The cool season's in full swing. Make the most of it with a trip to Laos' ancient royal capital.
Although well known for its myriad golden temples, Luang Prabang also offers a host of other treats, from colonial restaurants and charming cafés to breathtaking natural wonders.
 

Photo: Misaiphon Restaurant 

Eat

Luang Prabang is quiet and low-key, which makes it a great spot to enjoy lots of long lunches and indulgent dinners. Start with the many cute French bakeries around town, most sporting colonial architecture. Le Banneton (Sisavang Vong Rd., across from Wat Sop Sickharam temple) has so many travellers lounging outside eating crusty baguettes you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in Paris in the summertime. The Lao coffee is thick, strong and served black or with sweetened condensed milk (from 12,000 kip/B48).
 
Tamnak LaoObviously you need to sample some traditional Lao food during your visit, which has similarities to both Thai and Chinese cuisines. Grab a spot on the wide wooden balcony at restaurant and cooking school Tamnak Lao (Sakkaline Rd., +8 56 7125-2525), order up some say ua kway, a traditional spicy Lao buffalo sausage (35,000 kip/B140) and ask for a pot of their jeowbong—an intense green chili dip that packs a serious punch. For dinner, head to relaxed, open-air Misaiphon Restaurant (Phu Vao Rd., +8 56 7121-2888) to catch a performance of traditional Lao dance and music. Try the whole fish with herbs (55,000 kip/B220), which is perfectly moist and cooked in a fragrant mix of peanuts, lime and lemongrass. If you really want to push the boat out, enjoy the town’s French cultural legacy with a meal at fine dining restaurant L’Eléphant (Vat Nong, +8 56 7125-2482). The setting is open, elegant and airy, the food rich and flavorsome and the wine list one of the most extensive in town. Try one of the set menus (from 127,000kip/B580) for items like coq au vin and tarte tartin with warm apple, mango and pineapple.
 
 
 
 

 
Photo: Tangor Bar and Lounge

Drink

Luang Prabang is so chill it borders on sleepy, so you’re hardest partying will probably be sipping a quiet beer. Your best bet is along Sisavang Vong Road near the center of town. Le Tangor Bar and Lounge (Sisavang Vong Rd., +8 56 7126-0761) is an expat hangout with dark lighting, soft jazz and a wide veranda, while Coconut Garden (directly across the road) serves Lao food and cold drinks in an open courtyard space dotted with palm trees and white umbrellas. Just remember the local curfew means bars start winding down around 11pm and close at 11:30pm on the dot.

Photo: Le Palais Juliana Hotel

Stay

We stayed at the swanky Le Palais Juliana Hotel (Chao Phetsalath, +8 56 7126-0417), a gorgeous resort-style property outside of town with rooms overlooking the pool and gardens. Prices start from US$189 per night (B6,000). For something more central, Villa Santi (Sakkarine Road, +8 56 7125-2157) is a beautiful colonial building with wide open rooms and shuttered windows in the heart of the temple district, making it a good spot to catch the early morning almsgiving. Prices start from US$128 (B4,000) per night.
 
 
Photo: Tad Kuangsi

Do

Luang Prabang is set along the mighty Mekong River so make sure you get out on the water with a boat trip. A standard two-hour tour costs US$40-50 (B1,300-B1,600, depending on your bargaining skills) and should take in the thousands of Buddha images stored in caves at Pak Ou. It also usually involves a stop off at one of the small villages along the way to visit local markets and sample some homemade whiskey. Another worthwhile adventure is Tad Kuangsi waterfall, around 30km south of Luang Prabang (about US$20/B620 return in a taxi). After a short walk through the forest you’ll hear the sound of crashing water before you see the breathtaking three-tiered falls. If you can spare the time, bring swimmers and take a dip, the turquoise water is crystal clear and refreshing.
 
Those looking for souvenirs should head to the daily night markets from 5pm on Sisavang Vong Road. A welcome departure from the usual tacky tourist tees and key rings, these higher-end markets have locals selling silver and beaded jewelry, patterned ceramic kitchenware, local art and ground Laos coffee beans to take home. There’s also a great range of hawkers selling everything from fresh juices and pancakes to barbecued meat skewers. If extra time presents itself, just wander the town’s picturesque streets which snake between traditional wooden Lao homes, faded colonial guesthouses and golden temples. For a bird’s eye view climb to the top of Phousi Hill and its mountaintop temple.
It’s a bit of a trek (comfy shoes and mosquito repellent are recommended) but the panoramic views make it a great spot for sunset.

 

Essentials

GETTING THERE

Bangkok Airways flies twice daily to Luang Prabang at 9:40am and 15:05pm.
Round-trip starts from B10,350. Thai Airways flies to Luang Prabang five times a week.
Prices start at B9,465 for a return.

VISA

Thais don’t need a visa for stays of up to 30 days but you need to go with a passport.
Citizens from most other countries can get a visa-on-arrival for B1,000 (you’ll need a passport photo, too).

CURRENCY

The official currency in Laos is the Laotian Kip (LAK)
but the majority of shops and businesses will accept Thai baht or US dollars.
 

EXCHANGE RATE

B1 = 250 kip
 

Save the Date

Feb 3

Boun Khao Chi This temple festival is
held during the third moon of the lunar
calendar. You will see worshippers
circumnavigate the town’s temples
and make offerings to monks.
 

April 14-16

Lao New Year Falling in April, the local,
much calmer version of Songkran lasts
three days and involves water ceremonies,
processions and feasts—without
as much drunkenness.
 

Early May

Rocket Festival This fun festival involves
people gathering in fields to
launch miniature, homemade rockets
in the air in an attempt to make rain.
Expect booms and plenty of revelry.
 
 

Temple Tour

Wat Visoun (photo on the right)
The oldest temple in the city is a huge stone structure
surrounded by lush gardens. Sisavang Vong Road
 
 
Wat Xieng Thong
One of the country’s most important temples,
attracting monks from all over Laos.
Khem Khong Road
 
 
Wat Sop Sickharam (photo on the right)
It’s beautiful and highly ornate with gold detailing,
located right in town. Sakkaline Road
 
Haw Kham
The city’s royal palace is over 110 years old and has some
French colonial touches. Sisavang Vong Road
 
 

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