While munching on a chicken-baguette and walking through Luang Prubang’s Old Quarter, a sense of companionship began to rush over me. The long and bumpy bus ride from Vientiane left me tired and cranky. These feelings were soon replaced with excitement and comfort, the moment I stepped off the bus and onto the streets of Luang Prubang. I’d found a friend in this charming, quaint, South East Asia city. The tidy, easily navigated streets, edged with French inspired villas had me wondering, “Am I in Europe?”
Luang Prubang’s Old Quarter provides all the action and resources needed to fill one’s diary. When strolling down Th Sisavangvong Street surrounded by like-minded falangs (foreigners) the solo traveler will come across cafes, tour companies, Internet stops, and countless tuk tuk drivers resting in their rides, waiting for their next fare.
What to do:
There are tons of Wats to visit while touring Luang Prubang so in order to not wat yourself out, head over to Mount Phu Si where you can explore the Royal Palace Museum and take a peek at Wat Pa Huak, That Chomsi, and Wat Tham Phu Si. The steps up to the top will be worth the view. At sunset, people eager to chat and photograph the city below may offer good company to explore the Hmong Night Market.
When you’ve soaked in everything that the Old Quarter has to offer, a trip to the Kuang Si Waterfall is a must. Tour companies along Th Sisavangvong will be offering 2 trips a day (11:30pm/1:30pm) to the waterfall 32km out of town. A tuk tuk ride alone will cost more money than joining an organized group through a tour company. Plus, this is a good way to see the magnificent, crystal blue oasis while meeting new people. Kuang Si can be a day trip in itself. Make sure you try the rope swing while you’re there. If you do one thing in Luang Prubang, this should be it.
On your return to Luang Prubang, you may be given the option of stopping at a “traditional Hmong village”, opt out. The village serves more as a showcase than as a glimpse into the life of the Hmong.
Other sights and activities around Luang Prubang can all be handled and organized for you by the tour companies around Th Sisavangvong. Walk up and down the street to price each company. See what they’re offering and if there are any trips you can join with others. There seems to be a lot of groups who are in need of one more to fill up the trip and lower the cost for all. In attempt to join a group on the river, I signed on for a white water kayaking trip. The “white water” included a few tiny rapids on a mostly calm river. The landscape is beautiful but Luang Prubang is not the best place in Laos to get your adrenaline kick. Other trips include: touring the Pak Ou caves, elephant treks, river rafting, or even renting a bicycle to see the city.
The Hmong Night Market is arguably one of the best in South East Asia because it is open every night (5:30-10pm) and bargaining is possible. No hassling to buy, endless options, and even food; the night market is the place to buy your Laos souvenirs. Every night a section of Th Sisavangvong shuts down and tents go up, full of T-shirts, bags, sweatshirts, artwork, and local-made jewelry. There is even an alley offering cheap baguettes, bbq, vegetarian options, and beer. Always crowded, this is a great place to dine with expats and travelers on picnic bench set-ups.
Where to sleep:
When choosing accommodation, travelers will have their pick. The old quarter is on the peninsula of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. French style villas with competing owners make it possible to haggle down prices during low season. If a quiet place near the Mekong is what you’re after Silvilay/Silichith Guest House tel: 212758 offers warm water, comfy beds and is only a 2 minute walk from Th Sisavangvong.
If interested in the nightlife, guest houses a long the Nam Khan tend to keep their gates unlocked after midnight curfew for those stragglers who found the pubs serving a little later. Also, Spicylaos Backpackers just west of Old Quarter is Luang Prubang’s first backpackers and offers cheap rooms, free wi-fi, lockers, a pool table, and even a TV. Spicylaos is a great place for those who travel alone. It maintains a social atmosphere and has a common area used for mingling and drinking a little later than citywide curfew.
Expats will often clear the rumor that midnight bowling keeps the party going. This is no longer the case so your best bet will be a journey to the local club (any tuk tuk driver will know and gladly take you). This interesting club is full of young locals and serves until 1am.