LUANG PRABANG, LAOS

BOR PHEN NYANG!

IT'S ALL GOOD/ NO WORRIES!

WHY I LOVE

LUANG PRABANG

  1. The People. Genuine, Friendly. Bor phen nyang... take it slow and it’s all good!
  2. The Food. Beef Laap, Mok Pha, Papaya Salad, Or Lam, Sai Oua, and of course sticky rice. The food here is out of this world!
  3. The Outdoor Sports. Mountain biking, rock climbing, trekking, kayaking. Getting down and dirty is pretty easy around here.

24 HRS IN LUANG PRABANG

SEE, EAT & DO

This is tough, so I’m going to do a DIRTY and CLEAN version. 

 

But first, regardless of your day’s adventure, get up at sunrise to see an almsgiving ceremony (be there at 5:30). Don’t go to the main road (Sakkarine Rd, which runs straight down the peninsula). Even though this is the largest and most picturesque gathering of monks, it is also the largest grouping of tourists behaving like maniacs, oblivious to the sacred and meditative nature of the alms ceremony. Go to the smaller side road between the main road and Mekong river, or my personal favorite where route 13 passes through Ban (Village) Viengmay. Hotel D’Lyon is on one corner. It’s not quite as picturesque, but you’ll be the only farang (foreigner) there. Then stroll the morning market for breakfast and breathe in the bustle of a new day. From flowers to pig feet, bullfrogs to sticky rice, and grasshoppers to mountains of tropical fruit, you’ll be on sensory overload.

 

DIRTY. Hire a mountain bike from Noah ‘Lord of the Bikes’ at Tiger Trail bike shop. They have the newest and best maintained bikes in town, and can be found in front of the fountain on the main road just southwest of the peninsula. Then, cross the Mekong on the car ferry (behind the National Museum) and get rippin’! Ride the 34km dirt road loop or dive into any number of single tracks. Get 5,000kip of sticky rice and some grilled pork to take with for picnic lunch. OR go to the Ghecko Wall for some rock climbing on a limestone face over the Mekong (go with Jewel Travel).

 

CLEAN. Visit UXO Lao and learn about the traumatic lingering effects of the American CIA’s ‘Secret War’ in Laos. Carry on to the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center for a well organized and displayed overview of the varying ethnic minority groups in Laos.

 

Then brunch at Le Bennaton Café, on main street across from Wat Sop Sickharam. Best croissants around. I recommend the ‘Brunch Set’.

DIRTY. Go romp with some elephants. Book with Elephant Village. They have the best reputation for treatment of their elephants – most are rescued from the logging industry. Go for the bathing package. You’ll need it too after that morning ride!

 

CLEAN. Stroll around the temples on the main road. Don’t miss Wat Xieng Thong (built 1560) at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. Chat with one of the ubiquitous saffron-clad novice monks (likely they will come to you). Grab a tuk-tuk, or rent a motorbike and head to Kuang Si Waterfall. I know EVERYONE touts their waterfalls, but this one is legit!

Grab a Mojito or Jack Sparrow at Icon Klub. Hungarian owner Elizabeth is, well… an icon. Then head to Garavek, a traditional storytelling theater, to be delighted by local myths, legends, and folktales.

TOP 5 BEST

SPOTS TO EAT

 Rosella Fusion is currently under renovation (September 2015) but will reopen. Located on the peninsula overlooking the Nam Khan river across from Apsara Hotel. This place is tiny and easy to miss, so heads up! Service is slow because everything is made fresh. Try the Tom Yum Soup. It’s hot-spicy-salty-sweet… your taste buds will love you.

 

Budget

Whether you creak across the bamboo bridge in dry season or get paddled across in rainy season, Dyen Sabai is a cozy place where you can have delicious Lao delicacies in your own bamboo hut. Menu changes daily.

 

Budget

Been traipsing around SE Asia for a while? Wanna swing clear of rice and noodles for a night? Run by a Lao/Canadian couple in a cozy backyard setting nestled in coconut trees, Pizza Phan Luang is hands down the best pizza in Laos.

 

It’s in Phan Luang Village across the Nam Khan river from the peninsula (just up the street from Dyen Sabai). You can get here via a bamboo bridge in dry season or in wet season you cross the Old Bridge (red steel, French built motorbike and bicycle only) and turn left on the first road. Follow that until it forks. There will be a temple on your left. Turn right and you will see the sign immediately on your left.

 

Budget

Nisha is an Indian restaurant and a local favorite run by an endearingly quirky family. While aesthetically not the most pleasing, the food is superb. Start with the Vegetable Somosa and Beer Lao and work your way up to the Chicken Tikka Massala. Top it off with an artistically crafted before your eyes Roti Pancake. Don’t pass on the condensed milk drizzled on top.

 

5 minute walk south from main street on your right, just past Amantaka Hotel. Watch for blue Pepsi tables.

 

Budget

3 Phad Fusion is a Lao Sindad (do-it-yourself barbecue) in Namsaphan Village. There are dozens of sindad restaurants in Luang Prabang, but this one has the freshest ingredients, and it’s hoppin’!

 

You’re gonna have to work for this one though. It’s off the beaten trail. Orient yourself with this Hobo Map: Follow Highway 13 towards the stadium and south bus station. Turn right at the stadium and follow that past the stadium and over the hill. At the bottom of the hill take the first right (first real cement road) and 3 Phad Fusion will be about 100meters on your left. You’ll be the only foreigner here, but just do like everyone else. Grill grill grill and eat eat eat, and don’t forget the ice cream finale! 60,000kip (about US$7) all-you-can-eat. Open 6-11pm.

 

Budget

INSIDER TIPS

Take in the beauty of the Mekong River. In English “Mekong River” is derived from the Lao language (ແມ່ນ້ຳຂອງ) “Mae” meaning mother, and “Nam” meaning water. Thus, “Mae Nam Khong” means “Khong, The Mother of Water.” Needless to say, she is the essence of this area. So pick a spot and feel the flow. My favorite is where the Nam Khan and Mekong meet, on the opposite side from the peninsula. In the dry season a wonderful collection of boulders emerge as the waters recede. Sit on one and give thanks.

Even though morning alms can turn a bit too touristy at times, it is a timeless tradition unique to Luang Prabang. Get off the beaten track and witness the peaceful, meditative exchange as it always has been. Read more under ’24 hours in Luang Prabang’.

Hmong New Year is a festival that can’t be missed if you are in Luang Prabang in December. The date varies, as it awaits the completion of the rice harvest. Hmong tradition is out in full force as mostly young Hmong men and women from surrounding villages gather in their finest vibrant handmade clothing and jewelry. Be sure not to miss the ‘Pov Pob’ or ball tossing game, which is essentially an age-old icebreaker that gets young singles chatting. This is the opportunity of the year to find a partner before heading back to the village. Take the new bridge over the Nam Khan in direction of the airport. About 200 meters past the bridge there will be a dirt road leading up to your right. The grounds are at the end of the road. You can’t miss it, just join in the stream of vibrantly colorful Hmong kids.

 

The Boat Racing Festival. Around 30 teams from surrounding villages converge on Luang Prabang in early September to battle it out in long wooden boats on the Nam Khan River. Quickly followed in October by the Fireboat Festival, where each village builds a boat from bamboo and paper to launch into the Mekong. Yeah, lot’s of festivals around here!


ESSENTIALS

Cheap guest houses abound, especially close to and on the peninsula. Just keep walking until you find one that suits you.

 

Rent a bicycle or motorbike. Tuk-tuk rides add up quickly.

 

Feu (ເຝີ- Lao noodle soup) is on every corner and is dirt cheap. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a feu shop. Or eat any variety of skewered and barbequed meat and veggies nearly on every street. Each skewer runs about US$0.25. Heads up for the mystery meats!

Rent a cruiser bicycle to ply the town for as little as US$2/day. Or rent a motorbike for about US$10. Careful though, the only rule of the road is… there ain’t no rules! As in “Did I just see a trio of 12 year old boys riding a wheelie down a congested street?” Yes, yes you did. And the hospital is, well… good luck with that. Good news is you can always opt for a shaman!

There are heaps of guesthouses/hotels for all price ranges on or close to the peninsula. Stroll down some side streets for a good deal.

Besides aforementioned pre-adolescents jockeying for road space while texting their buddies, Luang Prabang is exceedingly safe. Tradition is early to bed and early to rise. Wear a helmet, and don’t forget to chill!

Though there can be some interesting finds, the night market is generally a tourist trap. Even if it says “Made in Laos” that might not be the case. If you do go, haggling is expected. This is not the case usually in Laos.

 

There is a food alleyway at the beginning of the night market pumping the backpackers through. If you must, stick to the grilled items. Though the price is appealing, the mounds of food towards the latter half will most certainly invite stomach mutiny.

 

Again, avoid the scrum on the main street for morning alms. Hit the side streets, or anywhere else in town for that matter. There are 34 temples and about 1,000 monks in town, so morning alms happen everywhere. Ride your bike out into another neighborhood. Anywhere there are people kneeling on mats is where the monks will come.

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