Laos, situated in South East Asia, is a unique country, not only for its cascading mountains, glorious waterfalls or the genuine locals, but rather the influence from Western countries has been minimal, compared to Thailand or Cambodia. This means that you will not find any fast food restaurants, no convenience stores like 7 Eleven and supermarkets are hard to find. I loved this about Laos, because it feels like you are in ‘real’ Asia or rather, what it would’ve been like a few decades ago. Without major franchises like McDonalds etc, the money you spend on food, groceries, clothes and souvenirs goes straight back to the community. For reasons I do not know, travellers seem to overlook Laos as a destination on their itinerary, which is very unfortunate as it has so much to offer.
Luang Prabang is a small town in North Laos that is renowned for its famous waterfalls, chilled back lifestyle and traditional cultural views. Most people arrive to Luang Prabang via the two day slow boat from Thailand, which travels along the infamous Mekong River, while others venture to the small town for its high reputation. Here are my top five things you should not miss in Luang Prabang:
One of the most iconic things to do in Luang Prabang, is to visit the infamous Kuang Si waterfalls. It is situated a thirty minute drive from town, along a pot hole striken road (like most roads in Laos), so times may vary. The best way to get here is to hire a tuk tuk for the day which will roughly cost you 40,000 kip.
Once you arrive, there is 30,000 kip entry fee and a 500 metre walk to the first falls. On the way to the falls, there is a bear sanctuary you can visit, which educates their guests about the illegal activity in China that is still currently happening. I would highly recommend stopping in and having a look.
The first falls you come to are the best for swimming, as it is the tamest area without any currents and there’s a tree you can jump off as well. Also great spot for photo opportunities. The further you go up, the closer you get to the main attraction. The falls are incredible and tourist stricken, so try to get to these falls early to avoid the crowds.
One of the less visited waterfalls, due to the high reputation of Kuang Si, should not be crossed off your list of things to do in Luang Prabang. To get to Tad Sae, you will need to hire a tuk tuk as it can be hard to navigate your way on your own. The tuk tuk will drop you off beside a river bank, where you pay 10,000 kip each (return) for a boat to the entrance of Tad Sae. It is a quick trip so have your camera ready as there are some photo worthy opportunities on the way.
Once you arrive, it is an additional 20,000 kip each for entry to the waterfalls. Follow the path up to the waterfalls and immerse yourself in the natural beauty.
Luang Prabang has one of the best night markets, I personally believe, in South East Asia. Located on Sisavangvong Road, these markets have everything you will need, from tasty local food to authentic gifts for home. I went here every night to have a filling, delicious dinner and wandered around admiring, and often buying, the handmade gifts and finishing the night off by a long stroll by the river. Perfect night!
Relax at Utopia
This has to be the most chill places I have ever been too. It is a cafe/ restaurant by day and a bar by night and has the best atmosphere. The floor is covered with mattresses, accompanied by triangle pillows looking over the Nam Khan river, which connects to the Mekong. The owner is super laid back and doesn’t mind if you come just for a nap or a rest during the day. They have free Wi-Fi but can be hard to connect to at times, but who needs Wi-Fi when you can find good company and a beer? If you are a mad volleyball player and want to show off your skills, they also have a volleyball court which you can hire out.
Attend the Alms Ceremony
Waking up early on your holiday doesn’t always sound very appealing but you should definitely set your alarms to experience this once in a life time experience. The ceremony is conducted every day at dawn, where monks will walk down the main streets of Luang Prabang and collect food donations from locals, and now also tourists. Some people go just to take photos while others participate in the ceremony. I would highly recommend participating, as this was one of the highlights of my South East Asia trip. It’s really easy to participate, all you have to do is head down to the street where the night markets usually are, and locals will approach you asking if you would like to buy sticky rice for donation. If you purchase the rice, they will set you up with a mat and you can spend the time awaiting the monks, rolling balls of rice for donation. The monks walk quite fast so don’t expect to give rice to every monk that walks past, they receive quite a lot of donations nowadays due to tourist participation. Please dress modestly out of respect for the monks, this means cover shoulders and knees.
Although I have only named five things to do in Luang Prabang, this town has a lot more to offer and caters for everyone. Whether you have two days or two weeks, these are my five things you should not miss while visiting Luang Prabang.