Discover Luang Prabang
The former capital of Laos, now a unesco World Heritage city, Luang Prabang's idyllic charm lies in its location surrounded by mountains, at the foot of a temple-crowned hill, at a point joining two beautiful rivers together. Adding to its natural beauty is its stunning architectural fusion of aging yet still elegant French colonial architecture with traditional Lao buildings and temples.
Since the time of the ancient kingdom of Lan Xang, Luang Prabang had served as royal capital; but in 1545, King Phothisirat redistributed the title of capital city to Vientiane. However, after the French annexation of the country, it received the honour of being the royal seat of power within the country, and remained so until 1975, when communist forces known as the Pathet Lao forcefully dissolved the longstanding monarchy.
The state religion of Laos is Theravada Buddhism, and Luang Prabang is widely known as the spiritual and cultural centre embodying both the country’s history and its religious beliefs. One sight that must not be missed is the astounding Buddhist temple at the site of the Royal Palace within the city. This is but one of the 33 temples situated here.
To experience Laotian culture at its most spiritual, one needs only to wake up at daybreak, and walk into the street, where many of the citizens of Luang Prabang line the streets around the temples, in order to pay tribute in the form of alms, to the Buddhist monks residing inside.
- Believes in concept of face
- Women should wear modest clothing
- Avoid public displays of affection
This city in north central Laos lies at the confluence of two rivers, the Nam Khan and the Mekong, and is around 300km north of Vientiane. It features a tropical wet and dry climate, with a distinct wet season (lasting from April to October) and a dry season (lasting the rest of the year) created fresh temperatures year-round.
Luang Prabang’s uniquely rustic landscape is dominated by Mount Phou Si, a high hill located right in the centre of the city’s old town. Around the city lies a circle of mountains, while just by the city is the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers.
The city’s location in the midst of so much natural beauty means that Luang Prabang is a paradise for those who love nature and wildlife. You may choose to swim in the Mekong, clamber above a wild white elephant, or scale one of the many surrounding peaks – once you start immersing yourself in the area’s beauty, you will always find ‘just one more’ thing to do.
Before you go
- Language: Lao and French
- Currency: Laotian kip (LAK)
- Time Zone: Indochina Time Zone, GMT+7
- Voltage 230
- Electric Socket: Type C
Local sim cards are readily available, and gsm or Triband mobile phones can be used with these cards.
Equip yourself with a card at a wide range of shops and markets, also in remote regions
Sim card cost ranges 20,000-30,000 kip with credit included.
Atms accepting Visa, MasterCard, and UnionPay can be found.
Almost all atms dispense money only in Laotian kip.
Thai baht and U.S. dollars are still accepted across many tourist areas as a form of payment, but for the best prices it is best to exchange to kip.
Money can be changed at banks and at moneychangers, which are plentiful, and offer better rates than credit card advances, which are pricey.
Outside of international hotels and top-end restaurants, credit/debit card payment is not possible.
- Khao nom kok: Bite-sized coconut cakes composed of coconut cream and rice flour, mixed together, and cooked over charcoals. The result is a pillowy snack that’s crisp on the outside, while moist and soft on the inside.
- Aw lahm: Dried buffalo meat (alternatives are beef, chicken and game) is cooked into a stew filled with the area’s vegetables – from wild mushrooms, to eggplants and chillies.
- Yam pak salat: The main ingredient, watercress, is adorned with a tart and memorable dressing of egg, peanuts and lime.
There is no tipping culture in Laos, but you are welcome to show your appreciation for good service through small tips:
- Taxis: A good practice is to simply let the driver keep the change after rounding up the fare to the nearest dollar. However it is likely you will negotiate a fare before getting into the cab, in this case no tip is required.
- Restaurants: Rounding up meal bills would be a good way to show you enjoyed your meal and your service. In higher end restaurants at 10% service charge is often added to the bill, and there is no need to tip above and beyond this amount.
- Hotels: Try to give the bellman about $2-3 for helping you with your bags, and leave a dollar, daily, for the maid who helps clean up your room.
Suggested Vaccinations: hepatitis A, typhoid, polio
Avoid untreated water or ice made from it, and only eat meat and fish that has been well-done. Vegetables should also be cooked, while fruits should be peeled.
Local hospitals can provide nothing but the most basic services, so those in need of ‘serious’ medical treatment are advised to get to Thailand.
For those with minor illnesses, going to a pharmacy around town will suit your needs, as they are well-stocked and many pharmacists are fluent in both English and French
Safety: Crime is not a big problem in Laos, although drugs are an issue and should thus be avoided at all costs.
Emergency Line: 191
Lao-China Friendship Hospital (public): No formal address: About 3 km south off Th Naviengkham, right after the stadium. Look for white tower; Tel: (+856) 71 232049
- Hello (in general): Sa-bye dee
- Excuse me. / Sorry: Koh-toht
- Thank you: Kawp-jai
- You’re welcome: Baw pen nyah-ng
- Good morning / Good evening: Sa-bye dee ton sao/ Sa-bye dee ton-aelng
- Goodbye: Lah-gon
- How much is this?: Anh nee thow dai?
- Cheers! (Toasts when drinking): Tam chohk
- Bon appetit!: Soen saep
- Where’s the toilet?: Hong nahm yuu sai?
- Help!: Suay dae
- I understand: Koy kao jai
- I don’t understand: Koy baw kao jai
How to get into this area, and how to get around it!
Luang Prabang International Airport lies 4km from the city centre, and flights come in daily from several countries including Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. To get to the city, one must buy a seat on a minivan trip lasting 10 minutes (50,000 kip per person) – you may also hail a tuk-tuk on the main road, which will cost you around 20,000 kip per person.
If travelling within Laos, a good option is to take a bus going through Highway 13, which connects Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng and Vientiane. Be aware that taking buses within Laos still means having to prepare for a bumpy ride, and it is always advisable to book tickets in advance rather than at the bus station itself.
The most scenic option for getting to Luang Prabang is via a slow boat from the Laotian town of Houay Xai, which lies right at the border with Thailand. These boats are usually quite crowded with tourists, but offer an amazing view of life on the Mekong River.
These little vehicles are easily found around the city, and trips around town shouldn’t cost more than 5,000 kip per trip, depending on how many people you are travelling with and how skilled a haggler you are.
Motorbike rentals to foreigners are now not permitted, but it is worth it to consider renting a bicycle for about $1-2 per day. If travelling outside Luang Prabang, consider hiring a private car with driver for about $25 per day.
Things to see
The top locations to visit in this destination.