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10 Things You Need to Do in Luang Prabang, Laos

By September 17, 2015 , , , , , ,

A trip to Laos is a bit like stepping back in time to when days were quieter, lazier, and simpler. In a way, time has stood still in this country without the trappings of mass tourism and commercialization. On a short visit to the city of Luang Prabang, not once did I see chain restaurants like McDonalds or Starbucks. The mode of transport was usually open-air tuk tuks and the sight of air-conditioned vehicles was rare. The locals were laid-back and sweet-natured. The whole experience was utterly refreshing. But don’t mistake all of these characteristics for a place that offers little to do. Quite the opposite, in fact! There is lots to explore within a 3-4 day time frame for Luang Prabang.

The highlights and inside travel tips from our trip are below, in the form of 10 do's and don'ts. Read on!

1. As a former French colony, Laos still has some remaining French influence. Do visit the local French bakery, La Banneton Cafe, for melt-in-your-mouth croissants and pain au chocolat that are baked fresh daily. I recommend a visit first thing in the morning when they open. That's when everything is the fresh out of the oven!

2. Do take part in watching the Buddhist monks make their daily, early morning walk through this city of temples to collect alms from the locals. This means having to wake up at 5:30 AM but the sight of a 100 monks or more in their bright saffron robes quietly walking down the street is a sight to behold. Do consider partaking in the offering of the alms (usually sticky rice). My husband and I did this and it was really quite memorable. 

3. Do plan a visit to the tribal Hmong and Khmou villages. The villages are about an hour's drive out of Luang Prabang. It was heart-warming to see the adorable little children come out to greet you with excitement and to observe the villagers in their daily activities.

4. If you're inclined to be more active during your trip, then I would highly recommend a trek to the famous Kuang Si waterfall. This is the 10 km trek that will change your life! We made our way through rice paddies, fields of hops, jungles, muddy slopes, and tribal villages. Many visitors opt to go directly to the waterfall but I would find that anti-climactic. The fun is in the journey of getting to the waterfall itself! And the views of the lush rice paddy fields along the way are worth the extra calories burned!

 5. Do visit the breath-taking Kuang Si waterfall! The striking turquoise color of the water comes from the limestone rocks. After the 4 hour trek, a jump into the cool, refreshing waters was just what we needed.

6. Do venture out to enjoy some local food. Having grown up in Thailand, I could identify a lot of similarities between Thai and Lao cuisine. At the same time, Lao cuisine is quite distinct in its own way. Surprisingly, it was incredibly easy to find vegetarian food in Luang Prabang as almost all the restaurants have veggie options in their menus. I would highly recommend the restaurant Tamarind which offers an excellent array of the local cuisine (suggestion: Go for the sampler plate pictured below!).

7. Of course, the trip isn't complete if you haven't visited the many temples (or "wats") of Luang Prabang. After all, that is the defining feature of this small city-town. However, I would say that most of the temples can be visited within a couple hours time. As the temples are all clustered nearby, one can easily walk around. These temples are quite distinct in architecture from ones you may have seen in Thailand. I simply fell in love with the rich gold tones of these wats!

8. Do consider staying in one of the guest houses in Luang Prabang. We had stayed at the Victoria Xienthong Hotel which used to be the residence of the last Lao royal family. While it was beautiful and we enjoyed our stay, we also realized that there are many guest houses in the city that are very attractive and quaint and may cost less.

9. Do visit Utopia and spend a few hours lazing there with a book and drink in hand. This is a restaurant/bar that overlooks the Mekong River with daybeds set up for you to just sit and chill for hours.

10. Take a walk through Luang Prabang by night. The city becomes transformed after the sun sets. Suddenly, there's a lot more buzz in the air and the warm lighting outside the stores and restaurants beckon you to enter. Everything just looks more quaint and cozy! 

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