A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Luang Prabang is the cultural center of Laos and one of the most popular tourist stops. The river is the main vein of the city and a good place to start exploring. Several restaurants line the street overlooking the river and are a pleasant place to stop for lunch or dinner. It’s also the part of town you will find most guesthouses, shops, travel agencies, and the night market, which is quite large. Prices here are much higher than in the rest of Laos, the average price for a room being almost double compared to Vang Vieng or Vientiane. But there is still plenty to do without breaking the bank.
It is fairly inexpensive to rent a boat for an hour or two and enjoy a ride up and down the river. The more people in your group, the cheaper the price per person will be too. Also, don’t be afraid to barter, the initial asking price is always too high and the driver should be willing to negotiate. You can always walk away if you feel like you aren’t being offered a fair price, there is probably someone 10 yards down the road willing to do it for less. Renting bicycles is also very inexpensive, about 10,000 kip a day (approximately $1.25), while the cost of renting a motorbike is around 150,000 kip (about $18). It is extremely hot and humid in Luang Prabang so I would recommend renting bicycles earlier in the morning to avoid some of the heat.
Everything in Luang Prabang is geared towards tourists; countless of English speaking tuk-tuk drivers, a travel agency company on every corner booking kayaking trips and treks to small villages, and prices much higher than other regions in the country. But despite the obvious presence of foreigners, the city has maintained its traditional charm that made it so popular to begin with. Restaurants and bars close at 10 pm, the only place left serving alcohol after this time is a bowling alley about 20 minutes outside of town, making the streets quiet and peaceful at night.
One of the things I wanted to see in particular was the monks collecting food donations from the community early in the morning. This involved waking up at 5 am in order to be dressed and out the door by 5:30. The streets at this time are empty of tourists, with only the local people out setting up their restaurants or driving to work. I didn’t know where to go to see the monks, so I just started wandering around. I had only walked down a couple streets before I saw the line of bright orange garments walking towards me. In the line were men of all ages, most men in Laos are monks for a period of time during their lives and are very well respected within their communities. People donate food because they believe it will improve their karma, benefiting their spirit in their next life. I followed, at a distance, for a short time and watched them collect rice in their silver bowls as they do every morning. After a few blocks I watched them turn a corner and I continued in the other direction. It was nice walking around the empty streets and discovering things around my guesthouse I would not have noticed normally. Like the bowl of tiny crabs that would most likely be served during lunch later or the beautiful view from a bridge over the river.