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I'm sorry for the non-catchy title of this post, but I had to fit in some alliteration somewhere in the title. The title of this post certainly does not do the beauty and wonder of Laos any justice. The town of Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage site and rightly so. It is beautiful! The golden coloured temple roofs in a backdrop of lush greenery, mountains, and beside the Mekong river is enough to make any traveler swoon. The stairs leading up to Mekong river on the riverside is reminiscent of Varinasi, India.
There are no intercontinental flights directly into Laos, but you can get here from Thailand or Vietnam etc. There are also bus options which are much more affordable but I did not have the luxury of time (or youth I guess haha) so I opted for flying.
You need a visa in Laos but you can get a Visa on Arrival. All you need is 1 passport photo and $42 US dollars for Canadian passport holders (Canadians pay the highest visa fee in the world! I have no idea why). You also need to pay $1 processing fee. If you don't have a passport photo, they charge $1 to take a copy from your passport, which, in my opinion, is a better deal than the $12 I paid at home to get a set of two passport photos!
Things to Do
Alms Giving Ceremony
Probably the most famous image of Laos is the Alms giving ceremony, where the monks of Luang Prabang do walking meditation around the town receiving rice and food for the day. This is absolutely free to do, but make sure you cover up respectfully and get up early as it starts around 6am.
Pak Ou Caves
The Pak Ou Caves, also known as the Buddha Cave, is a cave with over 4000 Buddha statues nestled in the cave. The Pak Ou Caves can be accessed for a very cheap price if you just go via a Tuk Tuk. However, you can shop around at the local travel agencies in town for a cheap tour. I kayaked to the Pak Ou Caves with lunch included for about $30 including admission of 20,000 Kip (about $2.75).
Related: Overseas Adventures on the Cheap
Although it costs 20,000 Kip (about $2.75) the trip up Phousi mountain is worth it as you get a breathtaking view of the entire town of Luang Prabang. Best to do this during sunrise of sunset too for an even more spectacular view. The steps to get up to the top are pretty arduous (I believe there are over 300 steps) but it's worth it.
Where to Sleep
There are hostels and guest houses all throughout Luang Prabang. Check out Agoda, Hostelworld, and Hostelbookers for accommodation. The one I stayed at was called LPQ Backpackers and it was fantastic. It included breakfast, had hot water for showers, was clean, quiet, and the staff were friendly. It is a newer hostel/ guest house but I can see that it is already very popular…and no, don't worry I didn't get compensated for singing the praises of this hostel!
What to Eat and Drink
I found the night market area to offer a lot of cheap food, but one must “splurge” and enjoy dinner on the Mekong river at a riverside eatery. By splurging, I had $5 fish steamed in banana leaves with rice. For $1.50 there are some great Laos french bread sandwiches, and one of my favourites, this noodle soup that can be found on the side of the main road. The Laos spring rolls are also quite delicious, and served with the Laos chili sauce, $1.50 for five spring rolls.
In terms of drinking, beer Lao (their national beer) should be max $1.50 for a large bottle. If you want to get a real bang for your buck though, Whiskey Lao or “Lao Lao” is strong alcohol made from sticky rice. It is 40% alcohol and costs $1.50 for 325ml, and can be found in the convenience stores on the main road.
All in all, I was impressed with the beauty, laid back style, and friendliness of the people of Luang Prabang (even the people selling their wares at the night market are not aggressive) and I believe you can definitely do Luang Prabang on a budget here. In total, I spent about $40 per day but that included two day trip tours to a hill tribe for trekking and kayaking to the caves.
Readers, have you been to Laos? Are you as much of a fan of Luang Prabang as I am?
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