If you’ve crossed over the border from northern Thailand into Laos, your likely first stop will be in the city of Luang Prabang – or literally “Royal Buddha Image”. The town is located at the junction of the Nam Khan River and the Mekong River with a backdrop of limestone cliffs, numerous temples and French architecture lining the streets. It’s a great place to unwind, relax and eat until your stomach hurts after the long journey from Thailand.
We are pleased to find that not only are guesthouses cheaper here than Thailand, but they are also nicer. Most rooms consist of dark hardwood floors with cream coloured walls and bedding, hot showers and free wi-fi – all for around $6 CA for two people.
As Laos was a French colony for many years until the end of WWII, remainders of French influence are everywhere. From baguettes being sold on street corners, and French bakeries outnumbering Asian cuisine, you won’t go hungry in Laos.
A great way to explore the town is to rent a bicycle for the day. Most of the temples and attractions are only a short pedal away. The main temple, Wat Cho Sim, sits on a hill in the middle of town and provides great views of the city at sunset. There are a dozen or so other temples all within easy walking or biking distance of the center.
Luang Prabang lights up in the evening as the main street is closed for the nightly street market and restaurants light up there terraces. A great hidden gem to spend at evening is Utopia. It’s a bit of a walk down a few back alleys, but well signed all the way. The restaurant/bar is right on the river and offers excellent food and drink options, and several different areas to crash and watch the river float by. Another favourite as listed by the Lonely Planet, is Laos Garden. From the walkway up into the outdoor restaurant the place expands and offers several different seating areas, each of which can be turned into your personal BBQ station as you cook traditional Laos meat and vegetables.
If you’re looking to cool off after too much sun, hire a tuk-tuk to take you to Kuang Si Falls. Although it’s hard to beat Erawan falls in Thailand, this comes pretty close. It’s a multi-tiered waterfall with several different spots for great photo opportunities. Once you’ve walked up as high as you want to venture, head back to the base pools for a refreshing dip in the cool waters. The entrance fee is 20,000 kip per person, and you can generally jump on a tuk-tuk with a group for about 50,000 kip return.
With a bumpy seven hour bus ride to Vang Vieng ahead, it’s hard to leave the comforts and beauty of Luang Prabang behind.