Luang Prabang is a beautiful and peaceful city in Laos, it is the ancient Capital city of Laos until 1975. Luang Prabang is located approximately 300 km north of Laos today’s Capital, Vientiane. It was listed in UNESCO’s World Heritage Site in 1995 for its unique and “remarkably” well preserved architectural, religious and cultural heritage, a blend of the rural and urban developments over several centuries, including the French colonial influences during the 19th and 20th centuries. This includes all 33 out of 58 adjacent villages.
While the city of Luang Prabang has so many Buddhist temples and stupas, it is a home for many tourist who wants to see the beauty of Kuang Si Falls, Tad Sae Falls, and many other waterfalls and caves around the area. (source: Wikipedia)
I continued my journey to Luang Prabang from Vang Vieng on my 4th day in Laos. My seven days itinerary in Laos includes exploring Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. You can read about my journey in Vientiane and Vang Viang here.
How to get to Luang Prabang from Vientiane
There are two ways to get to Luang Prabang from Vientiane which is by bus and by plane. There’s no train connecting both cities.
It takes about 10-12 hours bus ride from Vientiane to Luang Prabang and you can choose to have a day ride or night ride. The night bus provide flatbeds, and therefore you can have a rest during the long journey. The one way bus ticket costs USD 22-32 (The night bus price is higher dan the day bus ticket ) and you can book it online or directly go to the bus terminal. As an option, you can also ask if your accommodation can help booking the ticket for you. The website is Boulau.
The famous bus provider are King of Bus, Naga Travel, and Soutchai Travel
King of Bus: This bus departs from Vientiane Phanthavong Tour Office and arrives at the Luang Prabang Southern Bus Terminal, about 2km south of the city center. This bus company provides good services and is one of the most popular in Laos.
Naga Travel: Departs from Vientiane Haysoke Guest House in the city center, near the Agricultural Promotion Bank and arrives at the Luang Prabang Southern Bus Terminal. Naga Travel is generally more expensive, but their service is similar to that of other companies.
Soutchai Travel: Departs from Vientiane Soutchai Travel Office in the city center, near Khamkong Minimart or from your hotel (pick-up service) and arrives at the Luang Prabang Southern Bus Terminal, Their sleeper bus leaving at 20:00 provides a free pick-up service from your hotel. They are well-reviewed but not suited for tall travellers as their beds are short
2. By Plane
There are daily flight using Laos Airline and Laos Skyways. The direct flight takes about 40 minutes and the price are from USD 220-250 for round trip. Laos Skyways offer cheaper price than Laos Airline. I took flight back to Vientiane from Luang Prabang using Laos Skyways, and will do a complete review of the experience later on this blog. (Source: North-Vietnam, Planet Gravy)
However, I departed to Luang Prabang from Vang Vieng and I took minivan. It takes about 5-6 hours drive to reach Luang Prabang (includes bathroom stop and breaks), and the minivan provided picking up from our Hotel in Vang Vieng, and dropped us off at our B&B in Luang Prabang. However, the drop off at our hotel is at additional cost. We booked the minivan through our hotel in Vang Vieng. I forgot about the price, but you can read further here for the price reference, if I remember it correctly, it’s about 120,000 LAK (13 USD). The space inside the minivan is pretty tight, so you have to manage your expectation.
How to get around in Luang Prabang
We only had one day in Luang Prabang, before flying back to Vientiane. So we used all the time that we had to explore Luang Prabang. We wanted to visit Kuang Si Falls, Pak Ou Cave, and Phousi Hill and those places are kilometres apart. We didn’t want to rent a car or motorcycle and drive ourselves because the road conditions are pretty bad and we need experience driver to show the way. So, we asked our receptions at the Hotel for booking us a tuk-tuk. It turns out, our hotel owner has few trusted Tuk-tuk ready to go with us. She also helped us bargain the price and we got 400,000 LAK (44 USD) for a full day exploration in Luang Prabang and around (later we tipped the driver more for his excellence service, and since he was so knowledgeable, patient, and kind).
Best Places to visit while in Luang Prabang
I visited these places the whole day and a half. If you have only one day, i suggest to visit Kuang Si falls, Pak Ou Cave and Phousi Hill only. But, if you have extra days, you can also visit Tat Sae Waterfalls, and Royal Palace (Near Phousi hill, still in Luang Prabang City Center)
1. Kuang Si Falls (Tat Kuang Si)
This is the main reason I visited Laos, and it really is the most beautiful waterfall I had seen so far during this Chiang-Mai and Laos Trip. It takes about an hour trip to reach the waterfall (29 km from Luang Prabang City Center) The entrance ticket is 20,000 LAK. (2,2 USD) and it’s open daily from 8 am to 5 pm.
Kuang Si falls has three tiers, from bottom to the upper level, with the last one you can see the tallest water comes down to its bottom (60 meter heights).
After passing the entrance gate, we will be greeted by Asiatic black bear from the Tat Kuang Si Rescue Center and Kuang Si Butterfly Park before entering the lower level of the falls.
As you enter the first level, you will notice the waterfalls sounds and the most beautiful turquoise blue lagoon with a clear water. Visitors will continue to walk and hike up on the left side of the stream while enjoying the seemingly endless streams. The first lagoon I encountered was tourist free. There was no sign of prohibition, but no one swam there either. I did though (ha!) I just couldn’t resist jumping into the water especially with no one around, though it was a quick dip.
After that we continued our ascend and found more and more lagoons with dramatic falls. All of them were clear and in turquoise color. It was hard not trying to dip, although some spot was clearly put with prohibition signs. Not every tier/level in these falls are safe where everyone can just swim. Some of them were very slippery and with rugged rocks and hard to be accessed. Therefore, it is safe to only swim or dip in the designated area. On the first tier, you will find bathroom and changing room where you can change quickly before swimming. There were also picnic tables and seatings.
We kept hiking up and the farther we went, the more dramatic the falls. When we thought it couldn’t be more dramatic, we took another hike and arrived to the main falls of the Kuang Si Falls where 60 m water falls into a series of shallow pools before flowing downstream into the river.
Tips: bring swimming clothes and towel, and pack your own lunch. Use slippers or sandals, and swim only in places where it’s allowed. Go early in the morning before the tourist flock the place. The ideal time spent here is about 3-4 hours. But, hey! If you love to swim, may as well swim in here all day.
2. Pak Ou Cave
At first, we wanted to go to Tat Sae Waterfall, but we were so lost in time at Kuang Si Falls that we realized it was almost passed lunch time and we didn’t have enough time. So, we skipped Tat Sae Waterfall and went to Pak Ou Cave instead.
It takes about 40 minute’s drive from Luang Prabang city to Pak Ou Cave. We arrived at the river bank where we stopped to rent a boat. This boat then took us across the river right to entrance of the cave. It costs 13,000 LAK for the boat, and 20,000 LAK for cave entrance fee.
What make this cave interesting are:
- We need to pass Mekong River in order to reach the cave, the boat ride itself is a unique experience
- The cave comprised of two caves: Tham Ting (lower cave) and the Tham Theung (upper cave). The lower cave located inside a steep rock face that droops over the sacred site like tobacco-stained teeth. Accessed by a brilliant white-washed, zigzagging staircase, the boats dock at the bottom and allow for pilgrims and tourists alike to ascend into the upper and lower caves for exploration. (Source: Atlas Obscura)
- The view of the cave and the Mekong river makes a beautiful sight and a unique cave experience for all travellers.
Inside the cave are thousands of Buddha statues. Ranging in size, quality, and material, the only factor uniting these effigies are their minor imperfections. Roam long enough, and you can spot each; some are missing hands and or have chipped faces, while others list to the side or were replaced by newer versions less love-worn from ages of devotion.
3. Phousi Hill
We went back to Luang Prabang and headed to Phousi Hill. Phousi Hill is towering high around Luang Prabang area with 100 meters high. Around the hill stands Wat Tham Phou Si, a buddhist temple and a summit that overlooking the Luang Prabang town and surrounding area, that includes Nam Khan river and Mekong river.
On top of the hill is That Chomsi, a golden pagoda topped with a 7 tiered parasol. The slender pagoda is set on a white painted, rectangular base. It was built by King Anourat in 1804. Next to the stupa is a small viharn housing a large seated Buddha image surrounded by smaller ones. The golden That Chomsi atop the hill is visible glittering in the sun from much of Luang Prabang. (source: Renown Travel)
Phousi Hill is the best place to watch sunrise and sunset and it provides 360 degree view of the Luang Prabang. During sunrise and sunset, this place is packed with visitors, so you may want to come earlier to secure some best spot. Entrance fee is 20,000 LAK and it’s open from 5:30 am to 6 pm.
4. Luang Prabang Royal Palace (Haw Kham/Ho Kham)
There are so many buildings inside Luang Prabang Royal Palace. The temple, the museum, The Haw Pha Bang, The Conference Hall, Royal Barge Shelter, Kitchen/storage, and a lotus pond.
The Palace was built between 1904 and 1909 during the French colonial occupation as the residence of the Laos Royal Family. It was built to replace the old Palace after the city had been largely destroyed and looted in 1887 by the Black Flag Army, a militia group from China. While the old Palace was made of traditional building materials like teak wood, the new Palace was made of brick. Its style is a mix of French Beaux Arts and traditional Laos style.
When in 1975 the communist Pathet Laos party came to power ending the Laos monarchy, the Royals were forced to leave the Palace, after which it was turned into the National Museum. (Source: Renown Travel)
The Royal Palace Museum opens daily except Tuesday from 8 am until 11:30 am and from 1:30 pm until 4 pm. Entry to the museum grounds is free. But it costs you 30,000 kip ($3.5) to get to the palace building. There is a ticket box to the right of the entrance. Children under 10 free of charge.
Visiting all of these place requires at least 2 days since they are far from each other especially Kuang Si Falls and Pak Ou Cave. But, given the little time that we had, I am so happy with visiting these places and those are some memorable and unique experience in Laos.