After we decompressed for a little bit at Le Bel Air, we made our way across that freakin’ bridge and headed into town. The walk to the main part of the town is about 15 minutes. Our destination was Wat Xieng Thong, which is one of the key wats in the all of Laos. It’s at the further end of the town, so don’t mistake one of the many wats you’ll pass by for it (we were fooled once and walked into the wrong wat).
Once we did find Wat Xieng Thong, the admission is 20K kip. Unsurprisingly, the wat is a peaceful, zen-like monastery with several shrines featuring a multitude of gold Buddhas. Monks, in the traditional orange attire, mill around and go about their day-to-day tasks. It does feel a little strange as a tourist to essentially be wandering around their residence, but the monks we encountered seemed used to the scenario.
After Wat Xieng Thong, and a quick stop for a croissant at Le Banneton Cafe (Laos is known for their bakeries from their time as a French colony), we walked down along the Mehkong River and headed toward Phu (or Phou) Si Hill. You should try and time this walk a little before sunset, the views along the river at that time are amazing. It’s like something out of a movie set with the mountains, fisherman, and monks along the river’s sandy beach.
We reached Phu Si Hill along with everyone else a few minutes before sunset. This is probably the only time Luang Prabang felt really touristy, but even then it wasn’t so bad because most people kept quiet at the top to enjoy the view. The climb up is rather challenging, but doable, and it costs 20K kip to ascend to the top.
Once you get to the top, it’s inevitably going to be crowded, but people were pretty polite and quietly sidestepped all around to get out of the way of people taking pictures. The sunset is a sight to see and is probably one of the must-do experiences of Luang Prabang.
When you’re done with the sunset, by the time you reach the bottom you’ll literally be right on top of the Night Market. I cannot say enough about how impressed I was by this market and how enjoyable of an experience it was. The market sold the typical touristy souvenirs and such, but the ambiance was like no other market I’ve been to (and I’ve been to quite a few). It was so quiet; you couldn’t hear anything louder than whispers. The vendors were all sitting politely, not in your face or loud, and their goods were all so neatly laid out we almost felt bad picking up the products and disturbing their presentation. For the backpackers, the Night Market offers a 10K kip street buffet dinner (remember $1 = 8K kip) which was packed with hungry young people. This market ended up being where we did the primary amount of shopping for folks back home based solely on the comfort at which we were able to shop.
For dinner I would recommend stopping in at Coconut Garden, located at the end of the Night Market (that is if you don’t do the street buffet). Coconut Garden is a Lonely Planet selection and the guidebook lives up to their usual standards when it comes to food choices. The restaurant offers both meat and vegetarian tasting dishes on top of their usual menu. We orders a veggie tasting menu along with the Laos signature Steamed Mehkong Fish in Banana leaves and a Chicken/Vegetable Fried Rice w/ Fried Egg. After that, we grabbed a beer across the street at a great little bar called Tangor to people watch before heading back to The Le Bel Air for some patio beers to finish up the day.