LUANG PRABANG TRAVEL GUIDE
Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is with no doubt one of the most charming cities we’ve ever seen during our trips around South East Asia. It’s located in the northern part of Laos and lies along the banks of Mekong River surrounded by lush mountains in an enchanting landscape. The town is a stunning place to get stuck and a must-visit for all the tourists and backpackers travelling around the country. Visiting Luang Prabang means to plunge into the Laos rich heritage, customs and traditions. Despite its small size, Luang Prabang has much to offer with its Buddhist shrines and temples, bustling markets, streets filled with French colonial architecture, river tours and waterfalls.
- BEST TIME TO GO
The best time to visit Luang Prabang and Laos is from November to February, during the dry season and when the temperatures are cooler. In this season the heat during the day can reach 28° – 30° C, whereas it’s cooler at night with an average temperature around 14° C. If you visit the north of Laos, bear in mind that the temperature at night is even lower. March to May tends to be the hottest months, with temperatures as high as 40°C. The rainy season is from May to September. During the rainy season, the heat is muggy, and sometimes torrential rain, although it doesn’t last long, could spoil your travel plan through the country. The Mekong River is prone to flooding, and many roads and hiking trails could become impassable because of the heavy rain.
- VISA REQUIREMENTS
Before reaching the Lao border or booking a flight, you must check if you are entitled to a Visa exemption, an E-Visa or if you need to apply in person at the Laotian Embassy/Consulate in your country. For example, at the moment (March 2020), US, UK, Indian and many European countries passport holders are entitled to apply for Lao E-Visa. The fee is 50 USD.
- HOW TO REACH LUANG PRABANG
Luang Prabang is well connected, and you’ll find several options to reach this fantastic city. You can use the transport search engine below powered by 12go.asia to find the best mean of transport to reach your destination.
The small Luang Prabang airport is served by a few direct flights from Vientiane, the Lao capital city and Bangkok, Chang Mai and Chang Rai by Air Asia. Outside the arrival hall, you’ll find tuk-tuks to reach your accommodation.
Even though it’s not that worth, Luang Prabang can be reached by bus from Chang Mai and Chang Rai if you are visiting the north of Thailand, and from Vientiane and Vang Vieng if you are in Laos.
Northern Thailand: If you are in Chang Mai, you first have to take the bus to Chiang Khong, the Thai border town. The ride costs about 12 USD and lasts 7 hours. From Chiang Khong take a tuk-tuk to the Thai-Lao border where you have to cross the Thai-Lao Friendship bridge into Laos and reach Huay Xay, the Lao border town. Remember to check all the Visa requirements before reaching the border. Once in Huay Xay, you can take the bus (or even the boat) to Luang Prabang. Probably, you’ll have to sleep for a night in Huay Xay before catching your mean of transport. The bus ticket can also be done through your accommodation in Huay Xai or at the Keo Kampa bus terminal. There are only very few rides to Luang Prabang (10 am and 4 pm – it takes 11 hours or more).
If you are in Chang Rai, you can reach Huay Xai (only 100 km) by bus in a couple of hours with The Transport Co. LTD (10 am and 4.30 pm). Buy the ticket in Bus Terminal 2 at their ticket counter. The line you must take is Chang Rai – Bokeo. The other option is to catch the sleeping bus straight to Luang Prabang (about 36 USD – 17 hours). The Transport Co. LTD runs other 2 routes from Chang Rai: Luang Namtha and Udom Xai.
The bus schedules and means of transport, in general, are always subject to change; therefore remember to check in advance before going to the bus terminal.
Tip: unless you decide to take the boat from Huay Xai, it’s better to take the flight and not to waste time. If you book a bit in advance, the fare for the flight from Chang Rai to Luang Prabang is about 70 USD whereas from Chang Mai is about 100 USD.
A very alternative and exciting way to reach Luang Prabang is by boat Boat from Huay Xay. If you have time to spend, you should absolutely give it a go. The cheapest option is to take the slow boat, but if your budget is more flexible and you need more comforts, you can also book a tourist cruise. If your time is not too much, you can also catch the Speedboat. The ticket for both the slow and speed boat can be purchased at the boat landing in Huay Xai. The luxury cruise can be booked online through the travel agencies website like Shompoo Cruise or Mekong Smile Cruise (its office is in Huay Xay in front of Sunday GuestHouse on the main road).
If you reached Luang Prabang from southern Laos and you are heading towards northern Laos, you can catch the boat to Huay Xay here as well. You can see and book the different cruises in town (the Shampoo cruise office is along Ounkham Road) or through web platforms like Viator (always managed by local agencies).
- WHERE TO SLEEP IN LUANG PRABANG
Luang Prabang offers a good range of accommodations at any budget. The town is quite small and quiet, and there isn’t a better area than another where to sleep. Probably, as the major attractions and markets are around the Royal Palace or not that far from it, you can choose this area. We slept at Thatsapone Hotel, a friendly accommodation located in a quiet alley near the main road and only a few minutes walk from the main spots of the town and many restaurants.
- WHERE TO EAT IN LUANG PRABANG
The town offers a good choice of restaurants cooking regional dishes (but also french cuisine) and markets selling street food where you can taste the tasty northern Lao food. Among the several dishes, our favourite food is barbecued meats (especially Laotian sausages), noodle soup, salted barbecued fish, fried spring rolls, papaya salad, fried dumpling, coconut rice pancakes (Kanom Krok), Jeow Bong (a chilli paste eaten with sticky rice), pork leg with rice and egg, vegetarian Pad Thai and O-Lam stew.
The best place to eat street food for foreigners is the night market. Generally, the Laotian eat every part of the animals and many species of animals; therefore, if you like to try the real Laotian food, have a walk through the daily morning market.
We tried the Atsalin restaurant (food was delicious and cheap), and the Bamboo Garden restaurant. If you like coffee and you also want to taste some desserts or breakfast is not included in your accommodation, you must try the Saffron Coffee bar.
- HOW TO MOVE AROUND
The highlights of the city are all within walkable distance. Therefore, the best choice to enjoy this stunning town and its atmosphere is on foot. Anyway, tuk-tuks are at every corner, and you can also rent a bike (about 25.000 LAK x day) or a motorcycle (around 150.000 LAK x day ).
- CURRENCY EXCHANGE and METHOD OF PAYMENT
The local currency is the Laotian Kip (LAK). 10.000 LAK is roughly USD 1 (June 2020). You can exchange your currency at the Luang Prabang Airport (there’s a booth and an ATM) and in town where you’ll find some money exchange shops and many ATMs to withdraw (there is a fee around the 2% of the amount for each withdrawal). If you are travelling from Northern Thailand to Huay Xay, you can change your currency at the Thai-Lao border. We changed our USD in a small money exchange beside the Post Office along the main road (they also have MoneyGram). The method of payment is mostly cash for everything, but in some shops and restaurants accept the credit card too.
- TRAVELLER’S HEALTH AND SAFETY
Luang Prabang is a safe town; the locals are friendly and always ready to help the foreigners. As in all the cities, just keep your common sense, don’t have on display valuable objects and don’t leave them unattended. Despite that, we hard about a scooter scam for tourists. Apparently, when you rent a motorbike/scooter, somebody from the rental shop will follow you in secret. As soon as you park your mean of transport and walk away, they will steal the scooter. They do that because when you return to the rental shop, they’ll blame you and force you to pay a sky-high amount for the stolen scooter. The best thing to do to be on the safe side is to buy your own lock and use that.
Medical care in Laos is not that good. In Luang Prabang, you’ll find a Provincial Hospital and a very few clinics, but if you need specialized medical treatment, you have to go to Vientiane or much better in Thailand where the health services are excellent. Anyway, if you need medical attention in Luang Prabang, you can call on Phakan’s Clinic, a modern and clean clinic where you’ll also find English speaking staff.
Travel insurance: it’s always recommended to take out travel insurance during a trip, especially to cover the medical expenses because, in case you need, they could be very high. We always do our travel insurance with Worldnomad.com
- WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN LUANG PRABANG
Despite its small size, Luang Prabang and its surroundings are plenty of beautiful attractions and activities to practice. Temples and shrines, old colonial buildings, bustling markets, river cruises, waterfalls, rural villages and a stunning sunset, will make your stay unforgettable.
Tours and activities: The main attractions of Luang Prabang are at walkable distance. In case you need, you can jump on a tuk-tuk or even rent a bike. Alternatively, to find out all the tours and activities in town and its surroundings, you can also go through the web platforms like Viator.com, GetYourGuide.com that offer a wide choice of daily tour and activities to get the most out of this incredible town. They offer a wide range of city and countryside tours, cruises, outdoor activities, and food tours-cooking classes always managed by the local tour operators.
- Click here to see the tours and activities in Luang Prabang with Viator.com;
- Click here to see the tours and activities in Luang Prabang with GetYourGuide.com.
Have you visited Luang Prabang? Did you like it and you have tips to share? Leave a comment below!