Our next stop was the country of Laos to a little city called Luang Prabang. If you’re heading there from Bangkok, leave plenty of time to get to the airport and deal with all the flight check in and security (2-3 hours). The flight is only a few hours and remember to bring cash for the arrival visa ($36). You’ll also need a photo for the visa which you can either bring with you or they’ll copy one out of your passport for $1.
You’ll immediately notice the difference between Luang Prabang and Bangkok as you drive away from the airport. Luang Prabang is less busy, less modern, and noticeably more peaceful. The people are also more friendly, and not in the way that they’re trying to sell you something. They have more of a quiet politeness that isn’t overbearing, but accommodating at the same time.
Of the three countries, Laos was hands-down my favorite part. It’s impossible not to feel relaxed in the zen-like ambiance of the town. It’s a backpacker’s paradise, and while there are tourists there, it’s not overrun with them. And those tourists that are there tend to be the hippie, mix in with the culture type. With the 11 PM curfew in the country, there isn’t a huge draw for the spring break party crowd. Note: The curfew doesn’t mean that you can’t be outside past 11 PM. It just means that businesses have to closed by then.
Businesses and people in Laos accept Thai baht, but it is a little bit of pain, so try and use whatever baht you have quickly and head to the ATM. The Laotian money is the kip ($1 = 8,000 kip). It’ll probably take you a little while to get used doing conversions with thousands at first.
Our hotel was The Le Bel Air Resort. This is place is really nice; we arrived to a refreshing cold towel and lemongrass tea. Located a quick 10-15 minute drive from the airport, the Le Bel Air sits on the bank of the Nam Khan River. The resort itself is made up of several bungalows of varying sizes depending on what you want to pay for, but all the options are very affordable. And while the bungalows themselves look rustic, they’re actually quite modern. Each are equipped with A/C, HD TVs, and patios overlooking the river. The hotel offers free shuttles to the center of town as well as free bikes to borrow. The service there is also exceptional. We essentially had our own personal staff member, Mr. Un, who was attentive and helpful.
Getting into town is quick, it’s about a 15 minute walk, but there is one drawback to The Le Bel Air. In order to get to town, you have to cross a very scary, rickety wooden bridge. The center of the bridge is for bikes only, and the pedestrians have to walk on the side. It’s a straight-up Indiana Jones crossing. I’m not afraid of heights, but this bridge is very unnerving (especially at night). The planks aren’t very stable and will move when you step on them. Here’s a little video to show you what the walk is like:
Alternatively, there is a bamboo walking bridge that you can cross, but it costs 500 kip, and is only available during the dry season when the river is low. So as much as I hate to say this, I would recommend staying at a place closer to town if you don’t like heights. Again, I hate to say that because The Le Bel Air is such a nice place and the hotel does offer a free shuttle, but that is a bit of pain because the shuttle isn’t run regularly and it has to take a major detour around the river to get to the center of town. So from a time-saving standpoint just walking to town is a lot quicker and easier, but a lot of people would not be comfortable with that bridge.
My next few posts will cover the sights and sounds of beautiful Luang Prabang, including elephant riding, Kuang Si falls, and rice whiskey tastings.