As the new year begins, my time in beautiful Luang Prabang is drawing to an end. I am going to miss this special place very much. From the monks that can be seen everywhere and the sound of their drums at four in the afternoon, to cycling around the French colonial buildings that do shabby chic so well, I can hardly think of a thing in this royal city that I won’t miss. Most people that visit here for a few days will remember the monks, their trip to Kuangsi Waterfall, climbing to the top of Mount Phoisi, Utopia and the night market. For me, though, I will remember some of the things most tourists are unaware of, or lack the time to visit. Here are my favourite parts of Luang Prabang, and the city’s best kept secrets.
Eating in Luang Prabang
Bamboo is one of the most tasty cheap eats in the city. Bamboo has a range of rice and noodle dishes starting from 15,000Kip, and ranging up to about 50,000Kip. The Pad Thai and pork Palo are my meals of choice when I go here, if you want to spend a little more the curry is really good, too. The lady is lovely and welcoming, the food is cooked fresh and the restaurant loves to play Thai TV, which I find amazing. You can find this little gem opposite Wat Visoun, close to Utopia.
Kem Khan Sindad
There are loads of places to get a Korean style BBQ in Luang Prabang, but this one is my favourite. It balances quality, quantity and price, so there are cheaper options around but you’ll still be hungry when you leave. Kem Khan is almost always busy, with a happy mix of locals and travellers. I always find it funny to watch the local kids running around playing without a care, whilst the children of tourists are kept close by to avoid any hot coal related accidents. The differences in health and safety, ay? The friendly staff here will get you started with your BBQ so you know how to use it like a pro, and they will be on hand to help you out with anything, bring extra noodles, and keep the Beer Laos flowing. You’ll find it on the peninsular, on the Nham Kan side, (Kingkitsarath Road), not too far from Joma Cafe.
Secret Pizza was set up by an Italian expat living in Luang Prabang. The story goes, he decided to build a brick pizza oven in his back garden to invite friends over for dinner. Soon, word started to spread that this guy was making the best pizza in Luang Prabang and everyone wanted to try. He is now selling pizza to locals and expats, and the odd backpacker that finds it! He has two prices – 60,000Kip for locally sourced meats and 80,000Kip for toppings that are imported from Italy. The pizzas are pretty huge and, without a doubt, the best pizza you will have during your trip through South East Asia. You’ll need to take a tuk-tuk to get there, and it’s down an alley way, right at the end. You’ll think you’re on the wrong path, but you’re not, keep going round the corner and you’ll see it right at the very end.
What to do in Luang Prabang
Some of the biggest tourest attractions in Luang Prabang are the waterfalls, Kuong Sai, and the slightly less visited (but still very busy) Tad Sai. If you would like to try somewhere a little quieter, go to Tad Thong. Located on the same road as Tad Sai, but much closer to town, you can cycle there or take a tuk-tuk. It’s not quite as impressive as the other waterfalls, but it’s still gorgeous. There’s a walk through the jungle to see the different falls, and a small restaurant serving surprisingly well priced food and booze. The beauty of this place is in the swimming lake as you come onto the site. It is the most perfect shade of blue, quite still and there’s a jetty you can jump off. When we went swimming there, we were the only people in the lake. If you get lucky (like we did) there is a working elephant on site; she is usually up the mountain somewhere but they bring her down for a drink. Technically, she’s a white elephant, which is a bit of a big deal. In reality, though, she’s a slightly lighter shade of grey. We were able to stroke her whilst she was drinking from a hose. She’s really friendly, and incredibly inquisitive – we were left coated in mud and dirt from her trunk touching and stroking our arms and faces.
Across the Mekong
Take a boat across the Mekong to go for an explore. There are loads of temples, and a great cave network to explore (be careful on your way in, though, it has quite a descent!). You can climb the mountains and there’s an old Wat that is now ruins, it’s pretty cool to walk around. My advice would be to hire a bike and go over on the ferry so you can cycle around and have a good old explore.
During the dry season a village builds a bamboo bridge at the end of the peninsular, across the Nam Khan to their village on the opposite side. Cross over the bridge and follow a dirt track along the edge of the river. Tucked away around the side, and out of sight, is a small shop come restaurant. It’s not very flashy, Ok, it’s just a little wooden hut that gets washed away every wet season, so it’s different every year. A bottle of Beer Laos will set you back 15,000Kip, which is a bit steep, but you can take your own drink down there, and the food is nice. We arrived at about 3.30, which was perfect timing to watch the boats going past, relax and settle into the spot for sunset. It’s a really magical view, I would recommend watching the sun set from here. And, because it isn’t really a restaurant or bar, it’s perfectly acceptable to go and sit without buying anything at all.
The UXO centre is currently the number 6 attraction for Luang Prabang on TripAdvisor, so it’s not really much of a secret. That being said, very few people that I’ve met in the last three months have been to visit. It’s pretty tiny, just one room filled with pictures, bomb shells and boards with information. There is also a video explaining what happened in Laos during the war, and goes on to share the stories of four children that have been affected by UXO. Be prepared to leave here feeling very saddened, angry and disappointed with the USA, and in need of a strong drink.
Jewellery making at The Garden of Eden
I’ve mentioned jewellery making at the Garden of Eden before, but thought I’d mention it again. It’s a really lovely way to spend a morning, and get a souvenir that will forever remind you of Luang Prabang, and you can take pride in knowing you made yourself.
If you’ve been in Laos you’ll know there isn’t much in the way of night life. With a curfew of midnight the whole city shuts down early (with the exception of the bowling alley, but you don’t need me to tell you about that). There is, however, a night club in town, that also closes at midnight. Dao Fa night club is pretty awesome, but like most night clubs, I wouldn’t head there sober. It’s full of young Laos people letting their hair down for a few hours, and they love to have a dance with a falang.
Accommodation in Luang Prabang
Villa Merry 1
I’ve only stayed in the one place for the three months I’ve been in Luang Prabang, but I have walked around most of the hotels here. Some that look really nice are Sabaidee Hotel, Thony Guest House and, for budget accommodation, Central Backpackers. I stayed in Villa Merry 1, on the Nam Khan, and I couldn’t recommend it more. They have a great breakfast, that anyone can pop in for, afternoon tea with home made cakes and the most lovely staff. The real reason this place is in the list, though, is for their secret accommodation option for long staying guests. We pay a reduced rate, and in return help out around the guest house. This includes an over night shift and helping out on an evening with anything that might crop up. This is only available for two guests, staying in one room, and only for long stays.
And there you have it, my ultimate guide to Luang Prabang’s best kept secrets. Is there anything you would add to the list?