I still remember my first trip to the World Heritage city of Luang Prabang. In my 20s, it was so easy to decide that we would go to Luang Prabang by bus from Bangkok. So we took an overnight bus to Nong Khai, crossed to Laos, passed Vang Vieng, then arrived in Luang Prabang.
That might sound easy, but that trip was really unforgettable, because in reality it took like 24 hours to get there… in a non air-con bus and super-stiff seats.
Still, Luang Prabang has remained one of my favorite cities of all time. I had a chance to go back there again several years later and still impressed. I love the people’s attitude of living so slowly and beautifully. Of course, the mornings are cladded with tourists do alm offerings, but you can see the locals there too.
The first time as a backpacker, second time to work, it was during my third time that I really had time to fully indulge in the slow life of Luang Prabang. We had time to rest, woke up late, explored many types of eateries, went on a sunset cruise and visited the beautiful National Museum and took a bike to Kuangsi Waterfalls. And this trip definitely made me love this town more.
Let’s get into the history a bit. Tucked between mountains, this former capital of Laos is located between two main rivers, which are Mekong river and Nam Khan river. The name came from the sacred Buddha image Prabang, highly revered by Laotian people. For centuries, Luang Prabang has been a fully Buddhist town, with endless temples dotting the area. This is why every morning we can see hundreds of monks and novices lining up to collect alms. This kingdom of Lan Xang was taken over by the French during colonial period, so the colonial culture can be seen through the architecture and the foreigners who came to set up businesses here (mostly French and Europeans.)
Despite its World Heritage Status, I love how Luang Prabang still preserve its ‘little town’ vibes. Of course, over the years, there are more cars and motorbikes, but you can still bike around on the main roads. And whether how much touristy it is, most things are still not overpriced. So if you are looking for somewhere to rest, eat good food and unwind, this might be the place.
Where to stay: This time, we stayed at Satri House, one of the oldest hotels in the city. It is a bit of the city center but not too far away (can take a bike to the morning and night market and around). Friendly owner and staff and great food! It is also part of Secret Retreats, a collection of hotels in Asia.
Where to eat:
– Paste Laos: Fine dining Laotian cuisine by famous Thai chef who founded Paste Bangkok
– Manda de Laos: Like Satri House, it is part of Secret Retreats (in thier Secret Tables category), serving great meals overlooking the World Heritage lotus pond.
– Secret Pizza: Ironically, this is not part of Secret Retreats, but its location is quite mysterious, hidden in a village. Open just two days a week (Tuesdays and Fridays). Great homemade pizza and salads.
– Dyen Sabai: A restaurant serving Lao fondue. Good ambiance and great for families.
– Chez Mat: Delicious cold cuts and cheese platters with a selection of wines. “
Souvenirs: We love Celadon, a little shop near Wat Xieng Thong. There, they have great design products (vases and buddha images and photo and history books) for sale and part of the proceeds will bee donated to monk education programs.