Luang Prabang is located in northern Laos where the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers meet. Although it is a city by local standards, you can easily walk its entirety without wasting much time. The town which features an obvious French influence, was named the first UNESCO World Heritage site in Laos. When we flew into the city on our little propeller plane the surrounding landscape was a stunning mix of fresh green forest and mountains.
1. KUANG SI WATERFALL
A short minivan ride from Luang Prabang, Kuang Si is without a doubt the most beautiful waterfall we found during our travels. The water is bright turquoise and filled with little fish. Free fish spa! A series of lagoons are formed below the waterfall creating perfect swimming pools for cooling off from the humid heat of rainy season.
2. THE NIGHT MARKET
The night market turns a street that is quiet by day into a bustling shopping center at night. It is filled with food, clothing, trinkets and art – you can find just about anything here. While the typical souvenirs and items were the cheapest we found in SE Asia, you can also splurge on beautiful pieces of art and intricate woven goods from local artists.
3. SLOW BOAT RIDE TO THE BUDDHA CAVE
Although the Buddha Cave is quite impressive, the slow boat ride is the real adventure on this tour. You float along the mighty Mekong River while taking in the stunning landscapes of northern Laos.
4. WOVEN GOODS
Nearby villages earn their money by selling woven goods. From clothing to purses to scarfs they are delicately soft but well made. The colors are beautifully reminiscent of the colorful surroundings and culture of Luang Prabang.
5. STUNNING LANDSCAPES
When our flight descended toward Luang Prabang I found myself, hands and face pressed up against the window, staring down on the landscape. Luang Prabang is in a mountainous region that has remained largely untouched due to the fact that Laos didn’t open up for tourism until the 90’s.
Where to Stay
CENTRAL BACKPACKERS HOSTEL
We stayed at Central Backpackers Hostel which was located a short distance from the Night Market and city center. We did have to walk 5 or 10 minutes to things but the air (although humid) was cooler due to rainy season and we didn’t mind exploring the city on foot. We stayed in the largest mixed dorm and were happy with the accommodations. It is definitely a social environment
LPQ BACKPACKERS HOSTEL
We didn’t stay here but other backpackers gave us recommendations for LPQ Backpackers Hostel so it’s worth a try.
What to Eat
BUFFET ALLEY as it has been nicknamed by backpackers is one of the most popular spots to grab dinner. For 10,000 KIP (little more than $1) you can fill a bowl to the brim with a variety of local dishes before they dump it back into a pan to heat the food.
Everything gets mixed together but it is delicious and cheap. I’m not one for buffets but we ate here two nights in a row along with backpackers, locals and the suitcase-rolling tourist types.
Stop by one of the many street stands lining the beginning of the night market and grab a SANDWICH or BANANA PANCAKE. They also blend up delicious FRUIT SMOOTHIES (and will throw in a little alcohol at your request).
CAFE TOUI and TAMARIND are supposed to be amazing examples of the Laos cuisine and offer tasting menus so you don’t have to choose just one dish. Sadly, we did not make it to either of these restaurants on our list. The street food was just too hard for us to resist. However, we had amazing references who raved about each of these spots. They also have great TripAdvisor reviews (1 and 2).
Luang Prabang is one of the quieter towns we visited but that’s not to say there aren’t things to do. Most bars close by midnight so in response, all the backpackers flock to the same places later at night.
THE BOWLING ALLEY – no joke, the bowling alley is one of the biggest late night spots, head here by 11 to make sure you can grab a lane and play a few games while drinking and making new friends
ICON KLUB – a great hidden gem with delicious cocktails and fun games like bananagrams
UTOPIA BAR – we received many recommendations for this bar and were told it is surrounded by majority of the other nighttime hot spots
NIGHT MARKET – early in the evening the night market is the major hub of activity in this city so grab a drink and walk around