A few spots to choose from
Published: 28th November, 2018
Sunset in Luang Prabang leaves a lasting impression on travellers, often becoming one of their most memorable experiences.
It is not just pretty skies, although that is certainly part of the magic. This time of day captures the mood and feeling of the entire place. It’s the golden light on the mountains, the calm that blankets the Mekong, the gathering of friends, the temple bells and drums heralding evening prayers. For locals and tourists alike, it’s a collective pause and sigh. To understand what we mean, head to these places for sunset.
Atop the hill
Mount Phou Si is the epicentre of Luang Prabang, gracefully rising in the middle and heralding like a beacon. It’s no wonder that That Chomsi at the peak is a popular spot for sunset. The reward for climbing 328 steps is a stunning view of the river and cheerful rooftops below, the entire town surrounded by mountains. Sunset on Mount Phou Si is considered a must-do in Luang Prabang—that means it is crowded and noisy with tourists vying for that perfect photo.
There are two main staircases to the summit, one on the main street across from the gates of the Royal Palace Museum and the other at the back on the Nam Khan River road. We prefer the little known, rarely used entrance from the temple behind the main street—take the alley running beside Opera Bar.
Admission is 20,000 kip. The stupa at the top is a religious site, please don’t climb it. While it may be tempting to bring some beers, alcohol as well as smoking, skimpy clothing and public displays of affection are inappropriate. Save the libations for the Mekong.
To the river
In Laos, life revolves around its rivers. Head to the riverbanks at the end of the day to see picturesque scenes play out: fishermen return home with their catch, women wash their hair and do laundry while kids splash in the rapids.
There’s plenty of places to park yourself along the Mekong for a sundowner. One of our favourite classy spots is The Belle Rive Terrace which boasts a wide open view, comfortable seating and beverages other than beer; find well made cocktails, wines and fruit smoothies.
The local beer bars near the end of the Mekong River road are the place for a sunset Beerlao (starting at “the Morning Market street” Kitsalat Road and moving away from the peninsula). The wooden decks have unobstructed views and locals flock here to enjoy beer with friends, Lao pop music and typical beer snacks like barbecued meat and delicious khai pene, crispy fried sheets of seasoned riverweed always served with jeow bong, a spicy chili dip.
To get away from the crowds, our favourite secret spot—well, not so secret now that we are announcing it to the world—is Wat Pha Bath, more commonly known by the Vietnamese name Chua Phat Tich Wat. After it was burned down in 1833, it was rebuilt by local Vietnamese and Chinese communities. As you head out on the main street towards Phosi Market, you’ll pass the Phou Vao Road T–intersection with a petrol station. About 100 m after the intersection, there is a sign for the wat: turn right and head down the dirt road. The back of the temple has a wide open view of the river to enjoy a reflective moment to the sound of evening chanting. There’s a small entrance fee, and remember, dress appropriately and no alcohol or smoking.
Our favourite way to enjoy sunset is to get out onto the river for a sunset cruise. Head to boat landings or anywhere along the Mekong River road and a boat captain will no doubt approach you. The going rate is about 100,000 kip an hour for a typical slow boat (with a roof). Don’t enter into negotiations unless you are serious. Or hop on the public ferry to the other side and climb up to Wat Chomphet. No view of the setting sun here, just gaze across to the peninsula glowing in magic hour light.
If organising a boat is daunting and a comfortable experience is priority, book a sunset cruise in advance with a professional boat company.
During dry season (approximately November to May) water levels drop and a beach forms at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong River. It’s a lovely low-key place to watch boats puttering by, kids playing football and novice monks doing back flips into the water. There is usually a bamboo bridge over the mouth of the Nam Khan and on the other shore there are boulders, yet another nice locale to take it all in. Crossing the bridge costs 10,000 kip round-trip.
Giant sandbars form in the Mekong. From the tip of the peninsula, for 10,000 kip per person, boats shuttle to the “cucumber islands”, sandbars with cucumber gardens and pop up bars that serve beer and you guessed it—spicy cucumber salad.
Not a sunset to be seen but a lot salutations to the sun with Luang Prabang Yoga. Morning classes have the Nam Khan river view on Utopia Bar & Restaurant’s outdoor deck, while end of day classes are upstairs at Sena Restaurant on the main street. Classes are only 40,000-60,000 kip making it one of the best value yoga classes in Southeast Asia. A variety of styles are taught and classes are usually open to all levels including beginners. Wear comfortable stretchy clothing, bring your own towel and water, mats can be rented.
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you'll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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