Photo: Pak Ou caves.

Across the river, Chompet District

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A particularly scenic time to visit is mid-morning when the people who live in Chompet head home with baskets of vegetables, sacks of rice and live animals from the Luang Prabang fresh market.

Photo of Across the river, Chompet District

Relative to touristy Luang Prabang, the Chompet side is "rustic" -- in other words, surprisingly rough and undeveloped -- and the unpaved road winding along the riverbank has little traffic.

There are a few wats worth visiting; nothing as grand as in Luang Prabang, but quiet and peaceful places nestled between the jungle and the river. At the top of a hill is Wat Chompet, built by the Thais prior to a war long ago. The temple, recently restored, is simple but still in use, the view is great and you probably won’t have to share it except with a few monks and novices. Wat Long Khun is one of the larger complexes in Chompet and is home to monks and novices. A cave complex nearby called Wat Tham Xieng Men contains some old, heavily damaged Buddha images. There are not nearly as many as Pak Ou but it’s worth a look if you’re there. It’s usually locked, but you can get the key and a flashlight from the ticket booth for 10,000 kip and some kids will usually tag along as tour guides, but in reality they’re just after a bit of small change – 5,000 kip should suffice. Many of the wats have an admission fee but some aren’t attended by staff and are devoid of anyone interested in taking your money.

Further afield there is a massive biking loop which is still relatively undiscovered by the masses. You’ll want a decent mountain bike to tackle the dirt roads. A map at the top of the boat ramp on the Chompet side points the way, or we recommend buying a Hobo Map at one of the shops in town, and it’s possible to cycle all the way up river past where Pak Ou caves are located and then back again in a loop. We doubt it is possible to visit the caves themselves this way, although we weren’t able to confirm this.

Alternatively, head down river to "The Pottery Village" Ban Chan, a small village on the Mekong which produces a variety of pottery from flower pots to funeral urns. Here you can do more than just watch the artisans in action: With advance notice, you can participate and make your own pieces from natural clay for a truly original souvenir.

For a daytrip, at the junction take the road leading to Sayaboury. This is a challenging but interesting hilly ride, approximately 25 kilometres one way on exposed, undulating dirt roads with very few cars. It takes you behind the mountain range, past randomly situated ostentatious government buildings and small villages, eventually reconnecting with the Mekong at Ban Paklung. Here you may be able to hire a boat that will take you back to Luang Prabang but don’t count on it. It’s a great ride for cool, dry season (November-January). Otherwise it will be hot, dusty or muddy.

Facilities on the opposite side of the river are basic, with just a couple of small restaurants and drink stands. There is nowhere with air-con or even a good electric fan to cool off, so during the hot season this trip is most enjoyable in the morning or before dusk. A visit to the wats and then back via the ferry should take a few hours, but if you have more time or a bike there’s more to see afield including wats, caves, waterfalls and an old royal cemetery.

Guides are available for long trips and they’re familiar with the terrain, know which roads are out during the rainy season and can aid with communication.

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How to get there
A ticket for the small ferry costs 5,000 kip (plus 5,000 kip if you have a bicycle) and departs when full. Or hire a private boat, which should be around 10,000 kip per person. On the Luang Prabang side there are stairs leading down to the ferry point, but on the opposite riverbank it's just a bumpy hill, which is not recommended if you have limited mobility. These steps are located on the Mekong down the road from the main intersection in town next to the post office. You can bring a bike across, but it's just as easy to rent one from the small bike and tour shop in the village on the other side. Prices are slightly higher (30,000 kip for half or 60,000 kip for full day) but they're mountain bikes which are absolutely necessary on some of the bumpier and steeper sections of road. The operator can also arrange tours (bank on 150,000 kip per person -- tours are entirely customisable and therefore prices negotiable) and has detailed maps of bike and walking trails.

Across the river, Chompet District
Across the river from Luang Prabang

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