“Most of the time, beauty lies in the simplest of things.” – Winna Efendi
We felt this quote coming true in Luang Prabang, a small town located in the country of Loas. This town with a population of 55000 and area of hardly 8 sq. km had more to offer than many of the big cities we have visited. We made a plan for 5 days looking at the attractions and things to do. However, we could have easily spent 10 – 15 days discovering the culture there. Luang Prabang was declared UNESCO World Heritage site for its unique and remarkably well-preserved architectural, religious and cultural heritage. This was evident in every aspect of the place.
Laos itself is still relatively undiscovered on the tourism map. Luang Prabang is located in the north of Laos and is situated on the peninsula formed by 2 rivers – Mekong and Nam Kham. It is the one of the most visited destinations in Laos, after the capital city Vientiane.
Tourists with Indian passports can get a Visa on Arrival for a maximum stay of 30 days. One must have a passport valid for 6 months from the date of return, return ticket & confirmed hotel reservation to apply for a visa on arrival. You also need a latest passport size photo. Laos visa costs 40 USD per person (extra 1 USD if you arrive after 5pm local time). It is best to carry USD for visa because there are no ATMs before immigration counter. If you are not an Indian, refer to this link to know visa rules for your citizenship: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visa_policy_of_Laos
Stay in Luang Prabang
The economy runs mostly on tourism and Luang Prabang has options for accommodation ranging from backpackers hostel to luxurious resorts. Hostels with dorms come in the range of 60000 KIP (~Rs.500 / 8USD) and super-luxury hotels are in the range of 20L KIP (~Rs.16000/ 250 USD). The factors you can consider when booking accommodation are: view and proximity to eateries. Hotels located along the Mekong or Nam Kham river offer excellent views of the river, while some offer good mountain views. If you are particular about some cuisine or have preferences like veg or vegan food; it may be a good idea to book a hotel closeby. Given the size of the city, booking accommodation close to any attraction per se is not important because everything is easily accessible. Read my review of Villa Maydou to know what they have to offer.
Travel in Luang Prabang
Renting a bicycle or motobike is one of the cheapest way to explore the city. A full day bicycle rental costs less than 10000 KIP (~Rs.100 / 1.5 USD). A motorbike can be rented at anywhere between 10000 KIP to 250000 KIP.
Tuk-tuks are also available easily. Hiring a tuk-tuk for travelling inside Luang Prabang is not feasible though, because they charge atrocious prices (~1 USD per km). They are feasible for visiting attractions like Kuang Si falls or Tad Sae falls, which are outside the town. Unlike India, one has to drive on the right hand side of the road.
Currency in Laos
The official currency of Laos is Lao KIP (written as LAK or KIP). USD and Thai Baht are widely accepted and most of the establishments accept them with some markup.
- 1 USD is usually around 8200 KIP
- 1 THB is around 260 KIP
- 1 INR is approx 130 KIP
Please note: These exchange rates are as on Dec 2017. You can get the best rates for USD and THB. Other than that, the conversion rates are pretty bad. It is best if you can carry USD or a travel card with USD loaded in it. ATMs are easily available in Luang Prabang. There is a cap to the maximum KIP one can withdraw from the ATM and that varies from bank to bank. There is also a fixed ATM withdrawal charge which is usually in the range of 30000 – 40000 KIP (~Rs.225 – Rs.300/ USD 3-4). Check your budget and withdraw KIP only as much as required. It is difficult to get it converted back to USD and the currency is not useful anywhere else.
Food in Laos
Lao food is mainly non-vegetarian. Vegetarian is available, but the options are limited. Also, food is cooked in non-vegetarian oil and sauces so if you are particular about veg food, be vigilant. You can take a print of this if you want strict vegetarian food. We got this written by our hotel staff and it mentions we eat only vegetables and fruits, no fish, no fish sauce 🙂
You can find options from budget street food to fine dines in the small town. You can have delicious and filling food under 20000 KIP (~Rs.150/ 2USD) on the streets of Luang Prabang.
There are 2 Indian restaurants in town – Chennai restaurant and Nisha restaurant. Both are reasonably good. Its surprising there are 2 Indian restaurants in this small place, given it does not have Indian tourists or local Indian population.
Things to do in Luang Prabang
Visit the waterfalls Luang Prabang has 2 beautiful waterfalls – Kuang Si and Tad Sae. While Kuang Si is the most famous one, Tad Sae is equally lovely. Both the falls have 3 levels, Tad Sae is little tedious to climb compared to Kuang Si though! The 2 falls are must-see in Luang Prabang.
Visit the temples Life in Luang Prabang revolves around the temples. There are 34 UNESCO protected temples. These buddhist temples are called Vats and you can spot one every few meters. They are all beautiful and even the non-popular ones have intricate design and architecture. The most visited temple is Vat Xieng Thong and Vat Pha Bang.
Visit a few of them to understand more about the place! Visit the national museum National museum (official name : Haw Kham) is located in the same premises as Vat Haw Pha Bang, also called the Golden City temple. It was the royal palace in the days of the kings. It gives a glimpse of the life of the kings, various gifts that were given to them by different nations. There is an interesting car museum too with cars that were used by the royal family.
Witness the Alms Ceremony Alms ceremony is a Buddhist tradition followed very religiously in Luang Prabang. The monks start before sunrise and collect alms before returning back to their respective Vats. However, this has become a major tourist attraction and there is hardly any authenticity left in the tradition. The main road near Xieng Thong is full of tourists giving alms and clicking pictures. Our hotel gave us a guide on the dos and don’ts for the ceremony. However, tourists throng the place and its completely commercialised.
Tip for Alms ceremony: If you want to see quiet and authentic Alms ceremony, go to the street behind Xieng Thong temple. No tourists, mostly local give the alms. Watch the sunset Sunset on the Mekong river is a good way to spend your evening. Take a sunset cruise with Nava Mekong, or sit in one of the many restaurants along the Mekong river. You can also climb Mount Phou Si to watch the sunset, thought its extremely crowded with photographers wanting the perfect sunset shot.
Visit the night market Night market at Luang Prabang is as much a part of Luang Prabang culture as are the Wats and monks 🙂 The entire road where night market is put is closed to vehicles from 5 pm to 10 pm and the locals sell stuff on the road itself. Its an interesting place to be in and see various stuff sold by the local. The prices are jacked up and you can bargain hard.
Plant rice Living land farm just outside of Luang Prabang is an organic farm that offers a hands-on rice farming tour to tourists. The 3 hr tour involves getting your hands dirty to experience 14 stages of planting rice – right from selection of seeds to cooking the rice. It is open 365 days a year and the profits from this activity goes into supporting children from poor family with their education & medical needs. They have English classes for local students every evening and volunteers are welcome too! You can read more about them through their website http://www.livinglandlao.org
Explore the city on a cycle Some of the hotels offer bicycle to their guests to explore the city. If yours does not, you can always rent one. Given the size of the town, this is one of the best ways to explore the attractions. There are 2-7 day guided cycle tours as well which help tourists explore the country side.
Play with the elephants Elephant sanctuaries are popular tourist destinations in Luang Prabang. They rescue elephants and give them a safe environment to live and work in. They usually have experience tours for tourists where tourists can bathe, feed & play with the elephants. Some of them even allow elephant back rides. The popular ones are: MandaLao Elephant conservation center Elephant Village Laos Luang Prabang Elephant Camp Do your research and decide the best tour for yourself. We wanted to do this but could not. Connect with locals Backstreet academy offers many hands-on experiences with locals in Luang Prabang. From weaving to crossbow crafting to carving or fishing, there are almost 60 activities listed on their website for Luang Prabang. See what interests you and register on https://www.backstreetacademy.com/47925/things-to-do-in-luang-prabang You can save 10 USD if you have a referral code. Leave a comment on this post if you want an invite on backstreetacademy.
Laos is not a very expensive country, especially if you can eat local food. This is a rough estimate of our expenses in Luang Prabang. Though we stayed a night in Singapore too, I am not including Singapore visa, hotel and other expenses because getting inside Singapore was not a necessity.
Total Amount (in INR)
|Flight tickets (Hyd to Luang Prabang via Singapore on Silk Air and return)||55200|
|Lao Visa (3 people @ 41 USD each)||7900|
|Hotel for 5 nights (Villa Maydou)||27000|
|Tips and Misc expenses||1500|