My Thoughts On Visiting Luang Prabang, Laos

Several days ago I shared my thoughts on visiting Siem Reap, Cambodia, which I enjoyed immensely. Angkor Wat was fascinating to see in person, the people were extremely friendly, and most things were cheap. The town of Siem Reap itself was reasonably nice, though frankly didn’t really stand out to me much. It felt like many other secondary Southeast Asian cities.

siem-reap

After Siem Reap we visited Luang Prabang in Laos where we are now. I don’t know too many people who have been to Laos — Nick was there a couple of years ago and said it was one of his favorite cities, so I was curious to see for myself.

I knew the entire city of Luang Prabang belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage list, so I was especially curious to see what it was like.

After having been here for a few days I can say that this is one of my new favorite cities in Asia. Typically when I visit a new city in Asia I can at least draw comparisons to other cities, though this place is different than the rest. What stands out to me?

The activities around Luang Prabang are awesome

For our first couple of days in Laos we didn’t even tour the city, as we had planned excursions outside of town.

We took an all day tour down the Mekong on a private boat (for Ford’s birthday), which was incredible.

luang-prabang-mekong

We visited some amazing caves with thousands of Buddha statues.

luang-prabang-caves

We spent an entire day playing with elephants.

luang-prabang-elephant

We visited some picturesque waterfalls.

luang-prabang-waterfalls

Perhaps most amazing of all was how few tourists there were. In most places in Southeast Asia you’d be competing with thousands of tourists at popular sites, while here you’re competing with dozens of tourists at most.

When we arrived at the waterfall our guide apologized about how full it was, given that locals visit on weekends as well. My response was simply “this is considered full?!”

The town of Luang Prabang is incredible

Here’s why Luang Prabang belongs to the UNESCO list:

Luang Prabang is an outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its unique, remarkably well-preserved townscape illustrates a key stage in the blending of these two distinct cultural traditions.

I think that sums it up perfectly. The town of Luang Prabang itself is incredible. On one block you’ll feel like you’re in any other Southeast Asian city, while on another block you’ll almost feel like you’re on a side street in Paris. Most streets feel like a blend between the two.

The French influence is also what makes the town so fun. There are so many great restaurants with fun vibes, and so many of them have fusion cuisine.

To mark the end of Buddhist Lent, this morning we went into town before sunrise to watch the alms giving ceremony. While this is a regular thing, apparently it was even bigger than usual given that it was the end of lent. Hundreds of monks marched the street collecting food. Watching that (and even participating) was so cool.

luang-prabang-monks

luang-prabang

Bottom line

While we’ve only been here for a few days, I already can’t recommend Luang Prabang enough, and am surprised it’s not more popular yet. It’s an Asian city unlike any other I’ve been to. Not only is the town itself vibrant, but there’s so much to do in the surrounding area. On top of that the people are friendly and honest, and most things are very reasonably priced.

Perhaps the one downside for many is the lack of hotel options that can be booked with points… though perhaps that’s part of the charm of the city as well. While not cheap, Luang Prabang has a Belmond, an Aman, and a Sofitel, which are the best places to stay.

Comments

  1. Agree – we were there a couple years ago (also coming from Siam Reap), and it is still one of our favorite places. Having an evening drink at a restaurant overlooking the Mekong was really thought-provoking. So beautiful, but with a history of such violence.

  2. Ha. I see people complaining all the time in places like FT that LP is over-run with tourists these days and it’s nothing like what it used to be. I spent a few days back in LP last December. I think being there in October is still pretty much low season/rainy season. December/January are more crowded I believe.

    I really enjoy it there as well. I like that you can easily walk from one end of town to the other relatively quickly. It’s got such a quiet, laid-back vibe. Aren’t most of the brand name hotels located outside of the peninsula? There are lots of little guest houses in the town proper.

  3. the rest of Laos is worth a visit as well. Vientiane doesn’t have a whole lot to recommend it, but I also spent a couple of days cruising the Mekong in southern Laos on the Vat Phou and then a couple more seeing the sights around Bolaven Plateau. Very quiet places in general. I think Laos could be a big “eco-tourism” destination.

  4. Good to read your comments about this wonderful little SE Asian city & good timing too, since I already have booked a trip for next year to both SIem Reap, Luang Prabang & Hanoi staying at guest houses. I know some friends who have visited but in high season (NOV-FEB) and was told that LP can get pretty festive, especially ‘Pub Street’. I think you lucked out & had it almost all to yourselves, In any case, I bet it was a memorable birthday for Ford.. Congrats!

  5. Congratulations Ben and Ford on finding one of the closest places on are planet that can be considered Shangri-la. Luang Prabang is not a city it is a very special town. It’s spiritual Buddhism and its people show kindness and happiness in all aspects of daily life. Elizabeth Gilbert has written on how LP is a place that she truly loves above all others. Reading your post is somewhat alarming in that those who live or have visited LP know that to keep it special is not to see it’s beauty and its people’s spirituality get overrun my the ugliness of modern day commercialism. If you do fall in love with LP, maybe like TPG’s Ghana charity, you can help by starting or contributing to a charity to help its wonderful people continue to keep LP a very special oasis in our world.

  6. Staying in the city also adds another layer of charm just walking around the cool city. There are some nice b&b type places and really amazing temples. Plus some really good and reasonably priced food. Plus the hike to the top of Mt Fusi was neat.

  7. I was there in 2001. It still looks lovely in your photos. I enjoyed it immensely too. Glad you did too.

  8. Visited a few years ago in Feb a few chilly nights. The outdoor restaurant seating was kept cozy by charcoal braziers at our feet. A local bus to vietniame provided bumpy sightseeing. Country well wirth visiting

  9. I enjoyed the 3 days I spent in Luang Prabang back in April. I would highly recommend going back in the spring, as the Kuang Si waterfalls are the epitome of “less is more.” Unfortunately, during the rainy season, the waters become muddy and the flow is too high. I spent basically and entire day photographing, hiking and swimming, and would love to go back.

  10. Go visit the plain of jars near the ho chi minh trail.The lack of tourists will make luang probang in the low season seem as crowded as tokyo.Also try to take a cooking class if you want to learn about lao cuisine.

  11. I strongly recommend Luang Say Residence. Amazing general manager and staff, and great rooms. Walking distance to town, or you can use complimentary bikes. Wonderful place.

  12. When we arrived in Luang Prabang in 2010, we had come straight from Hanoi. I had just become comfortable crossing the streets with 15 cars heading towards me. On our first walk in Luang Prabang with our guide, he couldn’t believe I just started crossing the street without waiting for the cars to pass. There was only one car, lol. It was like Heaven after Vietnam!

  13. I love LP.
    Other highlights there were

    1. the nightly street markets are among the best in Asia
    2.The temple on the hilltop in centre of town gives great views
    3. Charming Palace on main street
    4.Visiting the bear sanctuary near those waterfalls
    5.Riding elephants and riding the zipline over those falls.
    6. Visiting the nearby Hmong village
    7. Our hotel was accessed via a temporary bamboo bridge over the Mekong…complete with tollbooth !!

  14. it was good to read your positive review of LP … we’re thinking of visiting soon, after silkair starts flying there later this month, so it was useful to read about the things you did.

  15. Thank you for the great post! I can’t wait until we get to LP next week. It appears that we are unintentionally following your route. We leave PBH on Thursday for REP transiting through BKK. 3 days in REP at the Le’Meridien then on to LP for 3 days at Aman. Unfortunately its then time for the journey back. CX BKK-HKG-JFK-TPA

  16. Luang Prabang is indeed divine. Having first visited in 2000, like Siem Reap it is definitely not what it was then but it’s still relatively untouristy by comparison to other cities & countries. It’s also developing events like writers and film festivals, not to mention their own cultural events which are always a great time to visit. I quite like staying in town near the river but now there is accommodation at pretty much every level.

    Sadly Laos is also the most bombed country in history thanks to the US dropping literally planeloads of bombs 24 hours a day for the 9 Years of the Vietnam War due to its sparse population & location. A terrible legacy and a great reason to support them with our tourist & charitable dollars today.

    A really special place to visit if you are in South East Asia

  17. Thanks for this! I’ve missed this the handful of times I’ve been in SEA. I’m glad you’re having a great time.

  18. I agree with your review of Luang Prabang – it is one of the most relaxed and beautiful towns in South East Asia! And while it has gotten more busy since my first visit in 2002, it is still far from crowded today.
    I have stayed at the Sofitel – and it is fantastic (here’s my review: http://dreamtravelonpoints.com/2016/05/luxury-hotel-in-the-most-peaceful-town-in-the-world-sofitel-luang-prabang-laos/).
    It’s a little out of town and I’d recommend to stay in town at least for a few days – the Accor 3Nagas is very nice and there are a number of very good independent hotels as well for $60-150 and guesthouses for less!

  19. Really enjoyed Luang Prabang two years ago when we spent one of the most memorable New Year’s Eves there ever. Travelled exstensively through out Laos, a beautiful country with friendly people. But my favourite place is undoubtedly the capital city of Vientiane. It is a bustling, working city with incredible charm, great restaurants, an interesting library, fascinating museums, wide tree lined boulevards and lots going on. The warm, friendly every day working people of Vientiane are wonderful. You have to go there.

  20. Going to Luang Prabang and staying at international chain hotel instead of local charm is really beyond my reach.

  21. Went there about 10 years ago — an underappreciated city to visit. Loved every minute of it. We stayed at La Residence Phou Vau up on the hill. It was excellent and had a fabulous infinity pool as well as the opportunity to take a cooking class with a chef there. The best food was at the night market — I wish i could replicate the fish they cook over the fire on the bamboo skewers.

    Does this mean a Lao Airlines review in the works? At the time, their motto was “you’re safe with us”, which made me think the last thing I was with them was safe. But I think Air France came in and improved their safety.

  22. A good and welcomed read. I currently live in Thailand and travelling with family to LB this Sunday for a few days. Your information is useful and will plan the out of town trips as you mentioned. Enjoy rest of your trip.

  23. Ben when you become spiritual every place you visit will be different than it is now and most certainly a place like Luang Prabang.

    Our only concern in LP was the China money flowing down into the town which could eventually detract from the spiritualism of it.

    There are many other places on God’s planet (its not really ours we are indeed renting the space), to visit and experience from the spiritual perspective. Then this globe is as never seen before !

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