I visited Luang Prabang back in 2009 as part of a greater backpacking trip through Southeast Asia. Landlocked Laos was the second stop on my Thailand - Laos - Cambodia - Vietnam trail and I couldn't get enough of it. I think the reason why I love the country so much is because I had no expectations and knew very little about it. Every experience in Laos was fresh and surprising because back then it was still very much off the beaten path.
I arrived in Luang Prabang after a long, overnight boat ride from the northern Thai border town of Chiang Khong. Dozens of backpackers and locals were crammed into slow wooden boats for the journey and what we thought was going to be a tedious, claustrophobic ride quickly became one of the most enjoyable experiences of my trip. Beerlao and shots of Lao Lao flowed, stories were exchanged, and friendships quickly formed.
Luang Prabang is quite probably one of the most photogenic and beautiful towns in all of Southeast Asia. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Center that is automobile-free and where all of the buildings seem to follow the same architectural code. Sure, it has a curfew of 11pm but that's in place to preserve tradition and to prevent the town from being overrun by drunk backpackers as in most towns across the Western border. The people are friendly, the air smells of freshly baked baguettes, the wats are beautiful - everything about Luang Prabang makes you want to drop everything for a while and linger a little longer.
Photographers and culturephiles, be sure to catch the alms giving ceremony every morning at around 5 or 6am. But please be respectful of the monks and shoot from an unobtrusive distance!
Lastly, those who want to drink and play after curfew hours should head to the bowling alley. All the tuk tuk drivers know where it is. Have fun!
With two other locations aptly named Villa Sokxai 2 and Villa Sokxai 3, this is a clean and simple guest house with really friendly management and a great location! Laos in general is very cheap but this guest house was tremendous value.
The Pak Ou caves are 25km north of Luang Prabang and overlook the mighty Mekong River. It's an idyllic 2-hour boat ride to the caves, which house hundreds of miniature Buddha sculptures.
35km from Luang Prabang are the milky blue pools of the Kouang Xi waterfalls. You can either get there by tuk tuk or if you're adventurous (and fit), by bicycle. Before you set off on your bicycle journey, however, be sure to check your rented bike for any defects. My friends and I had two broken chains and a flat tire by the time we reached the waterfall! Once you reach the pools you've got to try climbing up a tree and swinging from a vine into the pool below - it's a rush!
Filled with used National Geographic magazines, comfy, colorful cushions, and pots of tea, this is one cafe that takes relaxation in Luang Prabang to a whole other level. I visited this place on my last day and wished I had known about it earlier. There are also film screenings.
Every evening, this street transforms into one of the most beautiful and charming night markets of Southeast Asia. Dozens of tents are perched and vendors sit on cushions on the ground selling their traditional arts and crafts, including jewelry and parasols. This is also THE place to sample cheap and delicious street food!
One of the better bars in Luang Prabang, The Hive has Beerlao on tap and an excellent menu of both Lao and western food. It's a bit expensive compared to other places in the city but you're paying for great ambiance and a friendly crowd of travelers.
This is a high end boutique hotel with a fantastic in-house restaurant. It's famous throughout Laos for its modern take on traditional Lao cuisine. A must-visit even for cash-strapped backpackers.