Luang Prabang, Laos
Areas in Luang Prabang
When to 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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PlanesWing your way into Luang Prabang International Airport (www.luangprabangairport.com) from Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Siem Reap or Hanoi, among other regional airports. Bangkok Airways (www.bangkokair.com) and Vietnam Airlines (www.vietnamairlines.com) offer the smoothest flight connections. An airport taxi into town costs about US$6.
BoatsSeveral 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 (www.luangsay.com) 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.
AutomobilesLuang 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.
TaxisThere 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.
Lying between mist-shrouded mountains on the palm-lined banks of the Mekong, languid Luang Prabang is every bit the land of the lotus eaters and an ideal starting point for a far-flung honeymoon. Get the royal treatment from the moment your driver drops you off at the elegant and serene Satri House, a sprawling colonial Indochine compound that would still impress the Laotian prince it was built for at the turn of the last century. Hike up the central Mount Phousi for views over the whole valley, explore hidden caves filled with Buddha statues, take a private boat tour on the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers and let a historian lead you around temples like Wat Xieng Thong and the former royal residence. Get lost in the winding alleys of the city’s well-preserved historic downtown, nibble croissants at French-style cafés and stock up on silks and sumptuous textiles at the Night Market. Just be sure to be back at the hotel in time for a gin and tonic on the veranda or at your prime dinner reservation at such iconic restaurants as Tamarind.