Recapping our 5 days in Luang Prabang, Laos. Waterfalls, elephants, Buddhist temples, delicious food, and rich culture.I literally started tearing up looking back at my photos from Laos. Have you ever traveled to a place where you feel completely at peace and at home? A place that speaks to your soul? A place that fills you up inside? Laos was that place for me. Laos was our third stop on our trip – we were coming from two major cities in Vietnam, which were like NYC but on steroids. It literally would take us five minutes just to
cross RUN across the street when there was a break in the sea of motorbikes. Vietnam was very stimulating to say the least.
So to land in quiet Laos and be greeted in the traditional way of putting your hands in prayer at your heart and bowing and saying sabai dee (hello in Lao), my heart immediately swelled. I turned to Steve and was like I love it here already. Just a simple act of bowing in acknowledgement of the other person – it reminded me of the gesture of bowing at the end of a yoga class and saying namaste. The light within me honors the light within you. That genuine human, spiritual connection is what I felt every time we were greeted (and greeted someone) in Laos.
We only explored Luang Prabang (LP), a UNESCO World Heritage City, which is one of the “major” cities in Laos and one of the most popular destinations. Although, Laos is the most untapped country in Southeast Asia by tourists, making it all the more special and serene. Our Lonely Planet book on Southeast Asia said under Luang Prabang, be prepared to stay a few extra days and after spending a day there, Steve and I were already trying to figure out if we could change our travel plans to stay a little longer.
We had four nights and five days in Luang Prabang so I’m going to walk you through each day so you can copy (or pull from) our itinerary when you head there.
Arrive in Laos. Make sure you have $35 USD per person (or the equivalent in Lao Kip) for your visa to enter Laos. We were not that organized and only had Vietnamese Dong on us and thought we were going to be stuck in the Laos airport but luckily they let us go to out to the ATM to get Lao Kip out while they held onto our passports.
Arrive to your accommodations. There weren’t any Airbnbs in LP so we booked a hotel called My Dream Boutique Resort. I CANNOT RECOMMEND THIS PLACE ENOUGH. It was small (although their website currently says they’re expanding), rustic, natural, peaceful, the staff were extremely helpful and kind, and it was tucked away from the main street of LP (on the other side of the river) so you felt like you were staying among the locals…because you were.The entrance walkway to our hotel
The street we stayed on
More views from our streetWe had a pool at our hotel so we hung out at the pool for an hour or two to relax before heading to the center of LP for dinner.We had to cross this rickety bamboo bridge to get to city center but I loved it and the views were definitely worth it.
Ate dinner at Tamarind Restaurant on the early side because we were pretty hungry after traveling all day. Started off with the most refreshing drinks of my life. They were basically boozy iced slushes. Mine was with lemongrass and lime and Steve’s was made with ginger. LP was really hot while we were there – highs in the 100s and humid so these drinks were a necessary reprieve from the heat.These bamboo chips were everywhere as a pre-dinner snack. They’re like our bread and butter.And then the sun set and I couldn’t get good photos of the rest of our meal but we had papaya salad, fish laap and meat leap. Laap is a staple in Lao cuisine, it’s minced meat with tons of minced fresh herbs. The fish laap had lemongrass, garlic, coriander, spring onion, mint, lime juice and bean sprouts and the meat laap was pork, bamboo flower, mint, spring onion and coriander. We also ordered mok pa, another Lao staple, which is local river fish steamed in a banana leaf with herbs like fresh dill, basil and spring onion. Everything in Lao is served with sticky rice and you eat with a fork and spoon (no knives and no chopsticks) and the fork is only used to push food onto the spoon. For more tidbits about Lao food culture, check out my article on SHAPE.com – The Southeast Asian Cuisine You Need to Try. We also tried some local desserts – a pumpkin coconut custard, which I wasn’t crazy about, a sticky rice pudding which was delicious, and then some cookies, coconut cakes, banana balls and peanut sesame brittle. After dinner, we checked out the night market in LP where locals sell their crafts, clothing, products, etc. We made our rounds and picked out things we might want to buy as souvenirs but would hold off on buying anything until our last night. Also, negotiating with the locals on prices for their goods is pretty common so put your bargaining shoes on!
Walked around LP and explored all the beautifully ordained Buddhist temples. There are close to 20 temples all within walking distance of one another so you can set aside a half day to walk or ride bikes around the area to see all the temples. I’d suggest doing this on the earlier side to beat the heat and the tourists!
Worked up an appetite visiting temples so headed to Indigo Cafe for lunch. Tropical fruit smoothies and Luang Prabang salads! LP salads are so good that I recreated one when I got back home. Click here for my Luang Prabang salad recipe. There’s also this adorable little bakery stand outside of Indigo Cafe that sells freshly baked breads and pastries. Laos, which was once owned by France, still exudes its French cultural influences. For example, the bakeries and fresh croissants that are to die for. Much of the architecture in Laos is also old French colonial.
Pool break after lunch and then dinner was at Bamboo Tree. Both Tamarind and Bamboo Tree are also cooking schools if you’re looking to take a Lao cooking class while you’re in the area. They’re the best restaurants in LP to get a full local, authentic Lao meal in a nice, sit-down setting. Bamboo Tree was SO good. If you follow me on IG, you might remember my story where I documented the entire meal. As soon as we sat down, they brought over a small plate of roasted peanuts with salt and lemongrass, and dried banana as well as a complimentary “secret cocktail.” lol. Ordered a papaya salad to share because it was 91 degrees outside at night during dinner. Steve got the coconut chili chicken and I got the lemongrass chili catfish, both with sticky rice, obvs. And then we split sticky rice pudding with ice cream and got complimentary shots of Lao-Lao, aka Laos rice whiskey. #DinnerDreamsMade
Visited the Elephant Village, which is a sanctuary for elephants where they are free from abusive work and cared for by professional veterinarians. We spent the morning riding and bathing elephants and then hanging out by their gorgeous pool overlooking the river valley. Elephants are my spirit animal and I was so excited to share this experience with Steve after having done it once in Thailand.
After hanging out with the elephants, we lounged by their pool, which was gorgeous and looked over the river valley below. For dinner that night we ate at Blue Lagoon Restaurant, which is one of LP’s fine dining restaurants. Owned by a Chef from Switzerland, the menu is a mix of Swiss and traditional Lao cuisine. They have a beautiful outdoor garden patio that’s tucked away from the main road, which serves as a peaceful backdrop for dinner. We split a Luang Prabang salad and I had fish and Steve had the local Buffalo filet. The food was very good but if you only have a few days in LP and want to truly experience the local cuisine, I’d skip this place.
Took a tuk-tuk to Kuang Si waterfalls. Hiked around for a couple hours and swam in the natural springs. It’s a beautiful place and definitely worth the 45 minute tuk-tuk ride outside of LP.Before sunset, we headed back into city center to climb the 355 steps to the top of Mount Phousi, where golden Wat Chomsi sits. Up there, you’ll have 360 degree views of Luang Prabang and a perfect view of the sun setting over the Mekong.
After watching the sunset, we had a Beer Lao at a cute bar on the main street of LP. Then we went to Coconut Garden across the street. Even though it was rated highly on Trip Advisor, I wouldn’t recommend it. The food wasn’t anything special. If I had to do it over, I would’ve eaten at Tamarind or Bamboo Tree again!
Went to the night market since it was our last night to pick up some souvenirs.
Woke up at 6am to watch the alms giving ceremony, which occurs every single morning at sun rise down the streets of LP. This is such a such a special, sacred tradition, you won’t want to miss it. Just go back to bed after ;). Locals line the streets kneeling down ready to give their offering to about 200 Buddhist monks. The most common gifts are rice, fresh fruit and traditional sweet snacks. The idea of the alms giving is for the Buddhist monks to make merit and to collect food for their one meal of a day. You can either participate in the alms giving or you can be a respectful observer, watching from the sidelines.Steve got sick on our last day so I ventured out into town on my own and visited the Royal Palace Museum. Be prepared to have your legs covered and shoulders covered otherwise you’ll have to pay a couple dollars to rent a shall or long skirt. I was really impressed with the museum and was sad my history buff of a husband had to miss it because it was so rich with Lao history and culture. Up until 1975, the museum was the royal palace for the king and queen of Laos. The building was first built 1904 and the royal rooms have been preserved and offer a cool glimpse into the lifestyle of the royal family. The exhibits include royal religious objects, crown jewels, weapons, statues, paintings, murals, clothing, dinnerware, you name it, all from centuries ago. Definitely worth a trip if you’re in LP. I would go back to Laos in heartbeat. I would love to explore more of the country and do a trekking trip there. If you’re traveling to Thailand, Vietnam or Cambodia, I’d highly recommend a stop in Luang Prabang. And be prepared to extend your stay a few days :).
Tell me, have you ever been to Laos or Southeast Asia?