Luang Prabang: unwinding in Laos

Luang Prabang has stolen my heart. I arrived with hardly any expectations and an intense need for some peace & quiet. I read an article in a magazine about this place and decided to book a ticket. This city, full of butterflies, has a spiritual charm. Monks wander through the streets, everybody smiles at you and even the dogs are your best friends. The French architecture, the Mekong river, the good restaurants, the laid back vibe & spirituality, make this place one of my favorite Asian destinations so far.

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Luang PrabangLuang PrabangLuang PrabangLuang PrabangLuang PrabangLuang PrabangFrench pancake at Le Banneton.

Where to eat: Have breakfast/ brunch or lunch at Le Banneton. This French spot serves some tasty dishes and was my favorite place for a bite in the afternoon. Try the salty French pancake with cheese, Lao sausage & egg! There is no WIFI, but you’ll meet a lot of interesting fellow travelers!
Have a fruitshake at Big Tree Café and visit the photo gallery by Dutch photographer Adri Berger upstairs! The cafe is run by Mija Son from South Korea, so try some of the special Korean dishes!

Luang PrabangKhaiphaen

Focus on responsible tourism. The people in Laos are poor and there are some amazing initiatives in Luang Prabang that support the locals, like one of my favorite restaurants: Khaiphaen. This was the best dinner I had in this town. Young students work in the restaurant, to learn English. This gives them a better chance at finding a job in the future. There are teachers working there to help them. So be patient when things don’t go smoothly or as quick as you would like. The meals are excellent! Try the local speciality khaiphaen: fried veggies from the river, served with herbs, sesame seeds & crispy tofu. It looks like Nori seaweed. I loooooved the crispy cinnamon pork belly with pumpkin mash & hibiscus honey too! Save some room for the banana fritters though, prepared with cashew nuts and served with coconut ice cream…I loved restaurant Dyen Sabai too. A beautiful, multilevel spot, right at the river. My favorite place for a Latte & Laptop session ( or the amazing homemade Iced Tea) was L’ Etranger Books & Tea.

Luang PrabangKuang Si Waterfall

What to do: Ock Pop Tock is a must visit if you want to learn more about the Hmong culture. You can book a weaving course or just wander around the stunning location and enjoy a great lunch by the river. Visit their shop in Luang Prabang, tell them you would love to visit the weaving centre and a tuk tuk driver will take you to the village, just outside Luang Prabang, for free. They have some beautiful rooms for a pleasant stay too.

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The cooking class at Tamarind was another highlight. We visited the morning market, where we were the only foreigners! Only women sell the goods. In Laos they believe they bring good luck.
At Big Brother Mouse you can sit down and read an English book to the local kids, to help them learn the language.

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At 06:00 in the morning you can see hundreds of monks gathering the alms in the city, but please be respectful. Don’t flash your camera in their face and if you want to give the alms, ask your hotel to prepare some food for you, wear apropriate clothes, wash your hands, sit on your knees. Don’t buy any food from the ladies on the street. This is not a ‘pure’ donation to the monks, so they won’t eat it.

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Visit the Kuang Si waterfall!!! This is the most beautiful waterfall I have EVER seen! There is not a lot of climbing involved. The bottom of the waterfall is the best spot for some photos…I took about a million… Go to the ‘sandwich area’ in Luang Prabang, where the market is every night and share a tuk tuk with some other travelers for 30.000 dong per person. Don’t pay more than that.

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Where to drink: Utopia was one of my favorite hangouts. This is a beautiful spot for a late afternoon drink, while gazing over the river. At night this is THE place to be for all the backpackers. They serve some excellent cocktails. When the place closes, everybody goes bowling! Try the sunset yoga class by Belle!
Another great spot for a cocktail is the Icon Klub. This small gem serves some amazing drinks!
Tangor is a French wine bar/ restaurant and is the perfect spot for people watching!

Luang PrabangSunset at Utopia.

Luang PrabangA Cherry Disaronno Sour at the Icon Klub.

Don’ts: Don’t buy from kids. They should be in school and the money will not end up in their pockets, but in the pockets of the adult that send them out on the streets. The night market is nice to visit one night, and maybe grab a cheap bite, but beware, it is packed with tourists! I did not like it very much. The market isn’t authentic, too busy and completely focused on the tourists.

Luang Prabang Skip the Pak Ou Caves. This felt like a tourist trap. It used to be a special sacred place, but is now packed with tourists. Instead, I would recommend booking a sunset tour on the Mekong.
Don’t walk around in your bikini. The local people will look at you like you are in your underwear. Be respectful.
Dating a guy from Laos is officially illegal…you should get married first…just so you know…:-)

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Luang Prabang is one of those places you should visit now, before it get’s too busy and tourists take over. I hope this town stays exactly the way it is now! You can still ride your bike here, there is hardly any traffic, it is safe for a girl alone and the people are friendly. Hope to be back one day!