Where the majority of Southeast Asia has become a bustling tourist mecca, Laos has maintained a quiet – and dare we say more traditional – way of life.
Your best bet to experience the Laos lifestyle is in the Northern suburb, Luang Prabang, where buses and noisy cars are forbidden, monks still participate in the daily ritual of Alms Giving, and the city has implemented a strict midnight curfew.
Here’s our Just the Tips to best enjoy the calming culture of Luang Prabang.
You’ll feel like an early 20th-century diplomat slumbering in any one of the city’s French colonial estates-turned-guesthouses.
To live your emissary fantasy, we highly recommend booking at Satri House. This value-for-money venue was formerly Prince Souphanouvon’s home, giving the establishment an air of real aristocracy.
Have the savings to really splurge? The Luang Say Residence is a 5-star resort in the city-centre. While the pool is the star attraction, the library and cigar rooms provide a smart escape to relax with a nightcap. Be sure to wander over to on-site 1861 Bar for the signature Vesper, an extra dry martini infused with – and we quote – “fire and damnation bitters”.
We recommend beginning your culinary tour at Manda de Laos where traditional Laotian is served with pride. “Manda” translates to mother and is an ode to Laos’ culinary history.
Alternatively, on the bank of the Mekong you’ll find a strip of eateries serving inexpensive fare ranging from local to Indian, French, fusion and beyond. It’s a lively neighbourhood and a great spot to connect with other adventurers.
Want to try your own hand at traditional Laotian? Head to The Tamarind Cooking School where a Lao chef will teach you about local ingredients, help you blend and pound spices in a mortar & pestle, roast proteins over an open fire and of course join you for dinner as you devour your own creation.
You’ll want to wake early at least once to partake in the previously mentioned Alms Giving. Your hotel or tour guide will be able to provide you with information on participating in the unique daily ritual.
After breakfast, walk or bike over to the Royal Palace on the Mekong River’s shore. Conveniently, the palace is also home to the National Museum allowing you to delve into the country’s rich history.
Continue your historic tour a short walk south of the palace to Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham, a notable decorative temple. If you have time we also recommend visiting Wat Xieng Thong further along the peninsula.
Without doubt, you’ll want to swim in the turquoise pools below Kuang Si Waterfall a short drive south of Luang Prabang. The small entrance fee is well worth the visit as you spend a morning or afternoon relaxing in the well-maintained park. Be sure to allot enough time to visit the endangered Asiatic black bears at the nearby bear rescue centre.
To be honest, there isn’t much nightlife in Luang Prabang due to the midnight curfew. Restaurants and bars are legally obliged to close by 11:00pm to allow locals and tourists alike enough time to get home before 12am.
In terms of gay establishments, Lao Lao Garden is the best known gay-owned and operated restaurant/bar. Unfortunately, due to a more conservative climate, establishments are prohibited from marketing themselves as gay even though homosexuality is generally tolerated if not accepted in the country.
Interested in visiting Luang Prabang? Join Out Adventures’ Laos & Cambodia Buddhist Sites and City Nights tour. See details and full itinerary here.