Luang Prabang, or Louangphrabang (Lao: ຫຼວງພຣະບາງ) is the former capital of Laos and a UNESCO World Heritage city.
Luang Prabang is a relatively small city with an atmospheric and charming personality. With UNESCO so closely involved and a largely responsible group of local business owners, the pressures of mass tourism 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.
HistoryLuang Prabang rose to prominence as the capital of the first Lao kingdom (Lan Xang, land of the million elephants) from 1353. 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 left Luang Prabang a militarily weak independent city state paying tribute to surrounding kingdoms. 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 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.
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.
- Bangkok Airways flies from Bangkok.
- Lao Central Airlines, flies between Luang Prabang and Vientiane. It is about 30% cheaper than Lao Airlines, with similar aircraft.
- Laos Airlines offers flights from Pakse and Vientiane.
- Vietnam Airlines offers flights from Siem Reap and Hanoi.
Visa-on-Arrival is available at the airport, costing USD30-35 for citizens of most Western countries, but slightly higher for developing nations. In any case, bring along an extra USD1 for the processing fee on top of this for hassle-free payment. You need a passport photo to obtain a visa. If you don't have one, they'll scan your picture from your passport and charge you an additional US dollar.
ASEAN nationals do not need a visa to enter Laos for stays not exceeding 30 days.
Visa extensions are possible at the immigration office opposite the Rama Hotel. The cost is USD2/day plus a USD2 form fee. The process is very easy. Turn up in the morning with your passport and one photo. Fill in a form (in Luang Prabang they do this for you) and come back in the afternoon for your extension.
Exchange rates at the airport are reasonably competitive with the prevailing outside rates, unlike other international airports.
Taxis into town cost about USD6, whether you are by yourself or with 3 other people. There is a taxi counter just outside the arrival hall.
By busThere are three bus stations, each a little bit out of the city, which serve different directions. Tuk-tuk drivers know which bus station to go to for which destination. Ask around for bus schedules.
Tickets can be bought at every travel agent in the city, which makes more sense than buying them at the bus station as there is only a difference of roughly 20,000 kip, which pays for the tuk-tuk from your accommodation to the bus station. Pick those agencies which absorb the shuttle ride from the fare quote as others do not. Compare quotes before booking. Book tickets in advance, particularly for VIP buses as they have reserved seats. You don't want to end up sitting next to the toilet.
- Chiang Mai - this bus direct to Chiang Mai costs 1,500 baht one-way. Total journey time is 18 hours. The bus will uses the new Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge from Huay Xai to Chiang Kong.
- Vang Vieng - the air conditioned VIP bus costs approximately 150,000 kip, the same price as the Vientiane bus. Minibuses leave from Vang Vieng at 09:00 and cost 100,000 kip. The minibus station is just north of the city. The trip takes 6-7 hours (not the 5 that travel agents advertise). Rte 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 with reclining seats costs 150,000 kip while an air-con VIP sleeper bus costs 165,000 kip if booked through an agent. Express buses (no air-con) bought at the station are 110,000 kip. Tickets purchased in Vientiane to Luang Prabang are more expensive than those purchased in Luang Prabang. A 12 hr trip, not 9 hr as they claim, a total of 13 hours including the 1 hr meal time.
- Muang Xay - takes about 5 hours. Costs 40,000 kip and points onward, such as Luang Namtha, are travelled by public minibus only. Big backpacks are carried on the roof. Reservations are usually not necessary. 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. Direct local bus via Muang Xay at 09:00. Otherwise take a bus to Muang Xay and switch there.
- Nong Khiaw - 3 hours away by public bus from the Northern Bus Station or 8-10 hr 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 (arriving at 24:00) or 17:00 (arriving at 08:00. A normal sleeping bus, not a 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 if purchased at an agent in town.
- Phonsavan - bus takes about 8 hours and costs 100,000 kip. Leaves Southern Bus Station around 08:00. Minibus takes around 6 hours and leaves at 09:00. 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.
- Hanoi by long distance bus (make sure you have the Vietnamese visa beforehand), 360,000 kip, 24 hours direct bus. If you require a Vietnamese visa, there is a Vietnamese Consulate in town that can issue visas (next day USD70). If heading to Hanoi, you can buy a ticket from a tour agent, or walk to the Southern Bus Station (30-min walk) and buy it yourself cheaper. You shouldn't buy the ticket at the station itself, but opposite the station you'll see some buses waiting and there will be an office of the Naluang Travel Company. They are the ones who operate the buses, so if you buy anywhere else the ticket will be more expensive. Also note that they claim to sell a ticket to Hanoi at the Northern Bus Station and for only 150,000 kip, but this will take you only to the border and then you'll be left at the mercy of the local drivers who can charge you any amount, since you're in the middle of nowhere. Don't mistake the Northern bus station with the Southern. to follow.
- Loei - This relatively new connection goes once a day to the province capital Loei in Thailand. Buses leave Loei at 08:00 an the return journey from Luang Prabang leaves at 07:00. The fare is 700 baht one way and journey time is approximately 10 hours. From Loei there are 4 overnight buses and one day bus to Bangkok. For those going directly from Luang Prabang to Bangkok this allows to bypass Vientiane.
BanNaluang Bus Station (South Bus Station)
|Sainyabuli||09:00, 14:00||60,000||5 hr||Bring a dust mask||Jun 2011|
|Phonsavan (Local)||08:30||80,000||Jun 2011|
|Phonsavan (air-con)||08:30||95,000||Jun 2011|
|Phonsavan (VIP)||08:30||105,000||Jun 2011|
|Vang Vieng (air-con)||09:30||90,000||6-7 hr||Jun 2011|
|Vang Vieng (VIP)||09:30||105,000||Jun 2011|
|Vientiane (Local)||06:30, 08:30, 11:00, 14:00, 16:30, 17:00, 18:30||110,000||Jun 2011|
|Vientiane (VIP)||08:00, 09:00 (?), 19:30, 20:30||145,000||12 hr||Jun 2013|
|Vinh (Vietnam)||W and Sa, 18:30||200,000||Jun 2011|
|Hanoi (Vietnam)||Daily except Th, 18:00||360,000||24 hr||May 2012|
By carHwy 13 connects Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng and Vientiane in the south and via Hwy 1 to the north. Hwy 13 is sealed and in relatively good shape during dry season all the way to Vientiane. Simply put, it is a long, bumpy and winding road trip. The road smacks of a lunar landscape and there are countless potholes due to poor quality surface, the top layer eroded to reveal the gravelly underlayer, which means a really bumpy ride. Although there have been incidents of violence along this stretch of road, it is now safe.
By boatBoats 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 (each day about 9 hours) by slow boat, or 6 bone-rattling hours by speedboat. There are also operators 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 11:00. The trip from Luang Prabang to Huay Xai costs at least 220,000 kip (Mar 2014), the trip to Luang Prabang from Huay Xai costs 900 baht (Sep 2011). The slow boat leaves Luang Prabang at about 08:30, from a pier that is 10 km away from the town centre (a tuk-tuk costs 50-60 baht per person) and arrives around 18:00 at Pakbeng. 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. Two day boats have comfortable (car) seats and it is no longer necessary to purchase any cushions. Arriving in Huay Xai, it's best to take a quick tuk-tuk from the border crossing to the city centre for 50 baht.
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 20-30 km/hr and offers nice views of nature and village life on the banks of the Mekong. Most of the passengers are foreign tourists. Occasional locals take the boat only for short hops between the riverside 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 for 20,000 kip.
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 you travel in a speedboat without this essential safety equipment. It is also recommended that you make your bags as waterproof or water-resistant as possible and wear a rain jacket. 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 or 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 Pak Beng. However, some consider this means of transportation less safe, especially in the dry season. Earplugs are strongly recommended. Those 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 320,000-370,000 kip. You will need a minivan to take you the 10 km north to the fast boat pier.
The third option is to take a luxury cruise. The major operators are Luang Say, Nagi of Mekong, and Shompoo. As of 2009, all operate two-day cruises to Hauy Xai that stop in Pakbeng for the night. 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 operators can be bought at most travel agents in town. Prices are approximately 220,000 kip for a slowboat, 280,000 kip for a speedboat. 3,000 kip for Luang Say, 1,200 kip for Nagi of Mekonand (both including a night in a hotel) and 640 kip for Shompoo (Nov 2011). There are some reports 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.
Arts and crafts
Ock Pop Tok Living Craft CentreAn informative free tour to all visitors. Operating as a fair trade 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. A free tuk-tuk departs daily from the Ock Pop Tok shop in the city at 10:00, 12:00 and 14:00, with other times possible by agreement.
Traditional Arts and Ethnology CentreThis small, but perfectly formed museum is dedicated to the ethnic cultures of Laos. Find out more about the groups that make Laos unique and enrich your visit to Luang Prabang. Closed on Mondays, and occasionally other times for exhibitions. Sept 2016- 25,000 kip per person. On site shop and cafe, with an outlet shop close to the Ock Pop Tok shop.
Local landmarks and culture
Alms Ceremonyaddress: Sisavangvong RdMonks at dawn collect 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. 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 this tradition as a means of making easy money. They sometimes sell unsuitable, stale and even unsafe food, resulting in monks falling ill after having consumed the offerings, Hence the growing resistance to continuing the tradition. The government, however, has made it clear that the monks must continue the custom or be replaced by lay persons clothed in saffron robes in order to keep up appearances, thereby maintaining tourist revenue. If you wish to participate in this ceremony, prepare the food or fruit yourself. Avoid giving food of dodgy quality. Another problem is the rampant photography: while a photo might look nice in your collection, think about how it must feel for the monks to have hundreds of tourists photographing them every day. Some lowlifes even stand next to the monks, blinding them with flashbulbs. Consider watching this old tradition from a distance instead of degrading it.
Haw KhamThe former royal palace, now a national museum. It is not a national history museum however. You pass through the state rooms and the private rooms of the royal family and can see the collection of official cars. No photos, videos, bags, or shoes allowed, free locker provided. Sometimes there is a play or dance performances in the adjacent theatre. In Aug 2011 for example, every M W F Sa, there was a performance at 18:30 of Search of Princess Sida, a royal ballet, with prices from 80,000 to 150,000 kip. Check the schedule and plan your visit accordingly.
Phou SiThe hill that dominates the city from which you have a good view of the whole area. It's not a very steep climb from the bottom. Sunrise and sunset are the most sensible and rewarding times to go. There is a near-panoramic view from the top. The ticket office closes at 18:30, so climbing to the top is virtually free afterwards, which gives you about 30 minutes before it gets dark. This is not the place to go however if you are looking for a romantic sunset with not so many other people around. In this case go to a remote section of the shoreline or book a sunset tour on a small boat.
Vat Xieng ToungThe oldest monastery in town and one of the most beautiful. One entrance is on the road along the Mekong, another on the by-lane off the main road.
Vipassana Temple and ParkThis golden temple, highly visible from Phou Si, is a shrine for Buddhists who practice Vipassana meditation.
Outside the cityWhile the tuktuk price for out of city sights is steep for couples or singles, keep asking. Some drivers might have been asked by others and will try to build a group.
Bear Rescue CentreOperated by the Free the bears charity with various enclosure for endangered Asiatic black bears, both Moon and Sun bears, that have been rescued from poachers. Small gift shop.
Kuang Si FallsA large multi-tiered waterfall, accessible by boat or truck hire. 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. Shared tuk-tuks charge about 30,000-50,000 kip (cheapest seems to be near slow boat pier, though you can get them for 40,000 kip near Joma Bakery). You may have to wait until the tuk-tuk fills up. Tuk-tuks are legally only allowed to take six people, and there is a checkpoint at the falls, so some drivers may try to get a 7th person in the front seat. Private tuk-tuk will cost you at least 150,000 kip, but you will need to bargain for some time; don't hesitate to start from 100,000 kip if the driver tells you 150,000 kip. Drivers may try to show you documents that quote 200,000 kip or more depending on driver. Just ignore this and insist. Try to go with 5 people and insist on 30,000 kip each. The driver should wait for 3-4 hours at the waterfall gate area. Make sure your 150,000 kip includes there and back. Bargain, bargain, bargain. Just remember that there are dozens of tuk-tuks around, so you have the advantage. If you lack companions, offer 30,000 kip and wait until he finds more passengers. A seat in a minibus costs 40,000 kip, more if booked through a travel agent.
Pak Ou CavesThe famous "Buddha caves" are north of the city on the Mekong and can be reached by road (approximately 1 hr) or river boat (around 1.5 hr). 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 Lao 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 effort. A torch is needed to see the upper cave. Simply cross the river at Pak Ou village for 13,000 kip per person (25,000 kip if you're the only one on the boat), walk up the hill and turn right, crossing the school grounds, to find your way to the caves. Motorcycle parking at Pak Ou village 5,000 kip.
Tad Sae WaterfallsTiered waterfalls which are not as big as Kuang Xi, but very beautiful. You can bathe there and elephant rides are available.
Big Brother MouseA worthwhile organisation devoted to encouraging literacy in young adults. Depending on sponsorship and volunteers, it welcomes tourists 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 if you travel through Laos. They have another branch in Vientiane.
Fair Trek ProjectPeople who love activities and treks may find some interesting interactive tours which are designed to support villages outside of Luang Prabang in the north of Laos.
Hike or bike acorss the river in ChompetHike or bicycle alongside the river through a few small Hmong villages and past a few temples (10,000 kip admission) and a cave. Beware the children at the temples with the ticket-takers, especially at the temple with the white stairs leading to the water opposite Luang Prabang. They will swarm over tourists' backpacks, and money will later be found missing. Enquiries to police and village officials will not be fruitful. Island map
Lao Red Cross Saunaaddress: Wisunarat RdA traditional Lao sauna and massage, very popular with locals in the afternoon.
Lenou's Libraryphone: +856 71 254 813address: Sisavangvong RoadA great way to experience Lao village life without a tour bus. The owner started a library and children's English tutoring centre in his house a few years ago and since has been steadily expanding services with help from volunteers. Lenou sometimes organises dinners on the Num Ou river by request and generally seems to appreciate a helping hand.
Rent a motorbikeAlthough prices are high by Southeast Asian standards, 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. Normal practice is the rental company retains your passport, so make sure they know when you leave and how to recover your passport. Choose the rental agency carefully, keep the motorcycle safe and take your own lock. Some rental agencies, particularly Khamsay, have been widely accused of stealing bikes after they rent them out to tourists, then demanding USD2,500 compensation from the tourist. Research bike rentals thoroughly before choosing one.
phone: +856 20 58199216An alternative tour experiences platform, they enable locals to offer authentic and unique activities to tourists such as silk weaving, wood carving workshops, paper stenciling, traditional music instruments and courses to make a knife or crossbow with local craftsmen. A social enterprise, they work with many underprivileged people who either serve as hosts or facilitators. The facilitators will pick you up from your hotel and translate for you. These facilitators are usually young students looking for work to pay for their education. Transport is provided for most activities in Luang Prabang.
phone: +856 71 252 417address: Sisavangvong RoadIt has 14 elephants. They are kept away from abusive work and cared by veterinarians, and seem well looked after and relaxed. Offers basic elephant rides, or 1 or 2 day mahout course where you learn the commands to control the elephant. You also get to wash the elephants in the Namkhan River which is a lot of fun.
phone: +856 20 5928 55552 cruises on the Mekong with full meals featuring Lao delicacies. Pak Ou Cave cruise goes upstream & includes a visit to the "1000 Buddhas cave" (entrance fee included) and a whisky village, where passengers are given enough time to visit. Sunset cruise goes downstream & includes a traditional music and dance show. The company strives to be socially responsible & make sure to hire locals from the villages around Luang Prabang, making the experience more authentic & positive for everybody.
Cooking classesThis is an enjoyable way to gain insights into Lao culinary methods and traditions. There are four substantial cooking class providers in the city, using Lao chefs and instructors. They differ somewhat in style and content, but all include transport, information about Lao cuisine, and eating the dishes afterwards.
phone: +856 20 5696 8889Located in a village near rice paddy field and bamboo plantation. Not only you'll learn to cook Lao dishes using bamboo shoots as the main ingredient, but as well you'll learn what can be made out of bamboo, play with bamboo stilts, crossbow, attend a small music+dance show by a Hmong man, get a weaving lesson with a local craftsman & make your own small souvenir.
phone: +856 20 77770484Lovely gardens by the water a short ride from the city.
phone: +856 71 254670They offer day and evening courses. For day class, there are 2 mandatory plus 5 optional dishes to choose from (choose only 3) for a total of 5 dishes plus demonstrations only on how to cook sticky rice and Lao chili paste (very good). Variation is not much as 4 of the 7 dishes presented require eggs (standard class). Instruction is no-nonsense and very fast paced, but Mr Lee, the instructor, is very helpful. It starts with demonstration, then hands on. All the dishes made are eaten, so it may be useful to bring a cooking and eating partner.
Tum Tum Chengphone: +856 71 252019Classes have more of a demonstration orientation, with participants helping instructors with various tasks. 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.
Living Land FarmOffers a "rice experience" tour, or you can just stop by this farm. If you visit without a tour, they will still show you around the farm, pointing out the organic vegetables and rice and showing you the traditional tools they use to process rice.
Money changers/exchange For Malaysians, it is best to change money to baht, where the rate is RM10=100 baht or more, then change the baht to kip in Laos. This is because they give not so good rates in Laos for Malaysian ringgit.
There are a number of money changers who generally do not offer good rates, and are either on Sisavangvong Rd or in the permanent markets further east. One is next to the ATM near the Night Markets, another is about 50 m further north along the street, in 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 use 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 a different exchange rate than posted. Even after complaining it's not possible to cancel the transaction.
The Night Market (on Sisavangvong Road) caters to tourists with every kind of souvenir you could want and closes at about 22:00. Particularly good are the duvet covers, cushion covers, and pillow sets. They can even make one up to your dimensions by the next day. 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 children to the elderly who usually make crafts, art, and goods by themselves. Good-natured bargaining is advisable, but don't obsess over this and ruin your experience as well as giving the trader a bad day. The quality and design of goods is lower in the market than in the legions of increasingly chic stores in the city. 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 and other animal products. This is the best place to buy lower end souvenirs and hone your bargaining skills.
Laotian aesthetic sense is quite evolved. For instance check out some of the higher end stores:
phone: +856 71 253219address: 73/5 Ban Vat Nong, with a shop in the cityAn ethical trading company with superb galleries. Also run classes and visits to village weaving facilities.
BooksSeveral book stores that sell photocopies to unsuspecting travellers operate in the area. It's worth checking copies as pages can be unreadable or even missing.
Tamnak Lao Restaurant Book ExchangeA 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.
During lunch break or siesta time, which starts 12:00 to 13:30, the dry summer sun can be scorching. To spend time comfortably while waiting for the sun to mellow at around 15:30, hang around at the public library across from the National Museum about 4 or 5 buildings down from the US-sponsored reading room. There are old English language newspapers still in circulation. Or better still, surf the net for free from the six Internet stations.
Stalls along an alleyway between the night market end of Sisavangvong Rd and the Mekong offers superb Lao street food at bargain prices. Grilled salted catfish is available for 15,000 kip per fish, other types of fish for 20,000. For a somewhat spicy salad for about 10,000 kip, look for vendors with containers filled with cucumber, lime, tomato and sliced green papaya, where they will mix it on the spot with mortar and pestle. If you order BBQ meat from one of the vendors opposite the tables, they will heat it up for you over the charcoal, and you can grab a seat at one of the tables to eat. The tables are quite crowded; it is easier to get a seat later in the evening, after 20:30 or so. The entry to the alley is by the vegan restaurant near the food stall end of the night market, near the traffic circle where the tuk-tuk touts hang out.
Typical prices for Beerlao is 12,000 kip for a large bottle and 8,000 kip for a small, which generally are standard throughout the country. Most riverside places offer the same prices for beer and similar food, although prices for food can vary wildly. Shop around and don't be shy about asking prices if anything is unclear.
Probably the most recommended food is the Lao version of fried spring roll, vegetable at 3,000 kip or pork at 5,000 kip per piece.
Be careful of buying the bundles of dried seafood snack if you have the knack for it, the texture is like chewing salty paper.
Local specialities include:
- French baguettes and other bakery items. Generally very good.
- 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
Bamboo RestaurantCheap Lao food. Popular spot for the expats and GVI volunteers.
Le BannetonAmazing, authentic French bread, tarts, pastries and cakes. Their pain au chocolat are buttery and delicious. Go in the morning as they often run out in the afternoon.
Big Tree CafeConsistently good Western and Korean food. Under the big tree on the Mekong River. Good service and free Wi-Fi.
phone: +856 71 253698Offers Luang Prabang-Lao dishes and Swiss classics as well as a variety of snacks and fresh salads.
Boulevard RestaurantAl fresco restaurant at the New Daraphet Villa. 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 draught Tiger beer and a great atmosphere for meeting new friends from the guesthouses along the street.
Eisgarten German CafeOwned by a German couple, the cafe is a nondescript house with a tiny sign board. It is easy to miss but do look out for it. The homemade ice cream is absolutely divine at 10,000 kip per scoop. The apple cinnamon and coconut flavours are stand outs. Customers dine al fresco in their yard so bring adequate protection from mosquitoes, particularly in the evenings.
Khao Soi Street StallLuang Prabang Khao Soi street food. Opens around 17:00. Southwest end of night market.
L'ElephantA lovely restaurant with a mix of Lao and French foods. The food is extremely good, but has its price. Ingredients are of the highest quality, ranging from French Camembert to Laotian lemongrass and river weeds. The menu is both pricey and some items do not justify the price tag. Great ambience.
address: Phommathat RoadItalian or local food. Particularly good are the Parmesan aubergine, pork lasagna, fresh pasta with mushroom and truffles, and the tiramisú. Big garden (with a Fiat), big room with air-con and nice terrace on the street with free Wi-Fi. Happy hour with Aperol Spritz and wine for 50,000 kip, and buy one get one free.
Hmong Night MarketOne food stall says vegetarian and the other "végétalien" (vegan). Approximately 5,000 kip for a plate. Popular with budget travellers, but not an option for those looking for tasty food. Cash only. Eat at your own risk as hygiene is questionable.
phone: +856 71 255021address: Kingkitsarath Road 10The only Belgian restaurant/bar in Luang Prabang. Excellent price/quality food. It has an appealing range of Belgian beer, cocktails and wine. Known for its lasagna, stews and curries. Recommended for vegetarians. A green bamboo garden with fairy lights confers a pleasant ambience. Attentive staff.
Indochina SpiritExcellent Lao and Thai food. Great value. Everything is tasty, but try the minced fish and aubergines. Has old, stuffy, and a not so pleasant odor at the interior tables.
Joma Bakery Cafephone: +856 71 252292Free Wi-Fi, air-con on both floors and free full-menu delivery service from 07:00-19:30. Great music and friendly staff.
Lao Lao GardenAttractively designed bar/restaurant notable for its Lao-style barbecue. You cook meat on a barbecue mounted in the centre of the table. A backpacker favourite and 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.
Nisha RestaurantPopular Indian/Tamil food. Great vegetarian/vegan options but serves (halal) meat as well.
Un Petit Nid-Biblio BistroVery relaxing bistro serving excellent Lao and Western food in a nice atmosphere. Try the orlam with spicy wood. Good vegetarian menu.
Rosella Fusion RestaurantClean and well-cooked food. A small place (blink, and you'll miss it) that looks like a fruit shake place. Locally owned by Lao man who trained at Amantaka Restaurant. Possibly the best steaks in town, certainly great cocktails. Slow service, but worth it.
Saffron CaffèExcellent coffee. It comes from the surrounding mountains. The banana shake macchiato is recommended. Delicious fresh baked goods such as their cinnamon swirls and banana muffins go quickly. Granola and salad wraps are good.
Sala CaféNice place with a view of the Nam Khan River. This restaurant-bar is an open air terrace where you can relax while trying homemade Vietnamese, French, and Lao specialities. Some think it expensive, but quality has its price.
Scandinavian BakeryGood Western breakfasts and burgers. Food must be paid for before eating.
Shakes & CrepesA no-name place serving delicious shakes for 5,000 kip and fantastic sweet crepes starting at 7,000 kip.
TamarindSpecialises 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.
Viewpoint Café and Restaurantphone: +856 71 254900address: Mekong Riverside Rd, Xieng Thong VillageHigh quality Lao and Western food.
Luang Prabang's status means that curfews are strictly enforced here. Bars start winding down at 23:00 and close at 23:30 sharp. The only late-night options permitted are outside the main part of town, a discothèque 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'EtrangerDownstairs 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 19:00. A tad greedy and unfriendly on the book exchange business.
Hive Baraddress: Phousi RdEstablished and highly popular watering hole, with cosy brick-lined rooms and an outside terrace. Notable for their ethnic fashion shows at 19:00 most days of the week and their range of Lao Lao cocktails.
Lao Lao Garden and the adjacent Lao Lao Baraddress: Phousi RdPopular 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 BarThe 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 rainy season.
Morning Glory CafeRun by a laid-back couple. Thai and Western food. Good wine, by the glass. Garden seating. Temple in front and street life can be enjoyed.
UtopiaAims 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, great venue and a laid back crowd, very popular and a good place to meet other backpackers. Free Wi-Fi. When they close everyone is pushed out into tuk-tuks headed for a bowling alley quite a way outside of town (rumored to be run by the Mafia) where the party continues.
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 at USD1,500 per night.
Don't expect though that the whole kit and kaboodle that you can find in Vietnam or Cambodia, air-con, cable TV, Internet, can be found in LP for USD12.
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 Wi-Fi is quite common in budget guesthouses.
Chitlathda GuesthouseHas two wings with decent clean doubles 40,000 kip. Triple room 50,000 kip. Free Wi-Fi and water.
Cold River GuesthouseRun by a local family. It's on the Khan River. Free filtered water and bananas are available. On Saturdays they serve a free home-cooked dinner.
Halolao Backpackersaddress: 222 Ban That LuangBasic clean rooms with fan, cold and warm water, good window mosquito nets. Staff are friendly and helpful. Free coffee and tea in the morning. Free Wi-Fi in lobby and sometimes in rooms (bad coverage).
Oudalon GuesthouseBasic double rooms starting from 80,000 kip (Feb 2017) Free (very slow and spotty) Wi-Fi. The building is an old-style two-storey affair, with old creaky wooden floors. Prepare to be awakened early by cockerels and the staff/owners' screaming children. Anyone seeking anything more private or personal would do well to find something else. The owner is also a colossal jerk that hates all Americans (and who knows what other countries) based on one bad guest a long time ago.
Levady GuesthouseNice family, wooden rooms and floor, bike rentals, tidy. Double rooms with fan and private bathroom. No Wi-Fi.
Luang Prabang Backpackers GuesthouseClean and comfortable dorm beds (includes free breakfast and coffee). The guesthouse is run by a nice local family who, if you're lucky, will occasionally provide you with delicious Lao BBQ and Lao whisky. Free Wi-Fi, cable TV and filtered water.
phone: +856 71 254859, +856 20 55671180address: 2/16 Wat That RdA traditional Lao-style home with 3 upstairs rooms, all with self-contained baths and a new cheap room downstairs with a shared bath. Free Wi-Fi, drinking water, and regularly bananas or other fruit. Laundry, coffee, breakfast and bicycle rental. There is a dress shop in front where you can have clothes made, repaired or altered.
Merry GuesthouseFree filtered water and bananas are available. Not so merry though, the options further down the alley (Cold River and Sysomphone) are more appealing.
Meunena Backpacker Hostelphone: +856 71 260851,Lockers, free Wi-Fi, Lao whisky, coffee, tea and bananas.
phone: +856 2054240644address: 2/15 Wat That RoadA local and her Malaysian husband manage the guest house. The place is clean, spacious and comfortable, and has a small cafe that serves Lao and Malaysian food.
Phasith GuesthouseOne of Luang Prabang's best bargain places to stay at for a large room with air conditioning. Most comparable rooms in Luang Prabang cost 200,000 kip a night or more. All rooms are bright, airy and have a balcony. Right around the corner from Utopia Bar, Lao Lao, and the Hive Lounge Bar in the upscale nightlife area. Five min walk from the Night Market. Free Wi-Fi, free coffee/tea. Kola, the owner, is a nice man who speaks English well and is always glad to help guests.
Sean Sa Ngop Guest HouseBasic double bed rooms with hot shower, fan, Sky TV, mosquito nets.
Somjith Guesthousephone: +856 71 252756, +856 20 77774883Clean rooms with attached or shared bathroom, fan or air-con, free Wi-Fi (but a bit unreliable), laundry service 8,000 kip/kg.
address: 252-543 Banvisoun 22/4 StHas a good view of Nam Khan River behind the guesthouse and is around a 10 min walk to Sisavangvong Rd. Friendly and helpful family/owner. Free bananas, water, and Wi-Fi. Owner has good info, prepares a free dinner once a week for guests, has sticky rice if you stumble across dinner, collects guests' photographs in an album, and shares things he knows about the Lao people or the country if you ask. Rooms with shared hot-water bathrooms. A newer, cleaner building in the back has fresher rooms for 70,000 kip.
VannaPhone GuesthouseAcceptably sized rooms with fairly small bathrooms. The rooms located close to the street are noisy, but the new backrooms are OK.
Vong Champa GuesthouseIn a small alley on the Mekong riverfront near the night market. Cheap, quiet, new and spotlessly clean.
Vongphachanh GuesthouseNicely decorated clean rooms at a decent price, free Wi-Fi. Fairly quiet.
Xayana Guesthouse and X³ Capsule HotelGuesthouse in a Lao-style villa in the protected zone. Clean dorms with bathroom/showers inside. Movies are shown in the evening. Extra services are quite expensive: storage of valuables in a safe for 20,000 kip, laundry service 18,000 kip. There are cheaper laundry services nearby.
Bouakham Chanthasack GuesthouseHigh-end guesthouse on the Mekong riverfront near the night market. All rooms have baths and air conditioning, clean and nice.
Hotel De Lyon24-room hotel built in "Lao-colonial" style. Free airport and city shuttles.
address: Phu Vao RdModern hotel in an old protected Chinese-style building. Flat-screen TVs, free airport transfers.
Kamu LodgeThis lodge is in an ethnic Kamu village. It purports to offer a sustainable and socially responsible tourism concept.
address: Ban PakhamA rather nice accommodation with a quiet courtyard, close to both the Mekong and the night market. Air-con, hot water, 24/7 free tea and drink water, free Wi-Fi. They offer limited possibilities to buy tickets to other cities. Be aware that the rooms on the ground floor have virtually no daylight.
Manichan GuesthouseCentrally located, new and clean in green, peaceful environment. "Lao-colonial" -style house with wooden floors and homey feel rooms. Private and shared baths with hot, separate showers. Free coffee corner. Has a balcony with city view. Belgian-Lao management. Air-con an optional extra USD4.
Merry Swiss LaoNear Mt Phousi, not on the main street side, but the other side. Rooms have private bath and air conditioning.
New Daraphet VillaTraditional Lao villa in the heritage zone which has been turned into a boutique hotel. Large terraces and lots of flowers. Airport transfer included.
Prasith Guesthousephone: +856 71 260420address: Chaosisouphan RdLocal family-run guesthouse in a well-kept restored old building. Central location. The nicely decorated clean rooms have en suite baths with either balconies or gardens attached. Free Wi-Fi, bottled water, bananas provided. Family is friendly and invites guests to join them when they make family trips to local attractions.
Rama HotelHigher-end guesthouse. Hot water shower and air con. This hotel is quiet with a little traffic noise until about 23:00.
address: 70 Thammikarat RdThere are lots of good guesthouses along here. This one is good value for a double en suite room with breakfast included. There's a good laundrette just opposite the entrance.
Soutikkone GuesthouseCentral location near the night market and an Indian restaurant. Large, clean rooms with a very hot shower, good Western-style toilet and mosquito netting on the windows/door. Very nice wooden floorboards as well. The staff speak English.
phone: +856 20 55 080 903address: Souliyavongsa Road, Khem KhongFamily guesthouse close to the main attractions. Each morning at dawn, the orange-dressed Buddhist monks walk just a few metres away from the terrace for the alms-giving ceremony.
address: Ban Visoun, Chao Chomphou RdThis converted family villa is on the bank of the Nam Khan River. Only 10 min walk to the night market and historic centre. Rooms with riverview & family rooms available.
Villa KiengkhamNice, clean, comfortable hotel with friendly staff.
Villa Meung LaoGuesthouse in the city centre, close to the Royal Palace and the morning market. Rooms offer air-con, TV, Wi-Fi (unreliable) and free water.
phone: +856 20 58777038Surrounded by protected area, mountains and pristine forests. 12 km from Luang Prabang. Guided and self-guided walks to waterfalls and ethnic villages. Mountain bikes available. Has a very nice swimming pool. Charming double and twin bungalows in the tropical garden, and a family bungalow. Organic garden, restaurant with homemade food.
AmantakaLuxury resort. Set in a large garden estate and housed in graceful French colonial buildings just south of Phousi Hill. Airy and elegant throughout, the décor and furnishings reflect the city's French colonial history.
Ancient Luang PrabangOn the doorstep of the night market, which is a mixed blessing. A nice, authentic view, but prepare for vendors packing up stalls at 01:00 with the windows being as soundproof as paper. Rooms not quite up to scratch for this price: no shower curtain and cleverly designed taps ensure a wet floor. However, clean and comfortable. Friendly staff and no cost for airport transfer.
phone: +856 71 254670address: Kingkitsarath RdA quite wonderful hotel in a restored colonial building overlooking the Khan River. 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.
The GrandAn 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. During the winter season, breakfast is served outdoors on a terrace with spectacular views of the Mekong River and the surrounding hills as they emerge from the morning mist.
KiridaraBeautiful hotel on the outskirts of the city, with views overlooking Mt Phou Si and the hills surrounding Luang Prabang. The relatively large rooms offer very comfortable beds. The infinity swimming pool has great views, and sometimes masseuses from the spa will offer complimentary 5-min massages to people lounging by the pool. The spa offers a range of massages and herbal steam baths. Small gym on-site.
phone: +856 71 255050A 15-room Lao-colonial villa in the quiet area of the UNESCO precinct. The clean rooms, decorated by local artisans, are centred around a lush tropical garden, includes breakfast and Internet/Wi-Fi.
Maison Souvannaphoum HotelAn 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.
Mekong River ViewA beautiful boutique hotel with personal touches, on the tip of the peninsula, at the very end of the old town, in the UNESCO World Heritage Area. The view you have from the rooms and café/restaurant is the meeting of the Mekong River and Nam Khan Rivers. The hotel is quiet and peaceful with the beautiful former royal temple Wat Xienthong as your neighbour.
La Residence Phou VaoThis resort sits amid landscaped grounds and gardens, and has picturesque views over Phou Si and the 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.
Les 3 Nagas HotelNice 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 cockerel that sings every morning at the hotel at about 03:00. The attitude of the owner has put off some guests who report this in forums.
Villa MalyBoutique hotel that is a former royal residence. The property is a blend of traditional Laotian architecture with echoes of its French colonial past. Internet and breakfast included.
phone: +856 71 252157address: Sakkarine RdVilla-style resort, good restaurant, with a terribly mosquito infested pool. Massage and spa service.
Villa Le TamTamSuperior guest house in a quiet street just a minute walk from the city centre. Excellent service and peaceful atmosphere. Full breakfast included.
phone: +856 20 58 553 133Beautiful, peaceful jungle resort 15 km outside of the city. Colonial style bungalows with great views of the Nam Khan and mountains beyond. Good food and many activities offered. In the mornings, you can see elephants bathe in the river. Supports local villages.
phone: +856 71 252 124address: 11 Phouvao Road3.5 stars hotel. 20 classic rooms, 10 superior rooms. While the story of Parasol Blanc started in 1885 and King Sisavang Phoulivong, the hotel is very recent and rooms are super modern. Friendly & multilingual staff (English & French especially). Bicycles lent for free. Rooms with a private balcony overlooking a tropical garden and a lotus pond, protected by the UNESCO Free Zone. Cable TV. Plugs everywhere. Substantial, diverse & delicious breakfast (including baguette, croissants, Nutella, Vegemite, fresh fruits, Lao delicacies) 06:30-22:00.
HydratingBe sure to buy a small (or big depending on your needs) backpacking-sized plastic bottled water, and don't throw it away, then refill it as you go along from your hotel's/guesthouse's or tour agent's office water dispenser. They are ubiquitous and one should not consider water expenses in the budget.
If you can't find one along the backpackers' area, go to the lobby of the Phra Lang Phra Lao, a separate building besides the National Museum, beyond the huge King Sisavangvong statue, and re-supply. The water dispenser is at the right hand side at the far end of the corner from the entry door. There is also an available toilet with no charge. Or ask at any shop or agent.