Laos is the Southeast Asian country that is often overlooked for it’s more famous neighbours Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. But it is overflowing with natural beauty, friendly locals, delicious local cuisine and beautiful temples to rival anywhere in Asia.
Luang Prabang in particular is definitely one of the places in Laos that shouldn’t be missed for your Southeast Asia itinerary and may just become the highlight of your whole trip. Here’s our essential guide with everything you need to know for your first visit to Luang Prabang.
Location & Time Zone in Laos
Luang Prabang is located in Northern Laos and follows the Indochina Time Zone UTC +07:00.
Getting To Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang has it’s own airport – Luang Prabang International Airport (LPQ) – making it incredibly easy to access by air. The airport is just 4 kilometres away, a short 10-15 minute drive out of the main town.
As you’re leaving the airport there is a desk where you can book a taxi to take you into town. A private taxi only costs 50,000kip (about $7.50 AUD).
Currency in Laos
Lao Kip. ATMs can be found on the main street of Luang Prabang. Credit and debit cards are accepted at some places but certainly not all. It is a good idea to carry cash on you at all times in case there are no eftpos facilities. It is also unlikely for local attractions to accept credit and debit cards.
Visa Requirements for Laos
Australian passport holders visiting Laos require a tourist visa to enter the country. You can apply for a visa before departing Australia from the Embassy of Laos in Canberra by sending in your passport, the visa form (which you can download from the Laos Embassy Website), the visa fee of $45 USD per person and a postage paid pre-addressed envelope for them to send you passport back. The turn around is generally less than 4 business days.
Alternatively, you can purchase a visa on arrival in Laos if you are arriving via the international airport in either Vientaine or Luang Prabang. You will need to bring the consulate fee in USD with you, as well as two passport sized photos for the visa. While many consider this method safer, as you do not have to post your passport, it can result in significant delays at the airport waiting to be processed. We were two of only about five people on our flight that organised their visa in advance and we were straight through customs with no queues at all, while everyone else had to wait in a HUGE line with only one official.
Climate in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang has a tropical climate, with dry winters and wet rainy summers. The temperature is very pleasant all year round, without the extremes of heat waves and freezing winters. May is the hottest month in Laos, with December being the coldest, and August is the wettest month by a long shot.
Language in Laos
The official language of Laos is Lao. It is common for many of the locals to speak and at the very least understand English – including tuk tuk drivers, people working in hotels and restaurants and locals with market stands, making it easy to communicate even if there is a language barrier.
Getting Around Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is quite a small town and it’s very easy to get around in many different ways. The top way to get around is defintiely walking, with hotels being located within close distance of restaurants, shops, the rivers and many major temples and sights.
If your hotel is located on the opposite side of the Nam Khan River to the main streets there is a bamboo walking bridge you can use to cross the river to avoid walking the whole way around. The bridge asks for a 5,000kip donation per person crossing to help support the family who build the bridge. The walking bridge is only open during the dry months of the year and is taken down and then rebuilt every year.
If the humidity is getting a little much you can rent a bicycle or scooter to get around. Many hotels offer free bicycles for you to use for the day, or you can rent a motorbike or scooter for around $18 USD for 24 hours. You are not required to wear a helmet on a scooter in Luang Prabang, but if you want one just ask when you pick up the bike and they will happily give you one. Tuk Tuks are also readily available and can take you anywhere you need starting from as low as a couple of dollars.
Internet Access in Luang Prabang
Internet Access in Laos is a little slower than other places we have visited, but still definitely manageable. Most hotels and restaurants will offer free wifi, just ask for the password. Often we found the internet was strong enough to send and receive messages and open a couple of things on social media, but might take a little longer to load a whole feed to scroll through or to stream anything.
Main Streets of Luang Prabang
Sakkaline Road is the main street in Luang Prabang, as well as the surrounding streets Kingkitsarath Road and Khem Khong Road. The main town is an interesting mix of locals and travellers and is definitely not what I would consider a touristy town. For example, there is a primary school on the main street, right across the road from hotels and cafes.
Best Time To Go To Luang Prabang
The dry season, between November and May each year is the best time to visit Luang Prabang. Within the dry season you will find the best weather between November and January, which is when most people visit.
Can’t Miss Experiences in Luang Prabang
+ Take a day trip out to visit and take a dip at the beautiful Kuang Si waterfall
+ Visit Tad Sea waterfall to watch the local elephants swimming in the water and totally loving being fed bananas, bamboo and coconuts by visitors
+ Wake up super early to watch the traditional ceremony of Tak Bat – where the local monks walk the streets barefoot and in silence collecting donations of rice and sweets from the locals
+ Hike to the top of Mount Phousi for some epic sunset views
+ Take a cruise along the Mekong Delta
+ Visit the night market for all sorts of local crafts, souvenirs and traditional gifts
+ If you’re craving a good streak definitely visit Azerai Bistro – located right across the road from the night market, a little bit expensive compared to local Asian food prices, but absolutely delicious and exactly what we needed
Good to know for your trip to Luang Prabang
Although Luang Prabang is an inland town, there is definitely a feeling of island time here. People move at a slower pace here, there is no sense of urgency and everyone is calm and chilled out.
The number one thing to remember across all of Laos is to just be polite. Take your shoes off at the door when required, don’t stick your camera in someone’s face – especially the face of a monk, and learn a couple of phrases to greet them in their local language. Try sa bai dee for hello and kop chai for thank you.