Luang Prabang, Laos travel tips

Where we ate:

  • Phousi Restaurant – Knowing how spicy Laotian papaya salad can be, we asked for mild and it was still delivered inedibly spicy (and we love spicy). Fruit shakes were miserable concoctions, beer was overpriced.: NAH
  • Pasaneyom Coffee Shop, on the landward side of Manthatoulat Road near-ish the South Pier – You can get only coffee, or only hot Ovaltine. But, why, when you can get a “half-and-half” of both for just 3,000 kip at this simple, sticky coffee shack?: YEH
  • Tamarind Restaurant – A small place serving Lao specialties more typically gotten from street vendors. It’s a pleasant place to figure out what dish is what before venturing to the streets for the real thing. Their beef jerky and juices were excellent: YEH
  • Local Food Alley – Talked about plenty in the above story, it’s located in a small alley off of Sisavang Vong Road, next to LP Hotel. The soup vendor had a sign that included the name “Sum’s” but there seemed to be a cadre of ladies that swapped the soup job each night: YEH
  • Joma Cafe – We walked inside and felt like we’d been transported to a cafe in San Francisco, chalkboard-style menu boards and all. Western prices for very Western food. If you’ve been traveling for a while, it’s a great place to spoil yourself. The only drawback is that they don’t have WiFi: YEH
  • Cafe 56, Chao Fa Ngum Road, NE of Nam Phou Fountain – Just down the road from Joma Cafe, this place has WiFi, strong coffee, and mediocre nachos. Still, they’ll let you sit on their decent, free WiFi connection for hours: YEH
  • Fresh rice paper roll street food, across from the police station entrance on Phamahapasaman Road aka Mano Road, NE of Thammamikalath Road – A completely contented woman spends hours spreading rice batter on a steamer setup, cracks an optional egg on top, and tumbles in some chopped mushroom mix. You add spice, lime juice, and crushed peanut to your sweet sauce as you like, then eat it up for an incredible breakfast for just 5,000 kip per plate. She is popular so you may have to wait. No English spoken and no menu at all, so just point and grunt as best you can. We went twice: YEH
  • Noodle Zoup & Fired Noodle the misspelled name on one sign at a wok-fronted restaurant on Visonalat Road aka Mano Road – We saw them woking up some thick noodle chicken stir fry, and had to have our own. Only 10,000 kip for a simple but wonderful lunch. Didn’t see a menu, we just pointed at the noodles: YEH
  • Khemekhan Food Garden, on Phou Si Road – Great iced Lao coffee, completely bonkers staff: NAH
  • Luang Prabang Restaurant and Bakery – An unoriginal name. We stopped by for WiFi and a beer. We also got some bacon pie, which was mediocre bacon-packed quiche: MEH
  • Hive – Our old guide book said Hive was the most happening bar in town, and years later, it’s still right. On New Years Eve, we were happy we got there early enough to grab seats. The microscopic dancefloor was packed, except for the times (yes, plural) that the speakers cut out: YEH

Where we stayed:

  • Malida Guesthouse – Greedy and evil, they gouge on room prices during peak seasons. Rooms are minuscule, overcrowded with furniture and covered with angry, threatening signs about not washing your laundry in the bathroom. Avoid this place. If you get stuck at Malida, get the room price quoted IN WRITING and in the currency in which you’ll pay. Otherwise, they’ll try to screw you with a remarkably high exchange rate (for us, when we said we wanted to pay in kip, instead of the going rate of 1 USD = 7,500 kip, they quoted $1 = 10,000. As if.): NAH
  • Jaliya Guesthouse – Pleasant garden, clean rooms. Far enough from old town that there’s tasty local street food nearby. They charge too much extra for a TV in your room, but what the hell are you doing watching TV in Laos anyway? The staff is a lot crazy, occasionally aggressive, often confused, and not particularly helpful. We saw them piss a number of people off so get the staffers name and write agreements down. Still, it’s worth making a reservation, as it’s one of the better deals in town: YEH

What we saw:

  • Wat Xieng Thong – Worth the admission, if you like the pretty things in life, give yourself several hours for squinting at all the details of the stencil and mosaic art that covers the wat’s many buildings, inside and out. Can be swarming with tourists clicking away with their cameras, so be patient as the Buddha: YEH
  • Wat Yada Yada, Wat Blah Dee Blah, Wat Such Nsuch – Pick up a bike and stop by as many other wats as you can in one day. They’re all charming, even the ones outside of old town have little surprises. Many monks are learning English, so take the time to chat them up: YEH
  • Sunset Point Lean-To – Described above, it’s the place to go for sunset if you don’t need anything fancier than the view and a beer.: YEH
  • Boat to Pak Ou Buddha Caves from Sunset Point – The owner runs a boat to the Pak Ou Buddha Caves, ours left hours late even though we’d scheduled ahead, so we had to rush a bit through the caves. The boat engine is deafeningly loud and the owner is creepy. Still, cheaper than other boats: MEH
  • Pak Ou Buddha Caves – Poke around the lower cave with your flashlight (or rent one at the cave entrance) to find all the Buddhas hiding in the dark. Climb the stairs to the upper cave, where thousands of damaged Buddha statues make for some fun depth-of-field photo taking: YEH
  • Whiskey Village – The guidebook we had said to stop by to try this small village’s locally made brew. The new reality is that the small village is now a major tour group stop, and they want thousands of kip for a shot of whiskey that you can get for pennies back in Luang Prabang: NAH
  • Morning Monks Alms Procession – One of the big tourist draws in Luang Prabang, it’s really just a huge source of tourist shame. We’ll talk about this more in a later post about bad tourist behavior, but unless you are a rude photo taking asshole, don’t bother waking up at dawn to see the monks collect their daily alms. In fact, we’d all be better off if the rude photo taking assholes stayed in bed too: NAH
  • Phou Si Hill – “Sacred Hill” or mountain, in the center of Luang Prabang, topped by That Chomsi (temple) and a tremendous view. Definitely an up-hill haul, so take the more interesting and oddly less crowded path up that starts on Phou Si Road, and winds you past the ‘Buddha of the Days of the Week Statues,’ organized just like that popular 1980s underwear: YEH
  • Sapaper Handicraft Chantee – One of many small shops selling books of locally made handmade paper. Todd picked up some nice ones. Bargain: YEH
  • Bounnaachan Gallery, No. 80 Ban Vatnong Khoun Swua Rd. – A talented woodcarver selling mostly excellent pieces, mostly small and take-home-able in size. Sneak out his back door to check out his carvings of old tree trunks. We bought, we bargained: YEH
  • Night Market – Stall after stall selling mostly the same ‘Made in China’ souvenirs over and over. Still, if you look, you can find something different, or at least something that won’t fall apart on you. You should be able to bargain for 30% or less of what they start with. The bargaining isn’t really that hard either, since there’s so much identical competition: YEH