This is the last of our trip reports from this last trip. I think you'll be heading off to Luang Prabang on your trip too, so I hope this info is helpful. Cheers.
We flew into Luang Prabang from Chiang Mai on Lao Airways. It was a good flight, and getting the visa-on-arrival at the airport was easy. We'd thought about taking the river trip via Huay Xai instead, but decided that the threat of rain was too great at that time of year. (as it turned out we were wrong. it hardly rained the entire time we were in Luang Prabang.)
We stayed four nights at the Malida Guest House and liked it. See our review in the listings section. There is also a feature on Travelfish about selecting a guesthouse in LP that gives a great overall view of where to stay in the city for first time visitors that is worth a look.
I had two regrets about the LP visit. First, we didn't stay long enough. The four nights was enough to visit all the main attractions and still have time to just hang out and relax. But we should have stayed longer, and at the end of our 2-month trip it was one of the few places where we wished we'd stayed longer (particularly given how hard it is to get to Luang Prabang).
The other regret is that we didn't do more of our shopping there. The night market in LP is very low key, and the wares on offer are so unique compared to what we bought in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Plus, prices were embarassingly low - we typically just gave the asking price because even that was about half what we expected to pay for stuff.
On my "Essential Luang Prabang" list, I'd include the following:
- a boat trip to Pak Ou Caves. this trip departed at 8 am, we paid $4 per person for a 90-minute trip up the river, getting back to LP about noon. in addition to the cave, it stopped off at a weaving and a moonshine village. the cave is just okay, and really the highlight of the trip is the time on the river, particularly for folks who didn't do the river trip to Luang Prabang. it's 10,000 kip admission to the caves. the lower cave houses 2,500 Buddha images. the upper cave, up a steep set of steps, houses 1,500 images. you'll need a torch to see, so bring one if you have one or rent one outside for a few thousand kip.
- kyang si waterfalls. we paid $4 (again) for the roundtrip transport to the waterfall. the trip departs at 1330, and we were back in town before 1700. there is a 15,000 kip admission to the waterfalls park. the waterfalls themselves are beautiful, and there are several good pools for swimming below the falls. bring your swimming costume and a towel. there is also an area where phet (diamond) the tiger and a few sun bears are living, having been rescued from poachers. this trip also includes a stop at a hmong village on the way back to LP. be warned that this part of the trip will probably feel like you are in a people zoo.
shop around when you buy these trips. some places are less expensive than others, and some will throw in an incentive, like 30 minutes of free internet use or similar. the trip to the waterfall can be made by tuk tuk or by minivan. the tuk tuk is cheaper, but it is a long way to the waterfalls on a bumpy road, so this might not be the best place to save a dollar, particularly if it rains on the way.
it is possible to do the cave trip in the morning, and the waterfall trip in the afternoon of the same day, but if you can, spread that out over two different days so you won't feel rushed.
- sunset over the mekong river from Phou Si. the entry fee from the west steps is 10,000 kip. there are steps on the east side too, but it isn't clear if they are manned at all times or not. the views from here are stunning at any time, and the atmosphere at sunset here is fun, even if you don't get a particularly good sunset that evening.
- Luang Prabang National Museum. the museum costs 20,000 kip per person. they are closed on tuesdays, and also close from 11:30 to 13:30 for lunch, so plan ahead.
- Royal Ballet Pralak Pralam. this ballet and music show is 3x per week (mon, wed, sat - you'll see them parading through town as a reminder)., with the music starting at 6 pm and the show at 6:30 pm. tickets start at $6. the theatre is on the museum grounds. even the cheap seats are close to the stage, and there is a photo session at the end of the performance.
- a bicycle tour of town. you aren't allowed to rent a motor scooter in Luang Prabang, but the historical area is realatively flat and a great spot for a push bike ride. rentals are available all over town at $1 per day.
- have a drink and a meal at one of the riverside cafes, en=joying the moment as the Mekong gently flows past.
- and finally, spend a day or two with no agenda, strolling the brick-lined land and exploring the side streets.
one thing i wanted to add to this trip report is ideas about food.
for a great lao food all-you-can-eat experience, there was a guy on a side alley off the night market (near the post office end of the market), serving up pretty decent lao standards for only 5,000 kip per person.
for something more upscale, Tamarind: A Taste of Lao has authentic Lao food prepared by people who are passionate about these things. there is a write-up the Luang Prabang section of the Travelfish website for contact details.
we also thought that it was important to tap into the French food side of the city. we did this with baguettes every morning at the market across from the post office, and one night with a fab French meal at Mango 3 Nagas. (they take credit cards). try a glass of wine and a creme brulee! it's heaven. regards.
Very useful stuff. Am planning on at least a week in LP, we have 21 days to play with before Si Phan Don. I suspect that we will need recovery time after the Gibbon Experience and then the bus hours to get to LP. Might head to Nong Khiaow and Muang Ngoi for a few days. I thinks it depends on how laborious the roads are! Only need a day or 2 in Vientiane to organise flight to Pakse and visa.
There's nothing left to organise, only 8 weeks to go ... can't wait!
#5 marianwarren has been a member since 12/3/2006. Posts: 270
Fantastic trip report. We are off to Laos in Dec 06, planning on spending about 3 days in LP - based on your report I think I should extend it.
#6 messej01 has been a member since 29/5/2006. Posts: 10
I'm new to the site and find it extremely helpful. I am still a bit confused about how to get to LP.
Here are my questions:
1. We are traveling (9 weeks) from Hanoi - Saigon (stopping along the way) - Phnom Penh - Siem Reap - Bangkok - Chiang Mai - Chiang Rai - Luang Prabang - Vientiane - Bangkok - Phuket. Is this the best route to hit all these places or am I missing some convinient travel routes?
2. How do I get from Chiang Rai to LP? A two day boat ride doesn't sound too great to me, a flight seems too expensive and I have heard mixed reviews about buses. What's the best and most affordable way?
#7 chewbaca has been a member since 12/11/2006. Posts: 9
There's a good resource on the UNESCO site about Luang Prabang and tourism. Its a good backgrounder with lots of cultural information as well. For those of you who are interested in culture and the impact that your tarvels have on the locals - go look! http://www.unescobkk.org/fileadmin/user_upload/culture/Impact/impact.pdf My only warning is that its a large file - 4 MB.
#8 ClaireM has been a member since 3/10/2006. Posts: 3
your itin seems fine, but you could also try heading from siem reap straight up into laos and heading south to north instead of the north to south that you have planned. check with lao airways to see if you can catch a siem reap to vientiane flight (unless of course that is too expensive for you).
as far as i know your choices on getting from chiang rai to luang prabang are bus to the border and then a) one-day speed boat along the river to LP (bumpy and dangerous); b) two-day slow boat to LP (somtam2000 recommended!); c) overland by bus in laos (i have no idea if this is good, bad, or ugly); or d) flying to LP from chiang mai (my personal favorite and a very exciting flight over rugged and beautiful terrain).
you've complained about pretty much all of your available options, and in your first post no less!
on an entirely different subject, i see that our host somtam2000 is getting scarily close to that magic 1000 posts landmark. what comes after cartographer big guy?
This might be the wrong thread for this questions - can u tell me more about the Gibbon experience? I looked at it on the web and it looks AMAZING!!! Tell all!
#11 razzy has been a member since 15/12/2006. Posts: 9