37 Hours: Luang Prabang

Best Things to do in Luang Prabang Laos

When the New York Times gives you 36 hours in a city, we at Somewhere Or Bust say, stay a bit longer. Here are the best things to do in Luang Prabang. Enjoy 37 Hours in Luang Prabang.

Luang Prabang is the cultural capital of Laos and has been dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As you approach Luang Prabang by slow boat from Houyaxai–the best way to arrive in town–the city feels more like a forest retreat tucked below green mountains and between two brown rivers. While in this Laotian paradise, you’ll visit restaurants dishing up scrumptious cuisine and stop by a cafe for conversation and coffee. Walk among architecture that shifts from French colonial to ostentatious Indochinese. Meet the saffron-robed monks in the street as they begin their morning procession or visit them in the myriad wats throughout the city.

 

The Best Things to Do in Luang Prabang

 

Friday: 6:00 pm–Monk Chants

Head to one of the many temples in the city. My favorite both in name and remoteness was Wat That. (Wat means temple.) Ascend the staircase where a pair of nagas, each with seven more nagas shooting out from their mouths, make up the handrail. There, listen to monks chanting inside the two red and gold-painted temples in the compound. Take a peek at their austere homes, where orange robes dry over patio railings and window ledges.

Friday: 7:00 pm–Cheap Eats

Grab a bite at the Night Food Market. For a few bucks, you can sample from each stall. My favorite bites were the eight-for-a-dollar summer rolls. A few vendors sell plates for $1.25 and allow you to stack as much food as you can bring back to your table. For dessert, I suggest deep fried coconut, which look like white White Castle sliders. They are served in banana leaf baskets and sell for about 60 cents.

Friday: 8:00 pm–Bad Shirts, Good Street

Stroll the Hmong Market, just south of the Night Food Market. Every stall sells either Laotian pants, oversized slippers, scarves, or t-shirts that say “Luang Prabang” or “saiwadee” (hello). You’ll wind up passing through this market whether you like it or not. At the very least, Laotians are lovely and you’ll receive friendly smiles and maybe a few pleas to make a purchase.

Saturday: 5:30 am–Feeding the Monks

A procession of holy-men-in-training take to the streets to collect alms, mostly on Sisavang Vong Road. This can be a beautiful event or a repulsive one, depending on whether the tourists act like humans interacting with humans or humans interacting with caged animals in a zoo. A better option is to sit in the UNESCO area of the city on the road just north of Sisavang. There are fewer tourists and touts, plus the setting to give alms is serene.

 

Feeding the Monks in Luang Prabang Laos

Saturday: 7:00 am–Best Day Trip From L.P. and The Most Spectacular Site in Laos

After breakfast, hire a tuk-tuk and head to the multi-level Koung Si waterfall, which is by far the best trip you can take from Luang Prabang. Watching crystal blue water spill from pool to pool, might provide the most beautiful site in the country. Arrive early so you can enjoy the tranquility of the park. If peacefulness is not your forte, get there early anyway so you can use the rope swing and plunge into the turquoise baths without having to wait on a line for the adrenaline rush. There are great places to picnic, too. Once the park gets crowded, hike to the upper falls. The hundred meter ascent up a slippery, clay path, is worth it, providing stunning views of the valley below. At the falls, there is also a bear sanctuary with two species of bear–Asiatic Black Bear and Malayan Sun Bear. Gather at 12:30 pm to watch them feed. During my visit, I got to watch bears fight, which is highly recommended, though you probably should not instigate. (The falls are about one hour out of town.) To see a video of Asiatic Black Bears wrestling and of me doing the rope swing, visit my YouTube page.

 

Kouang Si Waterfalls

Kouang Si Waterfalls

Kouang Si Waterfalls Luang Prabang Laos

Saturday: 12:00 pm–Wat Up… Top of Sacred Hill

When you return to the city, walk the quaint streets of Luang Prabang and do some wat-hopping, making sure to include the temples atop Phou Si, which means Sacred Hill, in your itinerary. Up top, take in the spellbinding panorama of the city nestled in the forest with both the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers cradling the city. Whether it’s on your way up or down, make sure to take the path (there are three) at the northern foot. This will lead you past dozens of gold Buddhas striking various poses, stretches of nagas, vistas framed by tree branches, and, at the top, the remains of an old anti-aircraft gun.

 

Saturday: 2:30 pm–Decapitated Buddhas and Stellar Sunsets

Hire a boat or wait for the passenger ferry to head across the Mekong for a woodsy stroll through the village of Xiang Men. The wats on this side of the river are run down, thus feel more authentic and you can walk a few kilometers from one to the other, but that’s not why you’re going to Xiang Men. You’re there to visit Wat Tom Sackalim, a cave where destroyed Buddhas are housed. Make sure to stop off at faded Wat Longkhoon and ask the ticket distributors for a flashlight and key to get into the locked cave temple. We had three children lead us through the cave. (That story coming soon.) Afterward, watch the sunset from the vantage point at Wat Chom Phet, which will provide stunning views of the city. (Bring bug spray and a picnic.)

 

Xiang Men, Laos, Across from Luang Prabang, Laos

Saturday: 7:00 pm–Touch Me, Touch Me, Touch Me

Try an oil massage. We stopped by L’Hibiscus on Sakhaline Road. For about $14 you’ll receive a massage that rivals some of the best ones I had received at the high-end spas in five-star hotels. Or find another massage shop, you’ve earned it.

Saturday: 8:30 pm–Barbecue Along the Mekong

Dine at Khemkhong Barbecue, an outdoor Korean barbecue. For about $7.50, enjoy an all-you-can-grill sweat-a-thon. There’s all sorts of delicious seafoods, meats, vegetables, and noodles that you can cook on the tabletop grill. Bring an extra shirt.

 

BBQ Along the Mekong River Luang Prabang, Laos

Sunday: 5:45 am

Give alms again. It’s just so unique.

Sunday: 7:00 am

Stop by the morning market, where you’ll see produce and fish displayed in colorful piles. But if you’re a PETA member, you might want to skip this. You’ll find frogs tied together by their legs, jumping futilely in opposite directions. Ducks sit in baskets with their beaks quivering. Expect a few other grim scenes.

 

Frogs at Luang Prabang Market

 

Note: Though Luang Prabang’s sites can be seen in 37 hours, I’d recommend spending closer to a week there just enjoying the city’s easy pace of life.

Things to skip:

Unless you’re big on Buddhas, the exhibit in the Royal Palace is quite modest and not worth an hour of your time, though the wat inside, which you don’t have to pay for, is quite spectacular and you might want to spend a minute to check that out. I didn’t visit the Buddha Caves up the river because I was already sick of floating down the Mekong, but I’d gather it’s a more touristic experience than the fascinating Wat Tom Sackalim. Save time and just head across to Xiang Men.

 

Things that I skipped, but you probably shouldn’t:

Described by some as the most enchanting Buddhist monastery in the entire country, Wat Xiang Thong, a few blocks from both of the hotels I stayed at, was something I skipped. I was just watted out.

 

Where to Stay in Luang Prabang:

There are good budget options in the west of the city, just a block or two from the night markets, however, the UNESCO area of the city is the most picturesque. Here, you are nearest to most of the spectacular wats, entrenched by beautiful colonial architecture and nature, and no more than a few blocks from both the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers. Two great options with friendly staffs and clean, comfortable rooms are Lotus Villa and Hotel Villa Deux Rivieres.

 

Lotus Villa’s rooms open to a shaded courtyard, where they serve one of the best and filling complimentary breakfasts in the city–a giant bowl of rice noodle soup is more than enough, but that’s complemented with delicious pancakes and omelets, if you so desire. From the rooms that face the road, like the spacious and all-inclusive Orchid Suites, you can wake up early and watch the monk procession from your private balcony. If your view only includes the garden, Lotus Villa puts out mats and pillows on the road for guests to give alms. The owners also give back to the community by aiding the local orphanage, which you can visit during your stay, and by providing for the nearby temples. Rooms run from $55 to $186, depending on room type and season.

 

At Hotel Villa Deux Rivieres, you can enjoy the same tranquility as Lotus Villa’s, but instead of being situated in a secluded garden, you’re on the peaceful Nam Khan River. The best three rooms have riverfront balconies. Even if you’re not facing the river, you can enjoy breakfast or coffee on the patio, which creates the atmosphere of sipping lattes alongside a muddier more tropical Seine. Hotel Villa Deux Rivieres is Luang Prabang’s best accommodation during the city’s famous annual boat races, when nearby villages compete against each other, finishing the race right in front of the property. Rates are between $79 and $245, also determined both by room and season.

 

Kouang Si Waterfalls Luang Prabang

Kouang Si Waterfalls Luang Prabang

Posted on by Noah Lederman in 37 Hours, Asia, Somewhere

2 Responses to 37 Hours: Luang Prabang

  1. Minna

    Wow, some photos of you and Marissa look like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden…Beautiful!

  2. Hoyt Jaurigue

    I can’t enjoy it all

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