There are a few special cities in travel lore. The ones where travelers who plan to stay a couple days end up staying a couple of weeks or even years; the cities that forever imprint themselves on those who have visited and who vow to return.
When planning my visit to Laos a few months ago, all the guidebooks claimed that Luang Prabang was just such a place. I, on the other hand, was skeptical. Not that I didn’t envision myself enjoying Luang Prabang. I did. I thought it would be lovely, a great place to spend a night before heading out to Thailand and our beach adventure. Twenty-four hours, surely that would be enough to take in it all.
Well, I was wrong. Really wrong. From the moment we stepped out of our hired van, I knew I had made a mistake. Situated along the shores of the sleepy Mekong River, Luang Prabang emanates charm from its every quirky pore. Though nowhere near a beach, the city has a beach town feel. Situated in the heart of Southeast Asia, speckles of France are felt throughout. Unlike many other cities in the region, Luang Prabang is calm. The whirl of motorbikes and tuk tuks is subdued and pedestrian travel, the transport mode du jour. By midnight, the streets are silent- a city wide curfew curtails activities from running any later. A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, possible urban development is limited. Luang Prabang is seemingly cemented in this bewitching state.
Part of the appeal is the duality of an abundance and both nothing to do. During the day, one can hike Mount Phousi, boat down the river or go a little further afield for some big adventure. If relaxation or culture is more your thing, Luang Prabang is brimming with both. Spiritual yoga studios abut ethereal temples; a lively night market takes over the city streets which a few hours later are calmed by tranquil monk led morning alms.
But far more than what there is to do, Luang Prabang just draws you in. The city embodies the perfect balace of buzz and calm, nature and culture, entertainment and peace, all held up by a divine backbone.
I generally have a rule of only visiting a place once. For Luang Prabang, I’m willing to break that mold. I know now when I return I’ll go for far longer than one day, maybe a couple weeks or even more. Luang Prabang is the place to lose and find yourself all over again, and I can’t wait to add my story to the city’s chronicles.
Where to Stay:
The Mekong Holiday Villa offers great budget accommodations along the banks of the hotels namesake river. With doubles running between $35-55 per night night, the affordable rooms seem though they should cost far more. For those wanting a little more luxurious digs, locally owned Kiridara is your spot.
Where to Shop:
Luang Prabang Art Studio showcases local Lao artist, Vunhuhai’s contemporary work. To peruse before you buy, visit the gallery’s official site.
Where to Get Spiritual and Then Grab a Burger and Drink:
Luang Prabang’s Utopia is a yoga studio come restaurant and bar. By day stretch out on the facilities river front desk and practice the physical, mental and spiritual discipline in the midst of its’ homeland. At night, the studio turns into the city’s premier gathering space, its restaurant and bar popular with both the local and expat crowds.