Review of "Luang Prabang (Laos)"

published 01/06/2009 | sun-is-shining
Member since : 01/06/2009
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"Give me more noddle soup"

Luang Prabang is situated in the heart of Laos and one of the Highlights of the country. It is not only all the temples, the delicious food or the night market, no, it is this feeling you'll get when you arrive. You'll feel welcome and at home. Most people stayed a lot longer than they planed! Including me of course, I wanted to stay for two nights and stayed for over a month!
How to get there?
Luang Prabang is a town in the north-centre region of Laos. If you arrive in Vientiane you can get a bus to Luang Prabang, it takes about 10 to 12 hours and you have the choice between a local bus (110000kip) and a VIP bus (160000kip). You can get the ticket with a travel agent or just go to the bus station. Buses leave several times in the morning and again a night bus in the afternoon. You need a TukTuk to and from the bus station.
The choice which bus to take is all yours but I had more fun on the local bus sitting together with tons of people, chicken and rice bags. The VIP bus offers clean seats and aircon.

You can travel to all the main attraction from LP including the Plain of Jars and the Vietnamese and Thai border.
On the way between Vientiane and LP is Vang Vieng which is well worth a stop for a day or two.
Luang Prabang also has an airport but the connections are not so good and almost exclusively domestic flights are offered.

The Accommodation
You can find all sorts of Accommodation in LP, from top luxurious hotels to nice little Guesthouses. In GHs you normally have the choice between bathroom inside and shared. Hot water is almost everywhere provided.
My personal choice is the Oudomphong GH close to the river, clean rooms, reasonable priced, free coffee, tea and bananas and the most friendly people ever!
The Sights
Luang Prabang offers you many, many temples all worth a visit. My suggestion is just to walk around town and have a look at the temples without following a spacial route.

The Mekong is something you cannot avoid anywhere in SEA and in Luang Prabang you can go on a sunset cruise which takes roughly an hour an is quite nice if you don't suffer from motion sickness - I guess you understand that I didn't go on this cruise.

The sunset (and sunrise if you want to get up so early) is best viewed from Mount Phousi. The walk to the top takes 30min and it is advisable to go early as it gets really crowded for sunset. Nevertheless it's absolutely worth it and I've seen the most beautiful sunset ever there. (20000kip entrance fee)

Go to the other site of the Mekong, walk around the little town and see an ancient and abandoned temple. There's a cave next to the monastery and cute little monks in their saffron robes will show you the way in the interior. You need a torch and it's quite slippery - don't go in flip flops! (5000kp boat, 5000kip temple and 5000kip cave)
The Waterfalls

Tad Sae - it's not really a 'fall', more of several layers of pond in which you can swim and have a pick nick on the side. That might sound a bit boring but it is a great way to see how the locals spend their day off and relax. They offer Elephant riding as well but personally I wouldn't do it. The elephants look really thin, are chained and not well looked after.

The Kwang Si Waterfall is more impressive as the water falls down for over 30 meters and collects in little ponds. These ponds are of a colour I've never seen before, a fantastic light blue that seems to glow. You can swim there as well during dry season - but I warned you, cold is not the right word to describe it. My fingers were numb for over one hour but it was well worth it. We've been there twice, ones in rainy season when you couldn't see the footpath because everything was flooded and once in dry season when you can actually sit down and enjoy the view . The walk up to the top is a must, you get a real Indiana Jones feeling and the view is breathtaking!

Expect to pay min. 120000 for the TukTuk plus 10000 or 20000 entrance fee. It takes the TukTuk roughly 40min to go there and you can do both of them in one day (probably around 200000 for the TukTuk) If time is a
problem I would chose the Kwang Si Waterfall.
The Buddha Cave

I cannot really recommend you to go to the Buddha cave - the TukTuk ride was the worst ever and we all had several bruises afterwards. The cave is not impressive - basically a hole in the wall with a few Buddha statues - you can see the same on the nightmarket every evening. It's full of other tourists and people that try to sell you stuff. If you want to go I strongly recommend to go by boat - the Guesthouse will help you arranging it. It is a lot nicer and more comfortable but also considerably more expensive.
The food

When it comes down to food LP is definitely the capital of Lao. No wonder that we were getting lazy and fat :-)The reasons are diverse and of course really tasty.
Let's start with breakfast; you can have -as the locals do - a big bowl of soup with rice noddles, vegetables and thin sliced meat or -and this is definitely our favorite - a sandwich. Thanks to the French you can get here baguettes that will make you feel like god in France. My friend normally goes for ham and mustard - I prefer chicken, omelet and sweet chili sauce.
With all these millions of varieties it takes you ages to find out what your favorite is! (Soup 10000kip Sandwich 10000kip)
Around lunchtime the soup stalls vanish and the city is covered in smoke. BBQs everywhere ... and everything! Starting with tasty chicken breast over whole fish to more exotic and unusual stuff like aehm whole pig heads. But yeah, the chicken breast is great! (Chicken breast 8000kip)
Mhm, dinner. Of course you can go to one of the many riverside restaurants, but yeah, on a tight budget there are better options. The best - unbeatable - is the vegetarian buffet at the night market. You have a big, big plate and can fill it up with all kinds of veggie and noddle dishes - for 5000 kip ( that's more or less 50 Cents)
Sweets are not really the specialty of this region but if you are craving sugar try an Oreo-Shake: Shoko cookies, coconut milk and ice mixed - sweeter than pure sugar! (Shake 80000kip - 10000kip)
The more healthy option are fruit shakes, you just show the vendor which fruits you like - and the choice between dragon fruit, mango and papaya is hard - mix it with ice and milk and ready is a more than delicious desert.

I didn't like the restaurants on the main road, totally overpriced, wanna-be pasta dishes and not too friendly service. But they are of course an option when you are craving pizza :-)
Try the restaurants at the Riverside, less pricey than main street and more local dishes. Try the laap - the national dish consisting of fried meet, chili and mint. Have it with a bowl of sticky rice and enjoy!
A small guide to curries:
yellow - mix between sweet and spicy,
red - hot
green - are you sure you can handle this spicy, spicy version?

The nightmarket takes place on the main road between 5 and 10 pm. It's a beautiful sight with all the lights and colours everywhere. Don't miss it even if you don't want to buy anything. Well, that's at least what I always said and every time I came home with something new.
Negotiation is important - but please be friendly and respectful. Don't say you price and stick to it, that never works. If the vendor says 80000 and you are willing to pay 40000 then start with 20000 and go slowly up. When both of you enjoy the negotiation you are more likely to make a bargain.
You can ind a wide variety of things there: Scarfs, bed linen, lamps, poster, postcards, Buddha statues, jewellery, clothes - something for everyone! Please don't negotiate too much, in the end you are arguing only about 50 Pence.
Do something good

During our city tour we found out of a coincidence the "Big Brother Mouse" Organisation and fascinated by the concept we spend the next 2 hours teaching English to Lao children and teenagers! It was unbelievable, these kids really wanted to learn and I ended up making word quizzes with this 16 year old boy and helping him to understand all the meanings.
You can just turn up there between 9 and 11am and you'll be surrounded within one minute by these cute children that are so eager to learn new things. Just tell them about your country, about your travels and your favourite band - they'll love it!

Donate Blood: Ok, I know that this is a very personal decision but if you consider it don't be afraid that they use dirty needles. Of course they don't, feel free to ask them to open the pack before your eyes (I think they normally do anyway). The girl who did it was lovely and didn't let me leave before I drunk a tea and ate a banana - oh yeah, you get a T-Shirt as well!
Blood transfusions are incredibly expensive in Laos, a local has to pay around 40$ to get one. That doesn't sound too much for us but there it's a months wage.
You can donate blood at the Red Cross Massage studio. It's 5min walk from the main road.
Scams and Rip-offs:

As much as I love LP there are some points where you have to pay attention. TukTuk driver can be really notorious so agree an a price before going on the TukTuk, make sure the price is for all of you and not just one, and look that it is for return as well. It happened quite a few times that the driver wants double of the price after we arrived - if you fell that you are being ripped-off just walk away.

Don't use the Internet in travel agencies, the connection is not as good as in the normal Internet point and there's always a minimum charge.

For all the attractions never use a travel agent - their tours last only 1.5 hours and you will end up in a village where everyone tries to sell you something. Get a TukTuk on the main road and you'll have as much
time and peace as you want.
Writing about Luang Prabang makes me wanting to go there again - I guess it's time to book flights to Laos again.

Have a great stay there - but be warned, you might never leave again!

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