First Impressions of Luang Prabang
I’d read and heard a lot about Luang Prabang before arriving, it has a big reputation; known as the ‘crown jewel’ of South East Asia and supposedly voted the best city to visit in the world.
As mentioned in the previous post; I arrived during Chinese New Year and it was a nightmare finding a place to stay.
Once I’d found a place to stay on that first night I headed off to explore town, find some food and some bars. I had a fun night and it did seem like a charming town. I would however go on to find more bad than good with Luang Prabang in my opinion.
Luang Prabang is Overpriced
It is a city very much geared towards the affluent tourist, especially so because it was Chinese New Year – all the prices jacked up – but even afterwards, there were many places catering to the older generation of western tourists, visiting for a holiday and armed with lots of disposable income.
Everything was expensive in Luang Prabang. Still cheaper than at home of course, but it was about twice the price as the rest of the country, much more expensive than Thailand even though it is much less developed and there really wasn’t anything much to do. This made me resent paying (much) more for less.
I’m Not a Big Fan of Luang Prabang, But I Had a Great Time
Simply because of the company. I enjoyed myself because of who I was with; had I been on my own in Luang Prabang I really don’t think I would have enjoyed it at all.
Other people echo’d this sentiment when I was there, and I kind of defended Luang Prabang because I was enjoying the change from Thailand where I had spent a lot of time. It is only in retrospect, after visiting various other places in Laos, that I realise I really didn’t enjoy Luang Prabang as a city, despite having a good time.
Things to do in Luang Prabang
Partying: Laos has an 11pm curfew on alcohol sales; but each town has one place that remains open, I assume through a mixture of personal favours and bribery. In Luang Prabang it is the bowling alley.
A night out in Luang Prabang starts in Utopia, which is a very chilled bar with comfy seats and a Pai style vibe. Everyone heads there and then when they close, jump in tuk tuks to the bowling alley.
Bowling was great fun the first time we went, for the novelty factor, with everyone drinking and what have you. However once I had been once, the novelty wore off and it was kind of rubbish. I would have preferred a nightclub. The nightlife in Luang Prabang really is nothing to write home about.
Pak Ou Cave: Another thing that left a slightly sour taste toward Luang Prabang was the cave we visited. It was on a beautiful part of the river with nice views, as you can see in the pictures, but the cave itself was rubbish. It’s tiny and there really is nothing to see. Not worth the time and money and definitely not worth the horrendous off road bumpy back-breaking track that you have to go down to get their.
Waterfall: I never made it to the waterfall, which is my biggest regret from Luang Prabang. Speaking to many people who did go, it was seemingly the best attraction in town and I wish I had gone. Silly me.
Phu Si Hill & Sunset: The views over the city and the sunset were beautiful, most definitely worth seeing. There is a huge amount of tourists though and it’s not a comfortable place to get around with so many people in a tiny space. If you are short, you will struggle to see over the heads of the row upon row of people watching the sunset. Makes for better photographs than real time experience in my opinion, which I would actually extend to all of Luang Prabang.
Night market: The night market in Luang Prabang is brilliant, definitely one of the best markets I’ve been to. The clothes and fabrics in Laos are really nice and well made; they dress well. The vendors are lovely too, they don’t hard sell and shout at you like a lot of markets, they are very laid back and friendly. They were the most friendly locals I came across in what was generally a fairly unfriendly town. It’s always fun haggling with them too.
Other General Observations of Luang Prabang
- Accomodation is very expensive for SE Asia
- Food is expensive and generally not great
- The internet doesn’t work anywhere
- The people are not very friendly
- After the evening curfew it is pretty shady – everyone is trying to sell you opium
- It is charming in a way, but I wouldn’t go back and would advise more time to be spent elsewhere in Laos
I stayed in Luang Prabang for 5 days before heading to Vang Vieng, which I enjoyed much more. Check out part 3 to read about it soon.