The first town I encountered in Laos was Huay Xei. It’s a small dusty border town, which seems to be the style of many a border town I’ve seen in the world (I come from one). I stayed for one day to get my bearings before heading to Luang Prabang.
First thing I noticed about Laos: Everything is more expensive than Thailand. What a pain in the ass. The Tuk Tuk drivers try to really squeeze those Baht/Laotian Kip out of you. The only thing that was the same price was my guesthouse: The Friendship Guesthouse. I paid 50,000 LK (200 baht, $6). My room had a bathroom and was quite nice. That day I met a group of Icelanders. We climbed 100 steps up to a temple to get a good view of the mighty Mekong River and surrounding areas. That was the only thing I did in Huay Xei besides eat and meander around.
The next day we all got an overnight bus to Luang Prabang, a 13-hour trip. Heed my warning: DO NOT TAKE OVERNIGHT BUS! What they call a VIP bus is expensive, cramped, and uncomfortable. In 13-hours, the driver didn’t stop anywhere that had food. He stopped by the side of the road a few times for restroom breaks at his leisure (this was a bit annoying for the ladies I reckon). So spend the extra couple bucks/euros/whatever, and take the slow boat.
On the overnight bus from Huay Xei to Luang Prabang, I was thinking to myself: “the countryside in SE Asia is gorgeous but I sure miss the aesthetic pleasure of European architecture.” Sure enough, I arrived in Luang Prabang. It’s an UNESCO Heritage site with French colonial architecture everywhere! The main street is lined with pointed-roof buildings adorned with multicolored French shutters. Together with the tropical climate this city reminds me of my beloved ex-residences New Orleans and Paris.
Luang Prabang defines Boutique; Boutique houses, boutique guesthouses, boutique temples, boutique shops & restaurants. The guesthouses are a little more expensive here. For more budget minded accommodation go to the LPQ Hostel and Paphai Guesthouse (both are in good locations). I found good local food for cheap once I walked further away from the main drag on the peninsula. Also, there’s an alley at the start of the night market with tons of cheap street food.
During my first few days there, I climbed 182 steps to the temple at the top of the hill. It was a hazy day so the view wasn’t great.
A few days in I took a trek with my Icelander friends to the Kuang Si waterfalls. The water is aqua marine blue and the view of the small waterfalls is really relaxing. There’s a tree that everyone jumps off of into the water below.
The next day I went on a tour of an elephant camp. I got to ride the elephant bareback on his neck and ‘bathe’ with her in the Mekong River. By bathe I mean that I went into the river on the elephant. The trainer would give her the command in Lao to violently throw me off into the water. I would then climb back on, and after 5 minutes the elephant would throw me off again. It was a great experience being with those amazing creatures. They are amazingly smart. Although I felt that they were well treated at the camp, I didn’t like seeing them in any form of captivity. I probably won’t go to another elephant camp during my travels.
If I had to recommend one thing not to miss in Luang Prabang, it’s Utopia and Bowling. Utopia is a popular bar by the river that get’s packed in the evening. They have a spacious garden with lots of tables, cheapish drinks (my favorite was the Poor Man’s drink) and good music. The place closes at 11 pm, and afterwards there are tuk tuks waiting to take people to the local bowling alley. The bowling alley is a few kilometers away. It’s the most boisterous and rowdy bowling alley I’ve ever seen. I had a great time even though my bowling skills got worse with each turn.
Besides my outings I walked around town, ate, went to cafes to read my book, got massages and walked around the night market. The guide book said to be prepared to stay longer in Luang Prabang than originally planned. I second that notion. I planned to stay 3 or 4 days and ended staying a week. It’s a charming town with a laid back vibe that I really dig.
And once again, oftentimes the best thing about a place, is the people you meet there. Shout out to my friends from Iceland. They taught me a lot about their country and I had a great time hanging out.