We took a sleeper bus from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang which might have been one of the worst decisions we have made thus far. Firstly, the sleeper bus cost us more than a day bus would have (which means we didn’t actually save any money by not paying for accommodation), and this sleeper bus made the sleeper buses in Vietnam seem like a luxury. Instead of getting our own reclining seats, we were both cramped together in a space on the floor, about the size of a child’s bed, with nothing but two blankets and a couple of dirty pillows. After attempting to sleep in positions that would make a chiropractor’s eyes bleed, we finally made it to Luang Prabang at about 6:30 in the morning.
After negotiating a tuk tuk down to 15,000kip per person into the city center, we wandered the streets exhausted, looking for reasonably priced accommodation. After going from guesthouse to guesthouse, another traveler approached us and told us that he too had tried to find accommodation in the price range we were hoping for, only to find that everywhere in the area was at least 120,000kip for a double room. By Western standards, 130,000kip ($16) is not much for a double room, but by comparison it’s quite a lot more than most budget accommodations in Laos and more than most places we stayed in Vietnam. We relented and booked a room in Central Backpackers Hostel (which is not central at all), assuring ourselves that the nice room and free breakfast made it worth it.
We decided that we deserved a nap after a sleepless night, and woke up around noonish. We walked to the center of town where several stalls are set up next to each other selling sandwiches, crepes, and fruit shakes. All of the stalls sell the exact same things and they are there every day. A couple sandwiches and a banana shake later, we wandered around the city to get an idea of what it had to offer.
Luang Prabang is sleepy and laid back like Vientiane, but the scenery is admittedly much better. It sits at the confluence of the Mekong and the Nam Khan river, so many of the guesthouses and restaurants sit next to the water. Additionally, the city itself is lush with trees and jungle plants which add to the charming atmosphere.
We headed to a local cafe with the intention of using the internet, (only to find that it didn’t work) but we got some treats anyway. We decided to hang out in the common area of our hostel to do some internet surfing instead which ended up working out much better…until the city wide blackout! It happened out of no where and no one seemed to be perturbed by it. Everything was normal, then all of a sudden we were sitting in complete and utter darkness. It was actually kind of exciting! Plus, the power came back on after 20-30 minutes so it wasn’t a real issue.
For dinner we decided to try a place called Lao Lao Garden. After walking through the main entrance, we found ourselves outside again in their enormous garden patio surrounded by trees and plants. It literally felt like we were sitting in the middle of the jungle even though we were right in the middle of the city. This is where we got our first chance to try traditional Lao barbecue. Our waiter lifted the center tile of our table to reveal a small pit where he put a cement block filled with burning coals. After setting a hot plate shaped like an upside down bowl on top, he poured soup in the ring around the plate and set a big chunk of animal fat in top. He put baskets of raw meat and vegetables on the table next to us and instructed us to start cooking!
First you put vermicelli noodles and vegetables in the soup, then set the meat on top to cook. It was a little time consuming but also quite fun. We were given buffalo, chicken, and pork along with a large assortment of veggies. The food was decent but what really got us was the peanut tamarind sauce they serve on the side…yum!
After dinner we walked across the street and down a small path to a well known backpacker hangout called Utopia. After getting a couple of Beer Laos at the bar, we sat down in the center space where they have a bunch of mats and lounging pillows on the floor to hang out on. The place was really large; it also had a sand volleyball pit, a deck overlooking the river, and scattered tables all in a jungle like setting. They also played some half way decent down tempo music (for the most part) which was a welcome change from most bars in Southeast Asia! We had a lot of fun here, and ended up hanging out with a big group of people from Brazil, Italy, the UK and a dozen other countries. Unlike in Vang Vieng, we had the sense (and we were just tired) to leave before going over the top, and called it a night around 11:30; a relaxing but good start to our stay in Luang Prabang!
Sandwiches: 45,000kip ($5.54 USD)
Shake: 10,000kip ($1.23 USD)
Water: 5,000kip ($0.62 USD)
2-Beer: 20,000kip ($2.46 USD)
Joma Cafe: 30,000kip ($3.69 USD)
Lao Lao Garden: 123,000kip ($15.14 USD)
Utopia: 50,000kip ($6.15 USD)
Accommodation: 130,000kip ($16 USD)
Total Spent: 413,000kip ($50.83 USD)