Luang Prabang, Laos

Years of war and some cranky communist ideas may have taken this historic town off the travel map for nearly two decades, but for those beating a path back to its Unesco-protected temples and colonial villas, the northern Laotian outpost is still one of the most charming destinations in south-east Asia. Serene to the point of somnolent, the old quarter is bursting with grand mansions and traditional wooden houses. The pleasures to be enjoyed here are simple and lingering: Lao coffee sipped in a street café; the hypnotic drum beat of the monks’ call to prayer; or a walk beneath fragrant boughs of frangipanis.

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Do Go/Don’t go

Pleasantly cool and dry weather arrives from November to February, but corresponds with a peak in tourist numbers. The wet season (peaking in August) is not a complete washout, though, as showers are usually brief and paint the countryside in a vivid palette of greens.

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Getting there

  • Planes

    Wing your way into Luang Prabang International Airport ( from Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Siem Reap or Hanoi, among other regional airports. Bangkok Airways ( and Vietnam Airlines ( offer the smoothest flight connections. An airport taxi into town costs about US$6.
  • Boats

    Several cruise boats connect Huay Xai (the bustling Mekong River port on the Thai border) with Luang Prabang – handy if you’re coming from Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai in Thailand. Luang Say Cruises ( offers a two-day river experience, with an overnight stay in the rustic town of Pak Beng. Don’t even consider the speedboats unless you enjoy tinnitus, cramp and death-defying velocity.
  • Automobiles

    Luang Prabang is compact and easy to explore on foot. For trips further afield to the Kuang Si Falls or Pak Ou Caves (nicer by boat), you could hire a car and driver: prices start at US$30 a day.
  • Taxis

    There are no metered taxis, but plenty of jumbos (eight-seater motorised three-wheelers) or tuk tuks. You’ll hear the more diminutive vehicles before you lay eyes on them: the two-stroke engine whines like a hornet. Your ride will cost about US$2; a little more if your jumbo is, ahem, jumbo-sized. Hotels can arrange cars if asked.