When my sister told me she wanted to go to Luang Prabang in Laos, I have to admit I wasn’t too thrilled about it. I didn’t know much about Laos and didn’t think it was worth the extra effort when there were places that were a lot easier to get to, like Thailand or Singapore. Brothers are rarely wrong, but was I ever in this case. I had heard about how nice the town was, a famed UNESCO World Heritage Site. As a sister city to Bagan, Luang Prabang was bound to be at the very least a good history lesson. But what pleasantly surprised me was what I saw was a good mix of local and foreign influences working successfully together. Many of the tourist-oriented businesses were joint ventures between foreign and Lao owners, with the common goal of providing a high quality, eco-friendly service while respecting the history of the place. This, for me, is what Myanmar’s fledgling tourist industry should aspire to be, not Thailand.
On the streets, Lao green papaya salad and BLT baguettes were sold side by side. Most importantly, Luang Prabang captured my attention with its beautiful mix of French colonial and traditional Lao architecture. For me, any successful fusion of Asian and Western aesthetics is worth the extra effort to experience.
Tools of the day: Fuji x100s, 35mm
Much like in Vietnam, baguettes are very popular here.
I believe this sign says “stop”.
Getting ready for the night market.
An example of a well-preserved French-inspired building.
Night market up and running!
The next few shots were taken at an alleyway by the night market that was lined with food vendors. Most of them allow you to fill your plate with food for $1. Grilled meats are extra, but your dinner won’t cost you any more than $5. It was hard to justify going to a restaurant with this option available.
BeerLao is cheap, good, and plentiful. Don’t skimp on it. Also, downing it at the security check gate in Bangkok, because you can’t bring in liquids, is perfectly legal.
All for a buck!
For more information about Luang Prabang, check out its UNESCO page.
Some Travel Tips
-If getting there by night bus from the Chiang Khong-Huay Xai border (presumably from Chiang Mai), there are very few stops along the way. Don’t expect to find convenience stores either, as there are none. Instead, you are treated to a ride through the mountains with the moon as your only source of light. Bring ear plugs for a good night’s rest. And some Gravol.
-There are options to get to LP by boat, too, and I’ve heard great things about it. And of course there’s flying, but that’s not as fun.
-Exchange for some kip at the border. You’ll need it at the pay toilets along the way and to get to the city. The bus terminal either did not have an accessible money changer or it was closed, and thankfully we had enough money to take a tuk-tuk to our guest house some 20 minutes away.
-If you’re traveling at the end of the year, Luang Prabang can get really chilly in the morning as it’s up in the mountains. Make sure to bring a sweater or a light coat.
-If you know your Thai numbers (presumably from the haggling in Chiang Mai), you should have no problem at the night market, as Lao and Thai numbers are mostly the same. The vendors are pretty good with their English numbers, too.
-There are no taxis or buses (eco-friendly UNESCO town), and tuk-tuk rides should probably be saved to get to and from the airport. LP is small enough that it can be explored by foot. Arm yourself with a camera and you’re in business.
-One of the best things about LP is the number of things to do. You can go for something nature/adventure-related or a class. Cooking classes are very popular, and they give you a good intro to Lao cuisine. Try Tamarind, a really cool restaurant that’s all about promoting Lao food (book months in advance). I did a class at Tamnak Lao, where I learned how to make jaew, a killer chili dipping sauce that’s 10 times better than sriracha. It goes well with crispy river weed and some BeerLao.
-Did I mention a street food alleyway that lets you fill up a plate for $1? Enough said.
Have a great weekend!