Photo: Pak Ou caves.

Sisavangvong Road, more easily remembered as Main Street or Night Market Street, bisects the thumb-shaped stretch of land between the Mekong and the Nam Khan and lies at the heart of the city -- it is here that you'll find the main tourist necessities and hotspots. Note that this road changes name not twice, but three times within the main tourist track. Toward the tip of the thumb it is Sakkarin and southwest of the centre it becomes Chao Fa Ngum. Many streets in Luang Prabang are guilty of the same navigational trickery but thankfully the town is small enough that getting around shouldn't be a problem once you've got your bearings.

Following the straight course of the Mekong, Manthatoulat Road is lined with riverfront restaurants on one side and hotels on the other. A general rule: the closer you are to the riverfront, the higher the price of the room. If it's within your budget, some beautifully restored accommodation can be found here.

Another trick as you’re finding your way around: Luang Prabang is divided up into villages, or "ban", which are what we would consider neighbourhoods. Each "ban" often has a wat bearing the same name, example: Wat Aphai is in Ban Aphai. Most addresses include a Ban Something-or-other to indicate it. So even if there's no exact street address -- as there often isn't -- if you can find the wat (most of which are clearly labelled on maps) the place shouldn't be too far from it. Tuk tuks are more likely to deliver you to the correct place if you can tell them the name of the village.

The BCEL ATMs charge a 20,000 kip service fee for international cards and the maximum withdrawal amount is 1,000,000 kip (about US$120). A Joint Development bank on the main road where the night market sets up allows the same 1,000,000 kip withdrawal but with no fee. Banque Franco-Lao on the main street beside Dao Fa allows for 2,000,000 kip per withdrawal for a 30,000 kip service fee. The ATMs are more reliable these days than they used to be but it's wise to travel with a back-up source of funding such as cash or credit cards. Tour agencies around Luang Prabang offer cash advances on your credit card for a fee and can charge in either Kip or US dollars. Predictably, the rates are bad and you end paying a lot more money for your cash than you would getting a cash advance from an ATM.

Many Western cafes and restaurants in Luang Prabang now offer free WiFi to customers, and plenty of internet cafes still remain around town (standard price of 100 kip per minute). You can make IDD telephone calls, or a local SIM card is very affordable (30,000 kip and up). Major telcos in Laos are Lao Telecom, Unitel and ETL; all have spotty 3G service. Pay-as-you-go top up cards are available at most shops.

Plenty of places in town sell or exchange books. For new titles, head to Monument Books on a sidestreet off the Mekong in Ban Vat Nong. In addition to a smattering of fiction, they specialise in regional books covering everything from cooking to geography. The biggest selection of used books belongs to L'etranger just behind Phousi and next to Hive. Here you can buy, sell, rent and trade books alongside delectable munchies and drinks. There is another decent used book exchange across the lane from Tamnak Lao Restaurant’s cooking school.

The post office -- La Poste -- in the centre of town provides the usual services in addition to Western Union money transfers, though you'll pay dearly for them. An outside company -- EMS -- handles international shipping from an outpost within the office. Their rates for overland international shipping are reasonable but packages will take a long time -- about three months -- to reach their final destinations. Air rates are much higher but come with a speedier delivery.

Medical services are available in Luang Prabang, but facilities are not up to Western standards. For anything more serious than a scrape you'll want to get to Thailand. It’s a 90-minute flight to Bangkok, with multiple flights daily. Travel insurance is a must for Laos and be sure you're covered for emergency evacuations, especially if you'll be trekking in remote areas. Pharmacies can be found throughout town and have quick cures for minor ailments like itchy bug bites, upset stomachs and sore throats. It’s not a bad idea to bring your own medical kit and if you require medication, ensure you’re stocked up.

BCEL main bank: Sisavangvong Rd; T: (071) 252 814; open Mon-Sat 08:30–15:30;
Chinese Hospital: Setthathirat Rd, past the Southern bus station, Ban Phu Mok; T: (071) 254 026
Luang Prabang Provincial Hospital: Setthathirat Rd; T: (071) 252 049; open 24 hours


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Further reading

General ideas

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Where to next?

Where are you planning on heading to after Luang Prabang? Here are some spots commonly visited from here, or click here to see a full destination list for Laos.

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