This Knol has been put together to help the first time visitor to Luang Prabang in Laos get an idea of what to expect and help prepare the planning of the trip. Much more detail on Luang Prabang and the below hotels can be found on the customised tour specialist Oasis Travel website.
Introduction Luang Prabang is a World Heritage listed town in the northern part of Laos is Southeast Asia. it is situated on the confluence of two major rivers namely The Mekong and The Kham. Luang Prabang has long been a favourite with backpackers but in the last few years has become a more mainstream destination for more sophisticated travellers in search of a touch of soft adventure. This is due to the relaxation of the visa restrictions now available on arrival at most entry points and the increased number of flights both internationally and domestically. Disneyland hotel rooms anaheim
Early morning ritual of Buddhist monks collecting alms – Luang Prabang
When to go The best time to visit Laos is between mid October and the end of February when the weather is generally warm and dry although it can get a little chilly in the mountainous north. The hot and very drydusty season begins in March when temperatures can reach up to 40c and generally lasts through to May. Increasing humidity and temperatures bring on the wet season which ranges from June to October. During this time the Mekong River rises and flooding of the surrounding area is not uncommon.
Getting There Luang Prabang is most easily accessed by a none stop flight from Bangkok. Both Lao Aviation and Bangkok Airways fly there on a daily basis. However for those wanting to try something a little more adventurous and romantic the town can also be accessed by boat from Chiang Sean a small town on the banks of the Mekong River located in the Golden Triangle in northern Thailand approximately 1 hour from Chiang Rai. There are a few boat options –
Luang Say boat. The best boat in terms of luxury and comfort is the Luang Say boat. It departs the small town of Huay Xai on the Lao side of the Mekong across from Chiang Sean where you collect your Lao visa. The boat cruises at a leisurely pace and includes stops at remote hill tribe villages en route. The boat moors at the small village of Pakbeng where you spend the night in delightful riverside cottages. The following day continue your cruise with a stop at the Pak Ou Caves en route. The boat cruises down stream to Luang Prabang every Monday Thursday Friday and upstream to Huay Xai every Tuesday Wednesday Saturday between 01 Nov- 30 Apr .
Luang Say Lodge
Luang Say boat
Speed boat. This mode of transport is not particularly recommended as it is quite dangerous. Life jackets and crash helmets are a must as these boats shoot down the river at breakneck speeds and often hit rocks en route. You will be sat in a cramped position with no option of stretching out see below image and by the time you reach Luang Prabang you will be numb from the bumpiness and sitting in a single position for most of the day. These boats take approximately 10 hours to complete the trip.
Luang Prabang – speedboat
Luang Prabang is also easily accessed from the capital city of Vientiane either by a daily flights or by road. If coming by road I suggest at least a day stop over at the beautiful village of Vang Vieng located roughly half way between the two.
Luang Prabang Hotel Options in town There are no world recognised hotel chain in Luang Prabang so if staying in a Sheraton or Hilton branded hotel is essential to your trip maybe you should reconsider There are however a great range of boutique inns and full ofcharm and historic importance. The one piece of advice I would give all potential visitors to Luang Prabang is to BOOK EARLY….. there is a real shortage of room in the town and if you have a particular favourite you will need to book at least 7 or 8 months in advance to avoid disappointment
Top End Lodgings Currently the best place in terms of room quality and service available in the town is La Residence Phou Vao. This luxury hotel is operated by the Orient-Express Trains Hotels group who also run the famous Orient Express Train service between Singapore and Bangkok amongst others. With just 34 rooms availability is always at a premium even in low season May-Sep. The hotel is located on Phou Vao Hill – translated as the hill of the kites – and this unique vantage point affords breathtaking views of the lush surrounding mountains and surrounding World Heritage town of Luang Prabang. The hotel restaurant is also renowned as being the number one place in town for a good meal but the prices reflect this Prices from US233 per room per night including breakfast.
La Residence Phou Vao Luang Prabang
Mid Range Boutique Lodgings Luang Prabang is packed full of small inns and guest houses and without personal recommendation it can be hard to make a choice of where to stay. Many of the smaller guesthouses have cottoned on to the idea that they can make a lot of money by over charging unsuspecting guests in the knowledge that the better options will all be full by the time of your arrival.
My favourite is the Apsara. This traditional yet stylish hotel occupies two rows of Indochinese shop houses and is situated in the centre of town overlooking the Nam Khan River. It is one of only a few places to stay along this particular river and offers spectacular views especially at sunrise. Away from the busy tourist areas and yet within easy walking distance it makes an ideal base to explore Luang Prabang. The downsides are that the walls are a paper thin and the wooden floors mean you can heareverything going on next door not great if its a romantic escape or honeymoon but that said the positives outweigh these negatives ten times over. Prices from US85 per room per night including breakfast.
The Apsara Luang Prabang
In my opinion the 3 Nagas is another example of an outstanding small lodge. The location is superb ideal for exploring Luang Prabang on foot or bicycle the rooms are fabulous the service is good and overall ambience is relaxed. Perfect for anyone looking to stay in a historic setting with oodles of style Prices from US93 per room per night including breakfast.
3 Nagas rear garden
Only opened in mar 2008 the fabulous Chang Inn not to be confused with the Chang Heritage Hotel opening late 2008 by the same owners is another wonderful character option in the heart of Luang Prabang. The rooms are larger than average and full of local antiques and bric-a-brac giving a real sense of place. The staff are excellent and the food wonderful. Prices from US99 per room per night including breakfast.
Chang Inn room Luang Prabang
There are many other equally as good options such as Villa Maydou Satri House soon to open Nov 08 Villa Maly in town but the above in my opinion represent the best value in terms of the actual rooms the location the service and the food in this price range.
Budget Lodgings There are a bewildering array of guesthouses and backpacker joints in Luang Prabang that cost anything from US12 to US70 per night – but remember you get what you pay for. For 12 expect nothing more than a small roomwith a bed and a window if youre lucky. My best picks of the accommodation I looked at when last in Luang Prabang are….
Villa Laodeum is a little guesthouse is located directly on the street that is also home to the famous night bazaar just steps away from many of the best bars and restaurants in town as well as being only meters away from the Mekong River and the Royal Palace. There is also an interesting temple just behind the building allowing you to see the monks in the early morning collecting alms from the comfort of your room. Prices from US35 per room per night including breakfast.
Villa Laodeum Luang Prabang
Sala Prabang is located directly on the waterfront with the reception and some rooms with a direct outlook on to the mighty Mekong River. There are forty roomsthat have been designed to reflect the traditional Lao style as well as being modern and contemporary. Whilst not being full of mod cons and of a luxurious finish the the location more than compensates. Prices from US70 per room per night including breakfast.
Sala Prabang exterior Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang Hotel Options out of town
If you cannot find suitable accommodation in the heart of the town there are also a couple of decent places to stay just a few kilometers out of town.
My favourite is the Santi Resort Resort and Spa. It is run by the same people who own the over-priced Villa Santi located in the town – which in my opinion is very over-rated and living off the past when it used to be the best in town. The Santi Resort Spa sits in over ten hectares of lush landscaped gardens surrounded by mountains and natural streams about a 10 minute drive the last part down a bumpy track away from the town centre. There is a feeling of space and peacefulness as there are no noisy roads and you do not hear the wake up calls from the temples in this remote spot. Santi Resort is also one of the few places that has a swimming pool. The only downside to staying here I found was it can be quite difficult to get a taxi to take you back in the evening but the resort does have its own shuttle service. Prices from US106 per room per night including breakfast.
Santi Resort Spa swimming pool Luang Prabang
The Grand Luang Prabang is another good option but is somewhat over priced especially in high season. This historic hotel is situated on grounds of the Xiengkeo Palace which was once home to a famous hero of Luang Prabang Prince Phetsarath. He picked the location for his former palace for its tranquillity its stunning views of the Mekong River and the views to the remarkable mountainous landscape surrounding Luang Prabang. It is located approximately 4km from the town centre. Prices from US80 per room per night including breakfast.
The Grand Luang Prabang Luang Prabang
For those looking for something really special just 25 kilometers from town is the fabulous Lao Spirit Resort. There are currently just five bungalows all built in a traditional style by local craftsmen and artists. A prime focus of the resort is conserving local culture and heritage supporting community projects benefiting local people and to support initiatives lessening the negative environmental impacts of tourism. BUT the key attraction to most tourists staying at the resort is to get close to the elephants. The elephants are kept in this remote spot as part of the Elephant Park Project whose raison detre is to give ex logging elephants a new future. Since 2003 five elephants have been freed from logging work and given a new home in the park where experienced mahouts and vets help the elephants adapt to their new environment. The project funding relies solely on tourist visits so your stay here is vital to the elephants survival. Prices from US70 per room per night including breakfast.
Lao Spirit Resort bungalow
Things to do Once you have decided on how you get there and where to stay the next question is what is there to do once you have arrived and checked in There are a number of tour operators in the town offering a huge array of side trips. Before booking I suggest that if you want to help the very poor local communities you should be sure to check carefully that the trip you chose employs local guides stops at community run projects and is of benefit to the Lao people.
Half day tour of Luang Prabang surrounds by bicycle Leave your Luang Prabang hotel on your provided bicycle at around 8-30am. Your first port of call is Wat Pa Phon Phao Wat is the Lao word for temple a forest temple famous for the teachings of Ajahn Saisamut. From here cycle another kilometer to Ban Phanom a village populated by Thai Lue a tribe with its origins in Southern China that is well known for cotton and silk hand-weaving. Here you will have the opportunity to see weavers working on traditional looms. From the village head along a dirt track for a few kilometers through teakwood plantations in to the Nam Khan valley. Continue past rice paddies and through dense forest before arriving atthe -Elephant Park Project-where until recently wild elephants and tigers roamed the valley. Optional elephant rides can be arranged and paid for locally. Depending on the season lunch will be served on a mountain view terrace or at the spectacular Tad Sae waterfalls. After a little time for relaxation and a coffee we return to Luang Prabang early afternoon. Total biking time- max. 2-3 hrs. Prices from 45 pp.
Full day Mekong River Cruise and City Temples Tour After breakfast transfer from your hotel to the pier for your cruise up the Mekong. Located 2 hours upstream of Luang Prabang are Pak Ou Caves home to thousands of gold lacquered Buddha statues crammed into the two caves carved into a limestone cliff. They range in size from a few centimeters to the size of a human. The caves are a visited by tourists and local pilgrims alike. The return journey stops occasionally to allow you to interact with local fishermen and explore some of the smaller tributary steams that feed the mighty Mekong and take in the magnificent mountain scenery.
The afternoon city tour begins with your guide explaining a little about the fascinating history of Luang Prabang before setting off on foot to the former Royal Palace now the National Museum. Your walk continues to Wat Mai a temple renowned for its golden bas-relief. Then continue to Wat Sensoukarahm built in 1718 with its beautiful dazzling golden facade. Finish with the afternoon with a visit to the most impressive and most photographed temple Wat Xieng Thong. This incredible temple built in 1560 by King Setthathirat is located on the tip of the peninsula. Prices from 80 pp. Further information For anyone looking for more in depth information about the culture geography topography entomology etc of Laos an excellent resource can be found Laos by Lao PDR.
Images of Luang Prabang
Wat Xieng Thong Luang Prabang
Boats on the Mekong Luang Prabang
Temple art monks Luang Prabang
Quiet side street Luang Prabang
Monks collecting alms Luang Prabang
Mekong River Luang Prabang
Rural Laos near Luang Prabang
the local brew – look closely
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