tourism in 1989 resulted in a remarkable turnaround in the city's fortunes, as crumbling timber houses and colonial mansions were sensitively restored and transformed into immaculate guesthouses and boutique hotels. In 1995 the city was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Get in

By plane

The airport is just north of town and has scheduled flights from/to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Jinghong, Pakse, Siem Reap and Vientiane.

  • Bangkok Airways [1] offer flights from/to Bangkok.

Visa-on-Arrival is available at the airport - price is variable based upon your nationality. You need a passport picture to obtain a visa. If you don't have one, they'll scan your picture from your passport and charge you an additional $US1.

ASEAN nationals do not need a visa to enter Laos for stays not exceeding 30 days.

Taxis into town cost about $US6, whether you are by yourself or with 3 other people. There is a taxi counter just outside the arrival hall.

By road

Highway 13 connects Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng and Vientiane in the south and via Highway 1 to the north. Highway 13 is sealed and in relatively good shape all the way to Vientiane, but there are bumpy stretches and it is a very winding road. Though there have been incidents of violence along this stretch of road in the past, presently it is safe.

There are three bus stations, each a little bit out of town, which serve different directions. Tickets can be bought at every travel agent in town, at the bus station, or when boarding the bus (if there's space). Booking bus tickets through travel agents usually incurs hefty surcharges compared to doing it yourself. Just plan to arrive at the bus station between 30-45 minutes before your departure, and you should have plenty of time to make your purchases before you bus leaves. Tuk-tuk drivers know which bus station to go to for which destination. Ask around for bus schedules.

  • Chiang Mai - this new bus direct to Chiang Mai started on 20th January 2012 and costs 1,200 Baht one way. The journey is via Udomxai and Luang Nam Tha before being transported across the Mekong by boat and continuing to Chiang Mai. Total journey time is 18 hours. From 2013, the bus will utilise the new Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge from Huay Xai to Chiang Kong and the fare will rise to 1,500 Baht.
  • Vang Vieng - the air-conditioned so-called VIP bus costs 90,000 kip. Mini-buses leave from Vang Vieng at 9 AM and cost 100,000 kip. The mini-bus station is just north of town. The trip takes 6-7 hours. Route 13, along which the bus travels, passes through the mountains and twists and turns uncomfortably for most of the journey. This is not a trip to make on a full stomach or if you are feeling queasy.
  • Vientiane - air-con VIP bus costs 130,000, more if booked through an agent. Tickets purchased in Vientiane to Luang Prabang are more expensive than those purchased in Luang Prabang. The bus follows route 13 south, via Vang Vieng. Travellers have reported that the VIP bus can been a bit of bumpy ride, but is generally more reliable than the public bus. Those prone to motion sickness should know that this trip travels a winding, mountainous road.
  • Muang Xay - takes about 5 hours. Costs 40,000 kip and points onwards, such as Luang Namtha, is done by public minibus only. Big backpacks are carried on the roof. Reservations are usually not necessary, just take care to go early in order to secure a good seat.
  • Luang Namtha - takes 8-9 hours and costs 90,000 kip. Parts of the road leading from Oudomxay (intermediate stop between Luang Prabang and Luang Namtha) are still under construction and are quite bumpy (as of Nov 09). Direct local bus via Muang Xay at 09.00. Otherwise take bus to Muang Xay and switch there.
  • Nong Khiaw - 3 hours away by public bus from the Northern Bus Station or 8-10 hrs by boat for about 110,000 kip. From there boats connect to scenic Muang Ngoi Neua.
  • Huay Xai - up to 15 hours away. Public buses leave at 09.00 (arrive 12 midnight) or 17.00 (arrive 08.00, normal sleeping bus, not sleeper). Costs 135,000 kip. VIP buses leave on alternating days, tickets purchased at the Northern Bus Station will cost 35,000 kip less than those purchased at an agent in town.
  • Phonsavan - bus takes about 8 hours and costs 100,000 Kip leaves Southern Bus Station around 8.00am. Minibus takes around 6 hours and leaves at 9.00am. You should be able to buy your ticket at your guesthouse and arrange to be picked up and taken to the minibus station. You can stay on the minibus until it unloads the local people in the centre of Luang Prabang though tuk-tuk drivers may try to make you get off earlier at the bus station.

BanNaluang Bus Station (South Bus Station)

To Departs hours Approximate Price (Kip) Duration (Hours) Comments Last update
Sainyabuli 9:00,14:00 60,000 Kip 5 Hours June 2011
Phonsavan (Locel Bus) 8:30 80,000 Kip June 2011
Phonsavan (AC Bus) 8:30 95,000 Kip June 2011
Phonsavan (VIP Bus) 8:30 105,000 Kip June 2011
Vang Vieng (AC Bus) 9:30 90,000 Kip 6-7 Hours June 2011
Vang Vieng (VIP Bus) 9:30 105,000 Kip June 2011
Vientiane (Locel Bus) 6:30, 8:30, 11:00, 14:00, 16:30, 17:00 , 18:30 110,000 Kip June 2011
Vientiane (VIP Bus) 8:00, 9:00, 19:30, 20:30 130,000 Kip June 2011
Vinh (Vietnam) Wed And Sat - 18:30 200,000 Kip June 2011

By boat

Boats ply the Mekong to and from Huay Xai at the Thai border, stopping in Pakbeng where you can catch overland connections towards the northeast and the border with China. The trip takes 2 days (both days about 9 hours) by slow boat, or 6 bone-rattling hours by speedboat. There are also operators now offering 2-day "luxury" cruises.

Expect to spend the night in Pakbeng if you're taking a slow boat (the safest option), or to arrive in Luang Prabang deaf, shaken and either exhausted or exhilarated from six hours in a speedboat. There is also a twice-weekly "one day comfortable boat" between Luang Prabang and Huay Xai, but the cost is significantly higher.

Slow boats leave every day, the last one at 11AM. The trip from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai costs at least 250,000 kip (January 2012), the trip to Luang Prabang from Huay Xai costs 900 baht (Sep 2011). The slow boat leaves Luang Prabang at about 8.30, from the middle of the town, and arrive around 18.00 at Pak beng.

In Huay Xai it's best to take a quick tuktuk from the border crossing to the boat landing (or about 15min walk) and purchase your tickets at the boat landing because all the tour agencies in town charge a commission, and agents usually don't have reliable information about the quality of the boats. It is common to have to switch to a different boat in Pakbeng, so you may end up in a boat of higher or lower quality for the second half of the journey. The two day boats have nice comfortable (car) seats and it is no longer necessary to purchase any cushions.

The slow-boat is generally packed - so much so that there may not enough seats to go round. Arriving early will mean a longer day, but most likely a better seat, towards the front and away from the engine.

The slow boat trip proceeds in a pleasant 20-30km/h and offers nice views to the nature and village life on the banks of the Mekong river. Most of the passengers are foreign tourists. Occasional locals take the boat only for short hops between the river side villages, but prefer to take the bus for the full distance from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang. So you won't be able to observe any local boat travellers, as the boat ride offers just the usual sight of tourists drinking Beerlao.

If you choose to travel on the speedboat (a light canoe with a very powerful engine), a crash helmet and life-jacket should be provided - it is not recommended to travel in a speedboat without this essential safety equipment. It is also recommended that you make your bags as waterproof/water-resistant as possible and wear a rainjacket - the boat can generate quite a bit of spray, plus any showers you might encounter along the way will sting like needles against any exposed skin. On sunny days, sunscreen is invaluable as there is no roof/shade on these speed machines. The journey to Huay Xai can be reduced to as few as 4 hours in the wet season, with a lunch stop at Pakbeng. However, some consider this means of transportation less safe, especially in the dry season. Earplugs are strongly recommended. Travellers who are concerned about creating as little environmental impact as possible may want avoid speedboats, as they are heavier polluters than the slower options. Travel agents in LP will sell the tickets for 320-370,000 Kip, you will need a minivan to take you the 10km north to the fast boat pier.

The third option is to take a "luxury" cruise. The major operators are Luang Say [4] and Nagi of Mekong [5]. As of 2009, both operate two-day cruises to Hauy Xai that stop in Pak Beng for the night. Since October 2011 a third player has entered the market, Shompoo Cruise. Although the journey takes as long as taking the slow boat, these operators offer vastly superior facilities and equipment than public slow boats, and you should be prepared to pay a premium for it. Tickets for all three operators can be bought at most travel agents in town.

As per November 2011 the prices are approx. 220K for a slowboat, 280K for a speedboat. 3'000K for Luang Say, 1'200K for Nagi of Mekonand (both including a night in a hotel) and 640K for Shompoo. Some travelers are reporting that prices of Luang Say and Nagi of Mekong can be bargained down.

There is no public boat service to Vientiane, but it may be possible to do the trip by private tourist boat when the water levels are high enough. Read more about fast and slow boats in the Laos country guide.

See

Photo of Alms Ceremony, Th. Sisavangvong, Luang Prabang, taken from across street in early May 2011 - illustrating tourists behaving inappropriately at 6am monks' pageant

Local landmarks and culture

  • Alms ceremony — monks at dawn collecting alms of rice from kneeling villagers (and early-rising tourists). Ask your guesthouse host to assist you the day before in preparing if you'd like to get up and give alms in the morning. Please note that the alms giving ceremony is one which, while picturesque, is not without its detractors. Unscrupulous local merchants have used the eagerness of tourists to participate in a local tradition as a means of making easy money, and sometimes sell unsuitable, stale and even unsafe food. This has resulted in monks falling ill after having consumed the offerings, and resistance to continuing the tradition. However, the government has made it clear that the monks have to continue the tourist pageant or risk being replaced with lay people clothed in saffron robes in order to keep up appearances, and thereby maintain tourist revenue. So if you wish to participate in this ceremony, prepare the food or fruit yourself, and avoid giving food of unknown quality. Another problem is the photographing. While it looks nice on your collection, think about how it must feel for the monks to have hundreds of tourists photographing them every day. Some lowlifes even stand right next to them, flashing them in the eyes! Strongly consider only watching this old tradition from a distance instead of using it as a tourist attraction, as this may detract from the beauty of the ritual - both for locals and tourists alike. You can always download a picture of it somewhere on the net for your collection.
  • Haw Kham — the former royal palace and now national museum, 30,000 Kip, no photo/video/bag/shoes allowed, free locker. Open 8AM-11:30AM and 1:30PM-4PM every day except Tuesday. There's also sometimes local drama or dance performances in the adjacent theatre. In August 2011 for examnple, each Mo/We/Fr/Sa, there was a performance at 6:30PM of "Search of Princess Sida", a royal ballet, with prices from 80,000 to 150,000 kip. It is important to check the timings and plan the visit accordingly.
  • Phou Si — the main hill in the city from which you have a good view of the whole area. It's not a very steep climb from the bottom and sunrise and sunset are the most sensible and rewarding times to go up. There is a near-panoramic view from the top. Entrance fee 20,000 kip.
  • Sunset on the waterfront — take a walk along the Mekong, or sit and enjoy dinner at one of the many restaurants and watch the sun sink into the horizon.
  • Vat Xieng Toung — the oldest monastery in town and one of the most beautiful. Opens from 6AM-6PM. Entry fee 20,000 kip. One entrance on the road along Mekong river, the other on the by-lane off the main road.
  • Vipassana temple and park — this golden temple, highly visible from Phou Si, is a shrine for Buddhists who practice Vipassana meditation.

Out of town

  • Bear Rescue Centre — located adjacent to the way to the Kuang Si Waterfalls, the Bear Rescue Centre has a enclosure for endangered Asiatic Black Bears that have been rescued from poachers.
Kuang Si Falls, Luang Prabang
  • Kuang Si Falls — a large multi-stage waterfall, accessible by boat or truck hire, some 29 km south of Luang Prabang. You can also rent a motorbike to transport yourself there. There are food and tourist stalls outside the waterfalls. It is worth putting a whole day aside (or more) for seeing these because they are a great place to relax and meet other travellers. There are multiple pools at different levels, all of which are reportedly safe to bathe in, and are extremely picturesque. tuk tuk to go there charge about 35 to 50,000 Kip (cheapest seems to be near slow boat pier) and some agencies seems to make it at 30,000 Kip.
  • Tad Sae Waterfalls — step waterfalls which are not as big as Kuang Xi, but very beautiful. You can bathe there and elephant rides are available. Entrance is 15,000 kip and you have to river boat to reach the place.
  • Pak Ou Caves — the famous "Buddha caves" are north of town on the Mekong and can be reached by road (approx 1 hr) or river boat (around 1.5 hrs). Alternatively, you can hire canoes and a guide for the day, which would allow you to view the beautiful scenery and visit the caves without throngs of other tourists. It's also possible to finish the trip at the 'whisky village' where the local Laolao (lao rice spirit) is made. There are two caves - one on the entry level and another - the upper caves - on top of the hill. A very steep climb, but worth the efforts. A candle or torch recommended to see the upper cave, as it is dark. Simply cross the river for for 3,000-5,000 kip, walk up the hill and turn to the right crossing the primary schools to find your way to the caves.

Arts and crafts

  • The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre — this small but perfectly formed museum is dedicated to the ethnic cultures of Laos, find out more about the groups that make Laos so unique and enrich your visit to Luang Prabang. Sometimes closed for Exhibitions, so please check in advance.
  • Ock Pop Tok Living Craft Centre — situated on the banks of the Mekong just 2 km south of Luang Prabang town, it offers an informative free tour to all visitors. Operating as a fairtrade traditional weaving centre you can take classes in bamboo / textile weaving, dye your own silk, draw your own batik or just relax at the Mekong garden cafe. Free Tuk Tuk departs daily from both Ock Pop Tok Shops in town: 10am - 12 noon - 2pm.

Do

  • Lao Red Cross — A traditional Lao sauna and massage, very popular with locals in the afternoon. Th Wisunarat, in front of Wat Wisunalat. 1 hour massage 40,000 kip (open 9AM-9PM), sauna 10,000 kip (open 4PM-8PM).
  • Rent a Motorbike — Although prices are astronomical by Southeast Asia standards ($US20-$25 per day as of Jan 2011), riding around the surrounding areas of Luang Prabang is a fantastic way to see the countryside. Fuel for the whole day will cost around 15,000 kip. As usual practice, they will keep your passport, so make sure they know when you leave and how to recover your passport.
  • Fair Trek Project [6]. People who love activities and treks may find some interesting interactive tours which are designed to support villages outside of Luang Prabang, and in the north of Laos.
  • Big Brother Mouse is a worthwhile organisation devoted to encouraging literacy in young adults and has premises off the main street, down a side street next to 3Nagas restaurant. Depending on sponsorship and volunteers, it welcomes tourists Mondays to Saturdays from 9AM-11AM to help with English conversation and reading practice. They publish and distribute books in Lao and English; consider buying some books to take as gifts to village children as you travel through Laos. They are also to be found in Vientiane.

Learn

Cooking classes

This is an enjoyable way to gain insights into Lao culinary methods and traditions. There are three substantial cooking class providers in town, all attached to popular restaurants, using Lao chefs/instructors. They differ somewhat in style and content, but all start with a tour of the local food market and include transport and copies of their recipes and other information about Lao cuisine. Participants sit down to eat their dishes afterwards.

  • Tamnak Lao is situated in premises to the side of their main-street restaurant. They offer both day and evening courses (10am to 5pm, 250,000 kip, and 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm 200,000 kip). Contact details:[7], tel +856 71254670
  • Tamarind: a taste of Laos has a restaurant along the Nam Khan river (since Jan 2011 moved to here), but you are taken to and from the rather lovely gardens by the water a short ride from town for their classes (9 am to 3:30 pm, 250,000 kip). Contact details: [8], tel +856(20)77770484.
  • Tum Tum Cheng, whose restaurant and open kitchen is also on the main street towards the end of the peninsula, offers a half-day course for $US38. Classes have more of a demonstration orientation, with participants helping instructors with various tasks. Tel+856 71252019. All courses can be booked at the relevant restaurants.

Some of the hotels and guesthouses in town also offer small or private cooking classes for their guests.

Panorama of Luang Prabang. This view features the Nam Khan river on the left, and the Luang Prabang airport on the very far left

Buy

Thai baht and US$ are widely accepted but the exchange rates vary. As of May 2009, there are a small number of ATMs accepting Visa, MasterCard, Maestro and Eurocards. These ATMs are situated mostly in Sisavangvong Rd just near the end of the Night Market. The ATMs dispense currency in Lao Kip and generally allow a maximum withdrawal of 1,000,000 kip with a charge of 20,000 kip. Multiple withdrawals are allowed to a daily maximum of 5,000,000 kip. If you arrive by plane, there is an ATM and a money changer at the airport which is open for a few hours of the day, so don't count on changing there. Also, their rates are significantly worse than the banks in town.

There are a growing number of money changers, located on Sisavangvong Rd or in the permanent markets further East. One is next to the ATM near the Night Markets, another is about 50m further North along the street, located out the front of one of the first restaurants (looks like a little tollbooth/shack). The rates offered may vary, so shop around before you change. Better maybe to stick with official money changing services at a bank which are easily found. There are reports of scam by using money changers to take cash advance. They will charge you more in USD with different exchange rate than written. After complains it's not possible to cancel the transaction.

The night market (on Sisavangvong Road) caters for tourists with every kind of souvenir you could want and closes at about 10 PM. Particularly good are the duvet covers, cushion covers and pillow sets. They can even make one up to the dimensions you require in one next day. Very good are hanging lamps, which are foldable to bring back. It is well worth a look and the hawkers are very pleasant to deal with and amazingly non-pushy by the standard elsewhere in Asia. Traders range from young kids to the elderly who usually made crafts, arts and goods by themselves for sale. Good-natured bargaining is advisable but don't obsess over this and ruin your experience as well as giving the trader a bad day. It should be understood that the quality and design of goods is lower in the market than in the legions of increasingly chic stores in the town. There may be some souvenirs available made from endangered animals. Avoid buying rare pets, leather, ivory, talons, dried sea creatures (starfish, etc.), fur, feathers, teeth, wool, and other products. This is the best place to buy lower end souvenirs and hone your bargaining skills.

Laotian asthetic sense is quite evolved in its own way. For instance check out some of the higher end stores:

  • Ock Pop Tok, 73/5 Ban Vat Nong, Luang Prabang, plus 2 other stores in town, +856 71 253219, [9]. An ethical trading company with superb galleries. Also run classes and visits to village weaving faciltiies.

Books

Several book stores operating in and around the area that sell photocopies to unsuspecting travellers. It's worth checking copies as pages can be unreadable or even missing.

  • Book Exchange – the Tamnak Lao Restaurant Book Exchange have a very good selection of books. The exchange operates on a “one for one” basis plus 20,000 kip, and all books are also available for purchase. All of the money raised by the book exchange goes to buying provisions for the Luang Prabang Government Orphanages and Ethnic High Schools [10]. It is located in the lane next to the restaurant.

Eat

Restaurants line Sisavangvong Road and the roads along the Mekong and Nam Khan. Food runs the line from standard Southeast Asian backpacker fare to more traditional Lao dishes, including buffalo sausage right up to very high quality French cuisine.

There are also numerous market stalls for cheaper food, including baguettes and pancakes. Stalls along an alleyway between the night market end of Sisavangvong Road and the Mekong offers superb Lao street food at bargain prices.

Local specialities include:

  • French baguettes and other bakery items. Extremely well done here.
  • Local watercress which is very peppery.
  • Fried dried seaweed with sesame seeds dipped in a chili sauce.
  • Buffalo steaks and sausages.
  • Luang Prabang Khao Soi - spicy clear mince and noodle soup which is very different from the Chiang Mai version

Cafes and restaurants

  • Blue Lagoon Restaurant, (beside National Museum), 856 (71)25 36 98, [11]. Offers Luang Prabang-Lao highlights and Swiss classics as well as a variety of snacks and fresh salad.
  • Boulevard Restaurant - A new Al Fresco style restaurant under the same wing of New Daraphet Villa behing JoMa Bakery. For those wishing a quiet meal be warned the owner has recently brought in sound equipment and a new acoustic guitar for music enthusiasts to jam. The restaurant has 2 sides for both proper dining and casual drinking. serves decent draft Tiger beer and a great atmosphere for meeting new friends from the guesthouses along the street.
  • Big Tree Cafe - Consistently well prepped Western food and authentic Korean food. Under the big tree on the Mekong River. Good service and free Wifi
  • Lao Lao Garden, Phousi Road. Attractively designed bar/restaraunt notable for it's "Lao-style barbeque", which you and your friends cook pre prepared meat on a barbecue mounted in the centre of the table. A backpacker favourite and becomes busy in the evenings with loud club music. If you prefer to cook your barbecue in an atmosphere of quiet contemplation there are other BBQ options along the riverside
  • L'Elephant- Around the corner from Saffron Caffe. A lovely restaurant with a unique mix of Laotian and French cuisine. The food is extremely good, but has its price. It is directly in front of a small guesthouse, and not far away from Les 3 Nagas hotel and Villa Santi hotel. The ingredients are of the highest quality, ranging from French camembert to Laotian lemongrass and river weeds. Be warned though that the menu is both pricey and some items do not justify their price tag. This has a great ambience.
  • Le Banneton - Opp Wat Sop, Sisavangvong Road. Amazing, authentic French bread, tarts, pastries and cakes. Their pain au chocolate is buttery and delicious!
  • Rosella Fusion Restaurant - Clean and well cooked food. A small place (blink, and you'll miss it) that looks like a Fruit shake place. Locally owned by Lao guy that trained at Amantaka restaurant. Possibly the best steaks in town, certainly great cocktails. Slow service, but worth it!
  • Saffron Caffè - (around the corner from L'Elephant restaurant in Wat Nong village) - The Best coffee in Luang Prabang, which comes from the surrounding mountains. The Banana Shake Macchiato is also recommended. Delicious fresh baked goods such as their Cinnamon Swirls and Banana muffins go quickly. Granola and salad wraps are good.
  • Sala Café-Nice place with a view on the Nam Khan river. This restaurant-bar offers an open air terrace where you can relax while trying homemade Vietnamese, French and Lao specialities. Some people think it is a little bit expensive, but the quality has a price... Eat the chocolate brownie!
  • Scandinavian Bakery- Serves western quality breakfasts, burgers and pizzas. Food must be paid for before eating. Delicious Italian style pizzas.
  • Shakes & Crepes- a no name place serving delicious shakes for 5000 kip and fantastic sweet crepes starting from 7000 kip. In front of Croissant d'Or on the main street.
  • Tamarind - On the banks of the Nam Khan river next door to Apsara, specialises in introducing Western tourists to Lao food, so the dishes are offered with explanations and the menu is full of information. Traditional Lao food in sampler format. Platter combinations of dips,salads etc as well as set menus. Only a small wine list but good range of fruit drinks. Popular cooking classes in a garden setting. Sells food products, recipe books etc.
  • Nava Mekong Dining Cruise [12]- Nava Mekong is the exquisite dinning cruise of Luang Prabang. Dining on the on the side of the mighty Mekong is a recommended things to do when visit Luang Prabang.
  • Un Petit Nid - Biblio Bistro. Very relaxing bistro serving excellant Lao and western food in nice atmosphere. Watch out for the kittens. Try the Orlam with spicy wood. Good vegetarian menu. (19.894717149999998,102.14083575000001)

Drink

There are a number of places to drink around Luang Prabang, though the late-night club scene is pretty much nonexistent. The liveliest and busiest bars are in a small cluster between Mount Phousi and the Nam Khong.

Luang Prabang's status means that curfews are strictly enforced here: bars start winding down at 11 p.m. and close at 11:30 p.m. sharp. The only permitted late-night options are outside the main part of town: a discotheque patronised mostly by locals and bizarrely, a ten pin bowling alley.

If you do plan on staying out after hours, check the arrangements with your guesthouse first to avoid being locked out.

If you're simply looking to relax and enjoy the river views, most riverside restaurants have tables outside where you can sit back with a beer or two.

  • Books and Tea L'Etranger - downstairs is a book shop/swap and upstairs is a bar selling drinks and cake in a room covered in cushions for lazing around and reading. Movies everyday at 7 p.m. A tad greedy and unfriendly on the book exchange business.
  • The Bowling Alley on the edge of the town is the unlikely center for after-curfew revelry. Serves Beerlao and whisky well into the early hours of the morning to a raucous backpacker crowd, and also happens to be a bowling alley (20,000 kip per person per game after midnight). Even the addition of lanes doesn't seem to have dented the emphasis on drinking. This is invariably reached by crowds of people sharing tuk-tuks, which cluster around the bottom end of Phousi Rd around the time the bars close.
  • Hive Bar, Phousi Rd.. closes 11:30pm sharp. Established and highly popular watering hole, with cosy brick-lined rooms and an outside terrace. Notable for their ethnic fashion shows at 7 p.m. most days of the week and their range of Lao Lao cocktails.
  • Lao Lao Garden and the adjacent Lao Lao Bar, Phousi Rd.. closes 11:30pm. Popular with the backpacker crowd - in addition to their acclaimed food, it is marketed as a place to "drink like a fish for the price of water".
  • Mekong Sunset Beach Bar - The place to go to watch the sunset. Located at the river mouth of Nam Khan and Mekong, you have to cross the bamboo bridge behind Wat Xieng Thong and walk 3 min. Very simple but unbelievable. Floods in the wet season.
  • Morning Glory Cafe - On the quiet end of the main street, after 3 Nagas. Run by a laid-back couple. Thai and Western food, Good wine, by the glass. Garden seating. Temple in front and street life can be seen.
  • Utopia, (by the Nam Khan river - follow the signs from near Hive Bar). 8am to 11:30pm. Aims to be a relaxing garden by day and tropical jungle lounge by night, when it fills up with backpackers. Gorgeous views along the Nam Khan River. Caters to backpackers wanting to chill, and other than the beer there is nothing Laoatian about this place with a clichéd backpacker facilities including board games, scatter cushions, giant Jenga and even a volleyball court. Free Wi-Fi.

Sleep

This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget Under 120,000
Mid-range 120,000-400'000 kip
Splurge Over 400,000 kip

Luang Prabang has the best selection of accommodation in Laos, with something to suit every budget. There is everything from tent sites under a roof for 20,000 Kip per night up to Super Luxury Hotel at US$1500 per night. While the big chains have yet to make an appearance, there's plenty of "boutique" accommodation, although this heavily overused word runs the gamut from quirky to luxury. Most of the lanes and alleys all through Luang Prabang have places to stay, with a large selection also found in the lanes south of the Post Office. Free WiFi is quite commonplace in Budget guesthouses.

Budget

  • Halolao Backpackers, basic clean rooms with fan, cold and warm water, good window mosquito nets. Staff is friendly and helpful. Free coffee and tea in the morning. Free wifi in lobby and sometimes in rooms (bad coverage). A double room with bathroom for 50,000 kip. At the intersection just before the west side of the night market, walk west, take a left turn at the second intersection. Halohalo should be on you right side about 150 metres down the road.
  • Cold River Guesthouse. run by a local family and you meet often a lot of travellers. It's directly on the Khan River. Off peak times, it costs 80,000 kip. Unusually, they do not accept US$. Free filtered water and bananas are available. On Saturdays they'll serve free home-cooked dinner. As of November 2011 it is closed whilst undergoing reconstruction.
  • Luang Prabang Backpackers Guesthouse, this clean, modern guesthouse is situated next to the Nam Khan river's motorcycle/bicycle bridge (a 10 minute walk away from the bustle of the night market). It offers very clean and comfortable dorm beds for 40,000 kip per person (this includes free breakfast and coffee). The guesthouse is run by a nice local family who, if you're lucky, will provide you with delicious Lao BBQ and Lao whisky now and then. Free WIFI, cable TV and filtered water is also included.
  • Levady Guesthouse - in a lovely side street 50 m off the main street. Super nice family, wooden rooms and floor, bike rental, absolutely tidy. Double rooms with fan and private bathroom US$7, long term discounts on request.
  • Merry Guesthouse. has rooms for US$3 with bathroom outside. Free filtered water and bananas are available. Not so merry though, the options further down the alley (Cold River and Sysomphone) are more appealing.
  • Nur Aisyah Guesthouse [13] is run by local and lodges up to 20 people. The place is clean, spacious, and comfortable. However, there are house rules governing noise, fighting, and bringing girls into the rooms.
  • Soutikkone Guest House. Central location near the night market and an Indian Restaurant. Large, clean rooms with a very hot shower, good Western-style toilet, and proper mosquito netting on the windows/door. Very nice wooden floorboards as well. The staff speak English. As of January, 2012, rooms are quoted at 25 US$, which is one of the lowest prices here in the neighborhood. Good value for your money these days in Luang Prabang.
  • Sysomphone Guesthouse. (+856-71) 252-543 Located in Banvisoun 22/4 street, off Vatmou-Enna road. Have a good view of Nam Khan River behind the guesthouse and is just around 10min by walk to Sisavangvong Road. Very friendly and helpful family/owner. Free bananas and water and Wifi. Owner has good information, prepares free dinner once a week for guests, has sticky rice if you stumble across dinner, collects traveller's photographs in an album and willingly shares things he knows about the Lao people or the country if you ask. The owner fulfils his social responsibility by buying stationeries for students living in the outskirt (about 30-40km out of town), travelling there about once to thrice a month depending on voluntary donations made by generous guests - notices are sticked in a couple of corners in the guesthouse. Guests can visit the students. Rooms with shared hot-water bathrooms 40000 - 50000 kip. A newer, cleaner building in the back has fresher rooms for 70000 kip. [14]
  • VannaPhone Guest House located 10 minutes away from the airport and about 4 minutes from the city. Ranging from $US10-$US15 (depending on what room you choose). Accetablly sized rooms with fairly small bathrooms. Noisy if you choose the rooms located close to the street but if you choose one of the new backrooms it is OK.
  • Vong Champa Guesthouse. centrally located in a small alley on the Mekong riverfront near the night market, cheap (double 80,000 kip), quiet, brand new and spotless clean.
  • Vongphachanh Guesthouse, in a sidestreet off Wisunalat Rd near Wat Wisunalat. Nicely decorated clean rooms at a decent price, free wifi, pretty quiet.
  • Wat That Guest House & Mala Dressmaker [15]. This is a traditional Lao style home which has 3 rooms upstairs all with self contained bathrooms and a new cheap room downstairs with a share bathroom. There is free wifi, drinking water and regularly bananas or other fruit. 50,000-120,000 kip per room per night, depending on season and number of people. Washing, coffee, basic breakfast, motorbike and bicycle rental is also available. There is a dress shop in front where you can have clothes made, repaired or modified. Located close to the Mekong river and short walk to the night markets. 2/15 Wat That Road. email: chanm_ph@yahoo.com Ph: (+856-71) 254-859 and (+856-20) 5567 1180.
  • Xayana Guesthouse and X³ Capsule Hotel, [16]. Guesthouse in a Lao-style villa in the protected zone. Dorms from $US4 or 30,000 Kip, rooms from $US8. The dorms are very clean with bathroom/showers inside. Movies are shown in the evening. Extra services are quite expensive. (valuable storage in safety box for 20,000 Kip, laundry service 18,000 Kip. There are cheaper laundry services nearby though.)
  • Somjith Guesthouse, (856-71) 252 756; (856-20) 7777 4883 (). clean room, attached or shared bathroom, fan or air-con, free wifi (but a bit unreliable sometimes), laundry service 8,000 Kip/kg starts at 50,000 Kip s/d.
  • Meunena Backpacker Hostel, .Just after the bridge which crosses to the old part of town, on your right. Dorms for 30,000 kip, staying more than 4 days will be 25,000 kip. Lockers, free WiFi, Laowisky, coffee, tea and bananas. Ph: (+856-71) 260-851, email: -James pbounleua@hotmail.com

Mid-range

  • Prasith Guest house. Local family run guesthouse in a well kept restored old building. Located on Chaosisouphan Rd. Between Mt Phousi & Nam Kham River. Building faces back stairs/entrance of Mount Phousi. Central location. The nicely decorated clean rooms have ensuite bathrooms with either balconies or gardens attached. Free wifi, bottled water, bananas provided. Family is friendly and invites guests to join them when they make family trips to local hang-outs. Good to make reservations as rooms can fill fast. Email - kolawy@hotmail.com. Tel - +856-71-260-420


  • Bouakham Chanthasack Guesthouse. A brand new, beautiful high end guesthouse on the Mekong riverfront near the night market. All rooms have bathrooms and air conditioning, very clean and nice, double rooms for $US45. Owners are selling also the best chilli sauce in Luang Prabang.
  • Hotel De Lyon, out of town near the airport, [17]. New 24-room hotel built in "Lao-Colonial" style. Free airport and city shuttles. $US45-60.
  • Jade Hotel, Phu Vao Rd, [18]. Modern hotel in an old protected Chinese-style building. Flat-screen TVs, free airport transfers. $US30-70.
  • Manichan Guesthouse, [19]. Near the Night Market, centrally located, new and clean in green, peaceful environment. "Lao-Colonial" style house with wooden floors and homey feel rooms. Private and shared bathrooms with hot, separated showers. Free coffee corner. Has a balcony with city view. Belgian-Lao management. Low season: US$7–15, high season: US$12–30 (including breakfast buffet). Air-con an optional extra US$4.
  • Merry Swiss Lao Located near Mt. Phousi not on the main street side, but the other side. The room was not clean, had moisture issues, and had a rooster pin attached. Two separate guests only stayed one night and had to check out due to noise. Room was $US40 one night and $US35 another. Rooms have private bathroom and air conditioning if needed.
  • New Daraphet Villa, [20]. Traditional Lao villa in the heritage zone which has been turned into a boutique hotel. Large terraces and lots of flowers. Airport transfer included. $US30-60.
  • Rama Hotel A recently renovated higher end guesthouse. Hot water shower and air con if you need it. Rooms in February 2008 were $US30 per night and included a decent breakfast. This hotel was fairly quiet with a little bit of traffic noise until about 11PM.
  • Refuge of the Last Dreamers, . Located on the other side of the Khan River, near the temple. The guesthouse is in a beautifully restored building. It is owned by a young Australian guy, Niki. He provides a very relaxing atmosphere. To reach the guesthouse, at daytime, cross the bamboo bridge (2000 kip), at night you have to take the motor bridge further north.
  • Sabaidee Guest House.[21], 70 Thammikarat Road. There are lots of good guest houses along here this one is good value around $US25 for a double en-suite room with breakfast included. There's a good laundrette just opposite the entrance too.
  • Thony 1 Guesthouse. This converted family villa located along the banks of the Nam Khan river. Only 10 minutes walk to the night market and historic centre, Thony 1 Guesthouse offers a cheap and comfortable stay amid scenic surroundings and the gentle flow of the Nam Khan River. The warm welcomes from the owner and the staff will make your stay more comfortable with a homely touch. Address: Ban Visoun, Chao Chomphou.Rd. (Just head for Wat Visoun Temple which is very close by. From the temple just look towards the Nam Khan River and you will see the guesthouse). Ranging from $US22-$35. Rooms with riverview & family rooms available. E-mail: thony1@laotel.com Web: [22]
  • Villa Kiengkham. Nice, clean, comfortable hotel with friendly staff. $US25. Note that it is not where shown in the 2007 Lonely Planet Guide to Laos but further north in the same street near the Rama Hotel.

Splurge

  • Amantaka. [23] Luxury Resort of the Aman Group. Set on a large garden estate, Amantaka is housed in graceful French colonial buildings just south of Phousi Hill. Airy and elegant throughout, the décor and furnishings reflect the town’s French colonial history. Rates from US$650 per night.
  • Ancient Luang Prabang.[24] In main st next to night market. No room numbers - names like "tiger room". Rooms not quite up to standard for this price - no shower curtain and cleverly designed taps to ensure a wet floor, no bedside table, no reading light. However clean and comfortable. Friendly staff and no cost for airport transfer. Note that internet is not free.
  • The Apsara, +856 71 254670 (), [25]. A quite wonderful hotel in a restored colonial building overlooking the Khan river on Kingkitsarath Road. All rooms are decorated with local fabrics and furniture and very much in keeping with the hip and funky image of the hotel. Try to stay in the original building if you can. Superb French/Asian restaurant in the lobby. US$ 75 to 120.
  • La Residence Phou Vao.[26] Amongst the town's prime hotels, this resort nestles amongst landscaped grounds and gardens, and has picturesque views over Phou Si and the World Heritage town. The property has a traditional Lao spa and a restaurant offering both indigenous and French cuisine. Regular shuttles are provided and boat trips arranged. An Orient-Express Hotel.
  • Les 3 Nagas Hotel. a nice colonial hotel with 7 rooms on one side and 8 on the other. The restaurant is fairly cheap, but the rooms are rather overpriced. There are a few executive suites, the most costly coming with their own set of stairs. But beware: your nights may be troubled as there is a rooster that sings every morning at the hotel, at about 3AM. The attitude of the owner has put off some guests who report this in forums.
  • Lotus Villa, +856 71 255050 (), [27]. A 15 room Laos-colonial villa in the quiet area of the UNESCO precinct. The clean rooms, decorated by local artisans, are centered around a lush tropical garden, includes breakfast and internet/wifi. US$ 60 to 180.
  • Sala Luang Prabang. fine restored colonial villa with comfortable rooms, but it has its price. It has been ordered to change its name as "sala" is considered inappropriate by the local and UNESCO authorities, representing the Buddha.
  • The Grand. an atmospheric set of comfortable neo-colonial buildings on the site of Prince Phetsarath's old residence. Many rooms have idyllic views of both the Mekong River and the hotels gardens and ponds. Located around 4 km from town (a regular shuttle boat and bus service runs for guests), this hotel is enables the discerning tourist to escape from the hum of the city. During the winter season, breakfast is served outdoors on a terrace with spectacular views of the Mekong River and the surrounding hills that emerge from the morning mist.
  • Villa Santi Resort - villa-style resort, good restaurant, (unfortunately) terrible mosquito infested pool, massage and spa service.
  • Maison Souvannaphoum Hotel is an old palace transformed into a hotel, with the "Angsana Spa" within the hotel. Spacious rooms with great amenities. Each room with a balcony. Small but clean swimming pool, hearty breakfast, all staff know you by name as there are only 24 rooms. Within walking distance to all the attractions.
  • Santi Resort & Spa, Villa Santi Hotel & Resort, Sakkarine Road, PO Box 681, Luang Prabang, Laos, (856-71) 252157, [28]. This boutique hotel features 23 rooms and 2 suites, all decorated in a royal Laotian theme.
  • Villa Le TamTam, [29]. Superior Guest House conveniently located in a quiet steet just a minute walk from the city centre. Excellent service and peaceful atmosphere. Full breakfast included. $US55-80.
  • Villa Maly. [30] Another Luxury Boutique Hotel in Luang Prabang. Villa Maly was a former Royal Residence. The property is a blend of traditional Laotian architecture with echoes of its French colonial past. Internet and Breakfast included. US$ 190-300.

Eco-friendly

  • Kamu Lodge. [31] This lodge is situated in a remote location on the Mekong River north of Luang Prabang in an ethnic Kamu village. It offers a sustainable and socially responsible tourism concept.

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