Laos is that big country between Thailand and Vietnam you probably don’t think of when planning your trip, and Luang Prabang is the best town to visit in Laos. It might not be frequented by more than routine backpackers, but the town and surrounding area have some pretty fantastic attractions you don’t want to miss.
Slow Boat to Luang Prabang
Getting to Luang Prabang is an adventure in itself. You could always fly directly to their international airport, but that’s boring. A much better idea would be to take the Slow Boat Cruise from the border of Thailand. Book a tour from Chiang Mai, or save money and read here how to make the most out of the ride for 30% less.
The Kuang Si Waterfalls
An hour southwest of Luang Prabang are the Kuang Si waterfalls. On par with Plitvice Lakes in Croatia and Bigar in Romania, the high cascades falling over the tress into azure lakes is a truly enchanting sight. The taxis will usually ask for about $8 round-trip, but that can be haggled down to $3, including the entrance fee for the waterfalls. Bring hiking boots, as there are some great trails up to the top of the falls and beyond to a cave in the hills. Go for the rope swing into the water, but pull up your legs when you splash – it’s not that deep. Don’t worry about the fish eating at your legs, they’re the same as the ones you find in the fish spas…only bigger.
The UXO (Undetonated Ordnance) Museum
Did you know that Laos is the most bombed country in the world. Between 1964 and 1973, the US made half a million runs over Laos, dropping cluster bombs containing over 240 million “bombies.” An estimated 30% of the shells failed to detonate, and remain as “live” mines across the country. Every year, a few Laotians are maimed or killed when these bombies are disturbed in the fields or jungles. It’s the mission of UXO to clean up these lethal land mines. Between 1998 and 2016, they destroyed and removed over 35,000 ordnances. Don’t worry, as long as you stick to the tourist roads and paths in the country, you’ll be safe.
The Luang Prabang Night Market
The night markets in Laos are very similar to those in Thailand, but in a sense are nothing alike. While many of the market in Thailand are organized and selling the same merchandise in stall after stall, in Laos there’s a quasi “anything goes” mentality. The trinkets for purchase are as diverse as the stalls; no wholesaler is evident there. While food in Laos tends to be more than Thailand, clothes and souvenirs in the markets can be considerably cheaper (think $2 for a pair of shorts). What personally shocked me the most was seeing the Luang Prabang night market going up every day of the week at 5 PM on a busy street in town, and then getting fully dismantled again by midnight.
Sunset from Mount Phousi
In the heart of Luang Prabang is Mount Phousi. It’s not tall, but you’ll still have to climb a couple hundred steps to get to the top. From there, you have a gorgeous view of the entire surrounding valley. My recommendation would be to go up a good hour or so before sunset, as you’ll want to get a good spot. It does get crowded up there. Bring a sandwich from the night market, and prepare to watch a gorgeous sunset over the hills beyond the Mekong River. On your way up, you can also see various Buddhist shrines and statues, including a large hole in the rock containing a fossilized imprint of Buddha’s foot. Tickets up the mountain are about $3.
Luang Prabang is just one of the many cities in Laos worth visiting. If you have more time, make sure to get to all the rest of the amazing places the country has to offer. If you’re on a tighter schedule, I’d recommend Luang Prabang as being the top destination to visit, and make sure you get to all five above activities.