I was lucky enough to get to spend 3 weeks in the lovely city of Luang Prabang, Laos. It’s a sleepy town (most things close by 11:30pm), UNESCO world heritage center, clean and beautiful, with lots of French influence (and French people). Everything you need to get to is easily within biking distance, and 20-30 minutes walking maximum. I did two different workaways there, and really loved spending my free time biking around town, especially along the river. Originally, I was staying there so long, because I was waiting for my new debit and credit card to arrive (re: my things were stolen), but I ended up being happy to stay for such a long time, and recommend this as a nice place to relax for a while during your travels.
The city wraps itself lushly around the Mekong River, which crosses into 6 countries. And off the Mekong River, is the smaller Nam Khan winding it’s way around. Beautiful views of the rivers abound, with pretty green mountains jutting upwards from the horizon. It really is picturesque. A flourishing town set right in the middle of nature’s beauty.
I entered Laos from Thailand. I took a really lovely overnight train from Bangkok to Nong Khai that cost $35. Then a quick train over the border that cost $1. I got my visa on arrival which required one visa photo and $35 USD. I took a taxi into the center of Vientiane and waited all day at a hostel that helped me book a night bus to Luang Prabang which cost $24. Three weeks in Luang Prabang only cost me $200 because I was doing workaways while I was there. So housing and most food was covered.
What to Do
Kuang Si Waterfall. This is an absolute must! Definitely top 3 waterfalls for swimming I’ve ever been to, probably only outdone by Semuc Champey in Guatemala. During rainy season, the waters can be brown, but luckily for me, on the day I went, it was a stunning blue-green!
It was fun to take the hour long motorbike ride, but you can get a tuk tuk or minibus to take you as well! Entrance fee is 20,000 kip (~$2), and getting there and back will cost between 35,000-50,000 kip depending on how you choose to go!
Make sure you go all the way up to the top. You’ll get to walk up some very fun stairs with water rushing over them, and at the top, you’ll find a more private swimming experience under the groves.
Yoga. Utopia (also mentioned below for night life) is a really cool restaurant, bar, lounge, river spot. It’s basically the place to be if you are traveling through. There’s tons of space, lots of cool tables, cushions, and bean bags so you can just relax, eat, drink, and enjoy the river vibes. They host a couple different community events, one being yoga in the mornings and the evenings. They split the yoga schedule with another place in town called Sena. You can find the schedule here.
Community Movie night. L’Etranger Books & Tea is a great used book shop and place to hang out. Every single night, they host a FREE movie; you just have to purchase one thing from their menu. The movie selection is always really good, and I went several times. The people who work there are super friendly.
Night market. The night market happens every night. It starts at 4pm, but doesn’t really get going until around 6pm. There’s some really nice things in this market, and a fun food street. The food street is very narrow, and I felt like I giant lumbering through it next to all the small Lao people.
Old French Bridge. If you are up for a scare, take a terrifying walk across the old French Bridge! I actually feel a bit nervous recommending this, because I think it’s quite dangerous! When I went, there were boards missing in various places, and one wrong step could send you on a 60 fit drop into the river below. The bridge is easy for bikes and motorbikers to cross, but on either side is a path for pedestrians that will give you a thrill!
Bamboo Bridge. Although this had been destroyed by heavy rain when I was there, there’s a bamboo bridge crossing the Nam Khan River. Which actually leads right to my next recommendation, Garden of Eden. But this, bridge will take you into another, more local part of town that you can explore. Plus, it’s just fun to cross the bridge! If the bridge is still gone, there will be a boat that can take you across.
Garden of Eden. Garden of Eden is a really lovely jewelry store owned and run by a Lao couple. I stayed here for one of my workaways and painted wooden signs for them. I absolutely LOVED my stay here, and may do a post on it later. But for now, just know that there is really lovely jewelry there, all handmade by local women who are paid properly and sent to English school so they can have a better life. It’s a great place to support, and the owners, Nic and Lan are so kind and inspiring. Definitely have a chat with them while you are there! Or help the employees practice their English! I was lucky enough to stay in the amazingly romantic open-air river bungalow shown below!
Sunset River Cruise. There are a couple of different companies who do this on the Mekong River. I would definitely recommend checking them out one night. Just make sure the weather is clear so that you’ll have a nice sunset.
Utopia. As mentioned above, Utopia is a fun bar/restaurant to hang out at night. It’s not a party/dancing place, but it’s fun. Everyone there always seems up for meeting new people.
RedBul Bar. This is a great bar if you love playing pool, like I do. They play really fun music, and almost everyone in there is a local or expat living in Luang Prabang, so it’s fun to talk to everyone.
Waivan Restaurant. This is one of the few places you go if you want to have a wild late night, Lao style. There’s a few clubs like these on the outskirts of the town so they don’t have to adhere to the UNESCO rules of closing early. It’s quite an interesting experience! Live music, hundreds of people, everyone has there own table that they dance near and use to house there beer and ice (everyone in Laos puts ice in there beer). There will be very few tourists in a place like this, so it’s really fun!
Muang Swa. This is another night club, but very different! This is more of a traditional type of night club, and you will find older people here doing line dances and hand movements that everyone already seems to know. You can learn the steps and join in yourself!
U-Bar. This was a nice local bar with great live music. Not many tourists here either!
Boun Khao Salak Festival – late August every year
So odds are, you might not be traveling through in August, but just in case…this is a really cool festival happening in the beginning of Buddhist Lent. The normally sleepy main street bordering the Nam Khan turns into a bustling market, and all day a long boat race takes place in the river. Fifty people on each team, and it’s amazing to watch them race in the sweltering heat. This was such a cool experience, and my first festival I’ve been lucky enough to attend while traveling Asia.
Overall, I really highly recommend a stop here. It’s been one of my favorite places in SE Asia. It’s a small town; even just staying for a few weeks, I got to know a lot of people and I loved biking around, running into my new friends everywhere I went. I was actually really sad to leave this place. It’s nice to find a place that feels like home for a few weeks.