You can fly in.
You can slow boat in from the north or the south on the Mekong.
Perhaps VIP bus it in or if you have the spondollies availablet then a private driver could be the way in – bus or driver, be ready for a ride with a few hair pin bends along the way.
Which ever way you arrive into this UNESCO World Heritage listed town, there is a relaxed laid back vibe awaiting you. Nothing is done in a hurry in this UNESCO town so best put the brakes to slowly take it in.
Where to stay
This is where we made a slight mistake. When you looking at the accommodation booking sites, often what doesn’t show on their maps is the Nam Khan river. This river suddenly makes the 750m to the town centre a lot longer and over bridges that, at night, can be a little bit shakey. Or during 6 months of the year, during rainy season, not even exist.
We booked into the Vang Bua Hotel. It’s lovely. We got a lovely big room, balcony overlooking the pool, bikes available for use; the only issue is that it is the the other side of the Nam Khan river to the town centre. We can get to the town centre via the Old Bridge which only has motorbikes / cycles going over it (specifically 4 planks of wood) and an enclosed path of three planks on the side for pedestrians to cross which is not well lit at night time.
The alternative, for pedestrians only is the Bamboo Bridge and it costs 5,000 kip to get across, though your ticket is valid for the day. At night, if you’ve had a few drinks, either option can be a wee bit wobbly on the return back.
Anyway, my advice is just stay towards Sisavangvong Road on the other side of this river, that takes awat this bridge crossing dilemma and ideally down toward the park view. All the side roads around there are pretty quiet and it’s an easy walk around the town.
Cycle around town
Choose a place to stay which has bikes available to take out as it makes getting around a lot easier. Always check your bike before taking it out – brakes, tyres, ability to cycle in a straight line as it may not be road worthy! Saddles sometimes need an allen key to adjust so make sure the seat height is correct before you leave the hotel.
If they have decent bikes, then you could consider going for a longer cycle out to the surrounding villages. The hotel bikes were definitely not good enough so we opted for a tour with Tiger Trails to the waterfalls. This also took us to the Water Buffalo Farm.
Water Buffalo Farm
Our expectations were low going in to the Laos Buffalo Dairy farm but they were surpassed by the time we left 90 minutes later. The owners of the farm have done a great job in creating a social responsible enterprise of a commercial dairy and production facility that makes edible products from the buffalo milk.
The farm cooperates with people from villages in and around Luang Prabang by renting their buffalo, which provides the families with a regular income stream from an underutilised resource, namely female buffalo; male buffalo being sold for meat. A facility for milking their buffalo was built to keep them well fed, healthy and safe.
And let’s not forget that from milk comes ice cream, cheese and cakes… there is the opportunity to taste the wonderful goodies that the farm makes from the buffalo milk.
Time out and yoga
If you’re looking for a chilled out vibe by the river, from breakfast through to chilled out drinks, head to Utopia. It’s down at the end of an alleyway and has terraces overlooking the Nam Khan river. They also have yoga sessions on these same terraces at 0730 most mornings.
Coffee and croissants
So many coffee places to choose from. All with a slightly different take or river view. Scandinavian style, German style, French oh la la vibes. We stopped by Le Banneton on the main street for our first croissant in almost 6 weeks. Almond was the one that if been craving for, and there is was.
Our favourite find, and one that you really do pay for is Formula B. I saw pics of it on Insta and thought it looked really cute. However, the cold brew coffee was just divine. If you’ve been eating locally in Laos, then it probably costs more than some main dishes at 28,000 kip.
There is the main night market where you can buy all your souvenirs, tat and elephant pants. Within this market you will find the street food market where you can cheaply eat all the local delicacies including buffalo meat, local river fish (remember Laos is completely land locked) local veg grilled on the BBQ and of course fruit smoothies. Just take your pick.
Walk up Mount Pho Si
They say if you don’t walk up to the top, then you can’t claim that you’ve been to Luang Prabang. It’s the 100m high hill in the middle of the town. There are more than 300 steps that zig zag to the top but there are two sets of steps that can be used and will cost 20,000 kip. There are several temples to stop and see along the way and Wat Chomsi is located at the top. If you decide to go at sunset then be ready for the crowds – though there really isn’t that much space up there.
Sunrise is supposed to be a lot quieter, but that means getting up before 0600. If you’re gonna do that may as well be up in time to see the Alms Giving ceremony at 0530 where the Monks come out from their temples to gather their daily meal.
Check out the local temples and Royal Palace
Before you go out to do this make sure you are dressed appropriately. Knees and shoulders covered is the rule to take.
The national museum is in the former Royal Palace and the theatre is based there too with a variety of entrant prices. They are open from 0800 – 1130 and 1330 – 1600. The Golden Temple also known as Wat Xiengthong is probably the most spectacular in town first built in 1560. It costs 20,000 to get in and there are also clothes for hire and they are sitting there waiting for you to tell you that you are dressed inappropriately – another way to get some money out of you. See first point of this section!!
Laos kip currency
Do not exchange too much money in Laos. It’s not a strong currency in this world and nobody wants it once you leave. Anticipate at the start how much you think you might need and withdraw a little less. You can always take more out at the end.
Remember you get a lesser rate for smaller and older US dollars. Most other major currencies are accepted, so better to have those to hand. There are currency exchange booths along the Main Street.
Once at the airport, you still can’t exchange it but can can put it in the various charity boxes…