Luang Prabang (pop. 16,000) is a quiet town in Northern Laos on the banks of the Mekong. With many guest houses and restaurants, lush scenery and beautiful temples it is an ideal place for the budget traveler. Accommodations cost about 15,000 - 30,000 Kip for a clean room with private or shared bathroom. Food is about 3000 Kip for a sandwich, a delicious iced coffee or mixed fruit shake and a Beer Lao (600ml) is 6000- 8000 Kip. You can't go wrong with the deals.
(current exchange rate 8,200 kip = $1 US)
Some must see sites in and around Luang Prabang are:
- Phra Thaat Phou Si - This temple is atop a hill in the middle of the city. Like most of the Wats in the city, there is a small fee to enter (sometimes a smile can get you in, but a 60 cent donation? Don't be frugal). The view is well worth the 5000 Kip. There are also plenty of old ruins, including an old turret gun and many Monks live here as well.
- The National Museum - Former Royal Palace has landscaped grounds and a tremendous historical collection.
- Than Ting Cave - This cave is forty Km down the river, you can rent a boat to get there or stop on your way down from the north. There are many Buddha relics in this cave.
- Taat Kuang Si Waterfall - Beautiful multi-tier falls with swimming holes that you can climb up to. A great day trip if you can get enough people together. It is possible to charter a Tuk Tuk type vehicle for eight people for about 12 dollars (100,000 Kip).
Luang Prabang wasn't the easiest place for me to get to. I took the slow boat down the Mekong from Huay Xai which is the border town across form Chiang Khong, Thailand in the north. The boat took two days with an overnight stay in Pakbeng. The boat was indeed slow taking about eighteen hours to complete the 300 km trip. I did have the chance to take the fast boat, which takes eight hours, but there have been casualties.
The boat is an amazing way to meet new people. Forty of us were cramped together on a boat that should have held twenty. There were two wood benches on either side of the craft about six feet apart. An engine that periodically took on water, was loud, produced plumes of exhaust ... In the back of the boat was a small iron shaped hole that provided a means to relieve oneself. Funny thing about the bathroom is you had to crouch over to fit into the cupboard sized "room" and people waiting for the facilities could look directly at you. Girls related stories about having to hang on, and a Canadian I know kneeled in front of the hole to urinate.
The boat would stop about every four hours to stretch and drop off provisions for local people that would run down the banks of the Mekong, naked children staring at us, putting 50 lb bags of rice and yams on their backs to carry away. At one stop, a woman got on with a plastic basket and sat next to (practically on top of) me. Peering into her basket, I saw two little legs sticking out with gray fur and little rodent feet tied together by a string. Noticing my curiosity, she smiled a toothless grin and pulled out a groundhog type animal that was as stiff as the wood under my sore arse. I laughed, as the girl on the other side shrieked. Laughing with me, the woman pushed the animal closer to the girls face, sharing an amusing moment to break the monotonous voyage. I then motioned for her to hold it up so the people in the back could see. A wonderous place.
For more info about Laos, go here and here.