Luang Prabang’s laid back atmosphere is one of its biggest charms. It’s what draws people in and makes them, like us, extend their stay.
We arrived in Luang Prabang, a former French colony and now UNESCO site, after spending three weeks in northern Vietnam where we were used to bustling streets, ceaseless honking, weaving motorbikes and endless activity on the sidewalks. One of the first things we noticed was how quiet and peaceful Luang Prabang was. We could sleep without ear plugs and cross the street without wondering what might happen to us.
At first Dan said he was feeling understimulated…but soon we both fell into the Luang Prabang rhythm.
Luang Prabang Rhythm and Routine
Our days would start with breakfast overlooking the Mekong River and the rest of the day would continue at the same pace, maybe with a visit to a Buddhist temple or stroll around the Nam Khan River. Temples and monks in saffron robes occupy a significant slice of Luang Prabang’s visual and conversational space. Novice monks are happy to connect to tourists, chat about life, and improve their English.
We rose early one morning to watch the procession of monks collecting food as alms at the break of dawn. We chose to stand near the Wat Nong Temple, away from the main street. This street was empty, save the few women who sat on mats with their baskets of sticky rice. Each woman gave a small amount of sticky rice to every monk that passed. Each temple takes a different route around town, making sure that there is a steady flow and pace.
Monks are only allowed to eat until 11 or 11:30 in the morning and forsake food for the remainder of the day. It was good to see how the locals take care of feeding their monks. The monks in turn try to take care of others in the community who do not have enough, forming a sort of social system.
We had originally planned to stay three days, and had to pull ourselves away more than a week later.
Video of Luang Prabang, Laos
How to get there:We flew from Hanoi direct on Lao Airlines. Bangkok is also an easy hop away by plane. It’s also accessible by boat and bus from Vientiane.
Where to stay: Kinnaly Guest House (856 71 22 416) and Nam Sok Guesthouse 1 on Sisavangvatthana Street, near the Mekong River shore. $13-$15 per night for a double room with hot water. Close to the Mekong and main street, but quiet.
Where to eat: Tamarind Café across from Wat Nong has tasty samplers of Luang Prabang food. We became fans of the hole-in-the-wall restaurant, creatively named Fruit Shake Restaurant, for authentic Lao dishes like Or Lam or Laap. Restaurants along the Mekong have tasty Thai, Lao and quasi-western dishes for $2-$3. Nazim and Nisha restaurants offer tasty Indian food for travelers craving a bit of the subcontinent while in Southeast Asia. The Scandinavian Bakery on the main street (Sisavangvong) offers good breakfast deals with bagels or croissants.
What to do: Relax, wander and rent a bicycle. Strike up a conversation with a novice monk at a temple or at Big Brother Mouse. Take a trek to nearby Hmong and Khmu hill tribes. Hop on a water taxi to the other side of the Mekong to visit Xieng Maen, a quieter village scene which feels almost a world away.