Day-Trips from Luang Prabang
The west, or right, bank of the Mekong River is a paradise of small villages and monasteries. It’s easy to get there – just head down to the river below the Royal Palace area and you’ll come to the boat landings. You can hire a boat for a half-day, or arrange with a ferry operator to take you across to Wat Chom Pet, and pick you up about four hours later. This should cost about $5 or so, but make sure to agree on the price as well as the pick-up place and time in advance. Tip: You should not pay the ferry operator until you are on the boat for the return trip!
Boat tours can also be arranged, but the distance to be covered is easily walkable, and probably faster than getting on and off a boat numerous times. The main wats, going upstream, are: Wat Chom Pet, Wat Long Khoun, and Wat Tham. There are admission charges of $1-$2 for each wat, and Wat Long Khoun is actually a cave, so bring a flashlight. You can also go downstream from Wat Chom Pet to Wat Xiang Men, and another four km/2.5 miles to the pottery village of Ban Chan.
To really see these wats and nearby villages, chartering a boat is an excellent idea – and the cost is quite reasonable if shared. Local travel agents can arrange this and make sure you are not left in some unplanned place quibbling about fees and payments.
East of Luang Prabang are some handicrafts villages specializing in weaving and knife-making. If you rent a bicycle, these villages are easy to visit. Ban Phanom, the weaving village, is about three km/two miles east. The villagers are from a minority tribe – the Lu – from southern China. Close by is the tomb of Henri Mouhot – the Frenchman who is credited with “discovering” Angkor Wat. Ask for directions in Ban Phanom – it’s only about two km/1.2 miles. The second village, Ban Hat Hien, is on the road to the airport. Bear to the right just before the terminal and go to the end of the road. This village has put the shells from Vietnam-American War big guns to good use – as bellows for the fires used to make knives and bullets!
Pak Ou Caves – Upstream
This is the most popular excursion from LP. The caves are about 25 km/16 miles upriver from the town. Any travel agent in town can arrange the boat trip and caves visit for you. These caves are supposedly filled with over 4,000 Buddha statues of all sizes in the series of caves. Bring a flashlight or candles and matches. If you want, you can charter a boat, but the tours are so well-organized that it makes sense to go that route. Besides, you are almost guaranteed a stop-over at Xang Hai village on the way back. This is the village where the local whisky (lau-lao) is brewed. It is possible to rent kayaks or canoes – ask at the travel agents in LP. Note that overnight accommodation, should you need it, is very basic, as is food.
There are dozens of hotels, guest houses, and travel agents that can arrange trips to explore some of the many caves in the area. Check out the equipment and ask around with other travelers to choose a trip that suits your needs.
Khouang-Sy Waterfalls – Downstream
These scenic waterfalls are about 30 km/20 miles south of LP. Again, the local travel agents are usually the best source of travel arrangements for the trip. The falls are more like cascades than actual free-falling “falls,” but still quite lovely. You can swim in the pools above the falls, but not in the lower pools. You can charter a boat, or let a travel agent make the arrangements. There are also buses, but they are slow and uncomfortable. Finally, you can hire a tuk-tuk for a few dollars, but the driver may abandon you.
As above, it is possible to rent kayaks or canoes.
The Mekong wends its way south to Vientiane. If you have the time, and/or you don’t like frantic bus rides over hilly, bumpy, winding roads, a sedate float down the Mekong may be just your cup of tea (or coffee!). The trip generally takes about two days and one night, so arrange a boat and accommodations that suit your style and temperament. As always, your hotel or a local travel agent is the best source for arrangements, but other travelers are the best choice for quality assurance. River excursions also allow you to visit some of the temples that are not too far from Luang Prabang, if you aren’t “templed out” already. These trips are easy to arrange in the village.
The area around Luang Prabang has a number of interesting temples that can be reached by bicycle, often combined with a bit of hiking. There are several places in Luang Prabang that rent low-tech bicycles to tourists. Take a good map with you. The riding is easy, but if you plan to ride here, or anywhere else in Asia, a lightweight cable lock and a helmet are worth packing. They are in short supply in this part of the world. Rental rates should be only a few dollars a day and there are several street-side vendors with bicycles for rent.
Walking & Hiking
As a major walker and hiker, I found Laos to be a great place. You can easily and safely walk almost anywhere. There aren’t many cars or scooters (yet), and those that are around generally yield to pedestrians (unlike Vietnam). Most of the terrain around the main sights and destinations is flat or gently sloping so it’s easy to walk. Walking also puts you closer to the people, architecture and commerce. In fact, it was because I walked so much that I found the Red Cross Internet Café, massage center, and body scrub salon – a great place to relax and contribute to a good cause!
Getting to Luang Prabang
History of Luang Prabang, Getting around Luang Prabang
What to do & see in Luang Prabang
Adventures in Northern Laos
Adventures in Northern Laos (part 2)
Laos travel guide homepage
City guide Homepage