After an amazing 18 days with my parents traveling around Thailand and Siem Reap, Cambodia, it was finally time to part ways. However, this wasn’t the end of my traveling. I still had one week left to my school break. I decided it was the perfect opportunity to head to a new country and a city that I was eager to explore; Luang Prabang, Laos. Here is how I spent one week solo in Luang Prabang, Laos
Why Luang Prabang?
To be honest, prior to arriving to Southeast Asia back in 2018, I didn’t really know much about Laos. Fact is, I probably couldn’t have pointed it out on a map. The tough decision had to be made to pick just one city. In this case, I decided on Luang Prabang. I wish I could have spent longer to be able to explore the other popular tourist destinations like Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Pakse, but 7 days just wasn’t enough time. I didn’t want to spend hours traveling between multiple cities. It was even struggling to find flights within my timeframe.
My decision to visit Luang Prabang came down to one major factor, the famous waterfalls. Well, in all fairness, I really wanted to do the slow-boat from the Thailand border to Luang Prabang, but timing wasn’t on my side. I also thought maybe if I was in Luang Prabang, I could figure out how to take the show-boat in the opposite direction.
Unfortunately, timing wasn’t on my side this trip. I needed a place that was easy to get in and out of via flying. This would allow me to enjoy as much time as I had exploring. I get that “backpacking” typically means finding the cheapest form of travel, but because I was still working in Thailand, I couldn’t risk getting stuck.
As per most of Southeast Asia, planes and buses are the main form of transportation, with motorcycles and boats as other options. For me, since I was entering from Siem Reap, I wasn’t given many options. A bus would have taken too long, though probably cheaper and a train wasn’t an option. That pretty much left me one option…flying. It wasn’t the cheapest but it was definitely the easiest way to get from Siem Reap to Luang Prabang.
I had originally planned to fly back to Chiang Mai, Thailand then take a bus Huay Xai on the Lao Thai border. Huay Xai is the starting boat for the famous “slow boat,” a 2-day boat ride down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang. However, due to visa issues, I wasn’t able to re-enter than exit Thailand, so I was only given the option to fly.
The flight from Siem Reap was very easy. Although I would have loved to have taking an early flight out, the best priced flight was leaving Siem Reap at 4:55pm and arriving into Luang Prabang at 6:25pm. I booked through Vietnam Airlines for roughly $140 USD (4725 THB). If you have the money, flying is a good option, but if I could do it again, I’d totally take the slow boat.
Arrival and Visas
Arriving into Laos was very simple. They line you up and lead you through the airport directly to customs. You fill out the necessary forms, bring 2 passport photos, USD CASH ($20-40), proof of accommodation, and proof of exit. At least at the time of my travels (October 2019) that is what was required. It took all of about 45 minutes and then I shared a tuk tuk with several other backpackers into the city.
Where I Stayed
If you’ve followed me for any length of time, then you know I’m a HUGE fan of Hostelworld. I have always been able to find some the BEST hostels. I have also found that the reviews left by fellow travels to be honest and true. It’s also really easy to search by criteria such as a pool or a/c.
As was the case of past backpacking adventures, I found a very well reviewed hostel called Sunrise Riverside Pool Hostel. I choose an 8-bed mixed dorm which was approx. $5 USD per night. It was located right near the FAMOUS Utopia Bar & Restaurant, which is a must visit, and near Phousi Hill, a must climb!
Unfortunately, since my travels in October of 2019, I cannot seem to locate Sunrise Riverside Pool Hostel online. I know southeast Asia was hit very hard with COVID. I would not be surprised if this hostel along with many others did not survive from the limit/lack of travel over the past two years.
5 To-Dos in One Week in Luang Prabang
1. Sunrise Experience
One of my most favorite things I did in Luang Prabang was wake up for Sai Bat. Sai Bat is a longstanding tradition in the Lao Buddhist culture. It is their morning alms, offerings that occur every morning along the streets of Luang Prabang. Once Sai Bat is finished, I recommended heading up Phou Si Hill, a 360 degree overview of the city. It’s so peaceful and calming being “on top” of the world so early in the morning.
2. Kuang Si Falls and Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue
This is probably the #1 most popular tourist destination in Luang Prabang and for good reasons. Kuang Si Waterfall is hands down one of the most breathtaking and peaceful waterfall(s), I have had the chance to visit. Turquoise waters surrounded by green trees with the sound of water flowing. Can you picture it yet? In addition to the waterfall, this location is also home to the asiatic black bear sanctuary called Free the Bear.
3. Tat Sae Waterfall
Another one of the famous falls in Luang Prabang and worth the trip. It’s not the EASIEST waterfall to get too, and I actually combined my visit within a tour from White Elephant Adventure Tour (no longer in operation). The tour I selected included a walk through local villages, learning about the local agriculture, kayaking down the Nam Khan River, and a visit to Tat Sae Waterfall. It was $50 total and worth it for the adventure.
One memory I’ll take away from that adventure was the fact that the kayak I was in kept filling with water, causing the guy and me to tip and FALL into the river. Thankfully, we both had a good sense of humor and laughed about it, as did our guide.
4. UXO Lao Visitor Center
This is one place I didn’t realize existed until I arrived in Laos. It really was an eye opening experience and one that EVERY American needs to learn about. Why? Let me explain a little.
UXO stands for Unexploded Ordnance Programme. This program is working on cleaning land of unexploded ordnances from the Vietnam war for agriculture and community purposes around the nine most impacted provinces in Lao. Lao PDR is the most heavily bombed nation in the world per capita. This is all due to the United States dropping more than 2 MILLION tons of explosives around Lao to block North Vietnamese arms and troops from entering. Unfortunately, MANY, like up to 30% of what was dropped did not explode and are now are HIDING in the land. These UXOs are being found by local Laotians, adults and children, injuring them and KILLING many unexpecting citizens. I was NOT a proud American after learning this, especially since the US is not assisting in the CLEAN UP of their MESS.
5. Eating and Drinking
Just like every new location, eating and drinking is part of the experience. For starters, coffee is a huge part of their culture and there are countless local shops along the Mekong River to enjoy. As for food, I highly recommend the night market to get local cuisine including grilled fish and grilled meat. Additionally, much of Lao food is similar to Thai cuisine so their dishes also include their version of Khao Soi or Laap. They also have their own version of the Vietnamese Banh Mi called Khao Jee pâté, which is DELICIOUS.
Living in Thailand for 16 months, buying any beer outside of the traditional Leo, Singha, or Chang is EXPENSIVE and that includes Beer Lao Lager. In my opinion, Beer Lao is one of the best beers in Southeast Asia. You can bet, that during my week in Luang Prabang, I drank MANY Beer Laos. What I didn’t know when I arrived into Laos, was there were other “flavors” of Beer Lao, such as Beer Lao White and Beer Lao Dark. If you’re a beer drinker, then Beer Lao is a must try.
***Unfortunately, due to the COVID pandemic, a couple of adventures I went on have since closed. Those included White Elephant Adventure Tours (kayaking, villages, and waterfall adventure) and the local bowling alley, where I spent my first night in Luang Prabang.***