We visited Luang Prabang in mid-april of this year. Here is my personal travel guide for this beautiful city!!
How to Get There
The best way, in my opinion, to get into Luang Prabang from Chiang Mai is to take a slow boat. We chose the Nagi of Mekong and it was a great boat company with comfortable seating, good overnight accommodation at the half-way point, and great food. We arranged veg-friendly food ahead of time and they accommodated beautifully!
We reserved our slow boat while we were in Chiang Mai, and the cost was $150 USD, so about $190 CAD. It included pick-up from our guest-house in Chiang Khong, crossing the border into Laos, the two days on the Mekong with overnight accommodation in Pakbeng, Laos, as well as breakfast, 2 lunches and unlimited coffee (sold!). For our full experience of the Nagi of Mekong - see post here....
You will be able to get your Laos visa at the Thai/Laos border BUT you need to get your passport photos in advance.
Travel Tip: find a photography store that the locals are using, usually on the basement floor of a mall. There are fancy photo shops on the top floors that will charge you triple.
You can pay for the visa at the border in either Laos Kip or Thai Baht. In Thai Baht it was $1720 THB ($63 CAD) per person when we crossed.
Now that you are ready for Laos and your boat is booked - you need to get to Chiang Khong! This is the city in Thailand where travellers stop through on their way to Laos. This is also where your boat will pick you up.
From Chiang Mai - you will want to take a bus to CHIANG RAI first. From Chiang Rai, you will catch a local bus to Chiang Khong. You will want to book your bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai in advance as its a popular route - but you will catch your local bus on arrival.
Travel Tip: I recommend booking a Green Bus to Chiang Rai. The local bus to Chiang Khong will not be comfortable... the Green Bus is similar to a Greyhound in North America, so its a very comfortable ride and a good chance to take a nap!
Chiang Mai bus station below....
When you arrive at the Chiang Rai bus station, you will arrive in an area with plenty of Green Buses. You want to find the local buses - which will be at the same station, but they are easy to spot as they are very small & red/orange in colour. The buses will have signs in front of them saying their destination. The bus to Chiang Khong leaves every hour, so no worries if you miss it. You can grab a coffee and get on the next bus.
When you arrive in Chiang Khong (after a long and uncomfortable bus ride haha but its all about the experience!) simply grab a tuk-tuk which will be waiting outside the bus station and they will take you to your hotel/guest house. You will spend the night here... I highly recommend eating at the very appropriately named "Vegetarian Food" restaurant. Get the mushroom curry!!
The slow boat will pick you up in the morning and now... enjoy your journey into Luang Prabang!
Luang Prabang, the capital of Luang Prabang Province in northern Laos, lies in a valley at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. It’s known for its many Buddhist temples, including the gilded Wat Xieng Thong, dating to the 16th century, and Wat Mai, once the residence of the head of Laotian Buddhism. - Google
Photo source: Air B&B
Obviously we booked our accommodation in advance using Air B&B. Air B&B is widely known as travellers #1 source for booking accommodation, so if you aren't onboard - get on it sister! (or brother... lol). Check out their site here...
We booked the Greenhouse Villa, which was $75 USD per night ($95 CAD). Yes - this seems expensive but it has THREE bedrooms - both with double beds. We had a group of four (two couples) so it worked out to less than $25/night per person. For a huge house with an outdoor lounge area, living space, kitchen etc. this was a fabulous deal. The host is awesome and easy to work with...and the villa is in a great location. It's a short walk from the foot bridge (as seen in our header image) that will take you right into the heart of Luang Prabang. The house also includes bicycles which is essential for getting around. If you are travelling solo or as a couple and are on a tighter budget - check out Air B&B for other affordable accommodation. Luang Prabang is a highly frequented tourist destination - so be sure to book your accommodation in advance (a few days is fine).
The most important part! The best restaurant in Luang Prabang, hands down is Cafe Toui.
Authentic Laos cuisine at its finest. This place was one of my best meals in Asia - easily, and its veg-friendly! This is NOT a vegetarian restaurant - so for meat-eaters out there - this is also for you!
We ordered the dill pumpkin curry (yesssss), wild sticky rice, stir-fried morning glory (we had a lot of this in Laos, and this was the best by a landslide) and the house salad with edible flowers. Oh and Laos Beer (goes without sayin...). Don't miss out on this hidden gem.
The best way to get around Luang Prabang is by bicycle. When you book your accommodation - ask if access to a bicycle is included. If not - there are plenty of bicycle rental shops on every street in Luang Prabang. One of my favorite memories in Luang Prabang is bicycling along with rush hour traffic, holding my breathe before crossing the bike bridge (you are crossing with cars and motorcycles, single file, on two planks of wood that are supported on a wooden bridge)....it is such a fun travel memory. Be sure to cycle to the outskirts of town where you will find local textile shops such as the one pictured above. Amazing!
You can't go to Luang Prabang without catching the sunset at Mount Phousi.
It is 100m high and hosts a beautiful view of the city below, but also borders the Mekong River on one side, and Nam Khan River on the other. Make sure to bring lots of water and to get their early - this is an extremely popular tourist spot!
It is a long trek up to get to the top so be prepared for a workout and again - BRING WATER! The walk up is gorgeous - and there are many photo-ops along the way.
Pi Mai - the Buddhist New Year in Lao (known in Thailand as Songkran) is the largest and most widely celebrated holiday in Laos - very comparable to Christmas in the west. It takes place in mid-april, and is basically a giant water festival. The three days of festivities are public holidays - with the majority of the working class returning to their families for celebrations and feasts. While this DOES mean you will experience plenty of business closures during Pi Mai, I cannot recommend being there for this time period enough. Celebrating Pi Mai in Laos was the best experience of my life.
Water is used for washing homes, Buddha images, monks, and soaking friends and passers-by. Students first respectfully pour water on their elders, then monks for blessings of long life and peace, and last of all they throw water at each other. The water is perfumed with flowers or natural perfumes. Some people prefer flowers in the water to give a pleasant smell, as well as adding cologne/perfume. Over the years another tradition has developed with Lao New Year: people will smear or throw cream (shaving cream or whipped cream) or white powder on each other during the celebrations. - Source: Wikipedia
The locals were more than happy to welcome us into their festivities. Even our waiter at one point dumped water on our heads! This was soooo much fun... but what made it so beautiful was that there were people from all different nationalities all joining together to celebrate as one. You would walk up on a complete stranger - often who did not speak the same language as you - and start dumping water on each other and laughing hysterically. This celebration is all about having fun - and it definitly does not dissapoint.
If there is anyway you can plan to be in Luang Prabang for Pi Mai, it is hands down my favourite travel memory ever.
I love to hear from you! Have you visited Luang Prabang? What was your favorite memory, resturaunt and experience... I would love to know! Please comment below or send me a message on Instagram @wayfaretrail