Laos is a landlocked country in South-east Asia which is often overlooked compared to its neighbours- Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. I have always been fascinated by it because overlooked places almost always prove to be hidden gems. After spending 3 days in Luang Prabang, I can confidently say I was right!
How to reach there: There is a direct flight from Singapore to Luang Prabang which takes about 3 hours. The time difference is 1 hour so you will end up saving some time on the onward journey. However, there is no direct return flight. Singapore airlines flies via the capital city of Vientiane while other flight combos are via Bangkok. I took Singapore airlines for onward journey and a combination of Lao airlines and Cathay Pacific for return (LP-Bangkok-Singapore). The return journey took about 8 hours including the 3 hour layover at Bangkok airport.
Visa: Most countries have visa on arrival option. For Indian passport holders, it costs 40 USD plus 1 USD servicing fee. The entire process is pretty quick. I landed there on a Thursday morning and the airport was almost empty.
Where to stay: Luang Prabang is a small city; in fact it feels like a small town which means it’s super easy to get around. Most points of interest are within 2km radius. We stayed at about 1.5 km from the city centre at Kiridara. A lovely resort with great views and they provided free pick ups and drops to city centre.
The buffet breakfast was quite nice with continental as well as local selections. The local selections were delicious!
Currency: Kip is the local currency but USD is widely accepted. The locals use a flat conversion rate in case you are offering USD in cash so it’s better to convert at the money changers on Sisavangvong Road. No money changer was selling kip in Singapore so I think it’s difficult to buy their currency overseas!
What to do: It’s very easy to fall in love with Luang Prabang. It’s such a relaxed yet charming city with its temples, sunsets, rivers and gorgeous falls! Being a French colony in the past, it has a plethora of lovely cafes selling great coffee, baguettes and baked goodies. Here’s my itinerary and things to do for 3 days:
Day 1: Sunset at Mt. Phousi and Night Markets
We arrived at our lovely hotel, chilled a bit in the balcony before going to Sisavangvong for lunch at the Lao Blossom restaurant. The food was decent with some chilled BeerLao to go with it. We had coffee at Indigo cafe and a chocolate cake from the bakery outside. Loved the coffee and the bakery.
There are two ways to start the hike to Mt. Phousi– across the royal palace and from the Nam Kha river. Both the routes require you to climb about 350 steps. We chose the river route because the views were better. Pretty easy hike, lots of buddha statues on the way and the weather was great. The views from the top and the sunset against the backdrop of hills and Mekong river are both spectacular to say the least. The trees at this time of the year (January) added a very gothic element to the pictures! It can get pretty crowded so go early to book yourself a spot.
We climbed down via the other route which took us to the night market right in front of the Royal Palace. The night market is quite nice and cheap– loved picking up souvenirs and trinkets for taking back home! We ended with dinner at Indigo cafe. The food was nice but the highlight were pumpkin soup and black rice liquor.
Day 2: Alms giving ceremony, Kuang Si Waterfalls
We woke up at 5am to take our place for the Alms giving ceremony. A centuries old tradition where locals offer cooked sticky rice to the monks, it is still practiced with fervour in Luang Prabang. The locals believe this ritual brings them closer to their ancestors and it’s heartening to see their faith and dedication. The sticky rice was prepared by our hotel for a nominal price of 10 USD per head.
Post breakfast at the hotel, we went to Kuang Si falls which is about 1 hour from city centre. I was pretty excited because of so many gorgeous Instagram pictures. It is truly as spectacular as the pictures with its dazzling blue waters. The water was freezing but beautiful!
We had lunch at the Main Street and retired early to chill in the hotel because we woke up so early. Highly recommend the baguettes and teriyaki chicken.
Day 3: Temples, Royal Palace and Sunset river cruise
Our first stop was Wat Xiengthong along the Nam Kha river. It’s a mesmerising temple with its intricate work and miniature paintings on black/maroon background. Loved walking through the complex and admiring the beautiful work.
We visited a couple of more temples on the way to Royal Palace. There was also a short detour to and fro the bamboo bridge which is up for 6 months and then taken off during the rainy season every year.
The most striking feature of the Royal Palace is the temple. The actual palace itself looks quite austere compared to other palaces in Asia. The entire tour takes about 1hour. You will have to deposit your bags in the locker room and photography is not allowed inside the museum.
We had a lovely lunch of local delicacies at Tamarind restaurant– my favourite meal of the trip. I will highly recommend their lemongrass chicken, Banana leaf fish, tasting platter, chicken stew and the drinks.
Sunset cruise along the Mekong river was the highlight of the day for me. We booked a private tour through the hotel which cost us around 40 USD. The boat was nice and ride pretty scenic. The sunset itself was spectacular!
We had our daily coffee fix at the pretty Novelty cafe, got a massage done, shopped a bit more and then went back to the hotel.
I love going off the beaten path while travelling and this trip to Luang Prabang was definitely high up on the list. Would love to go back and spend more time in this charming city. Are you also planning to explore lesser known parts of Asia? Let me know in comments!