When talking about traveling to Southeast Asia, the first choices that pop up in your head are probably Bangkok with its nightlife, Bali with its beaches, Siem Reap with its temples, Hanoi with its winter (yes Hanoi has winter), or Singapore for its, uh… efficient transportation system. But how about Laos?
Have you heard of this little piece of heaven called Luang Prabang in Laos? Well neither have most of us here in CILISOS… Until our friend at AirAsia announced that there’s a promo for an all-in fare to Luang Prabang at only RM129, one-way, starting now! That’s like, only the cost of 13 fidget spinners!
In fact, this fare is cheaper than MOST other flights to Southeast Asia that we can find right now. The travel period is anywhere between now to 8th February 2018, but the promo ends at 6 August 2017! So hurry!
Luang Prabang has been listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. So if you are looking for a much needed nature break, Luang Prabang is the perfect place to meLUANGkan masa. And this is not just a hyperbole. This writer has been there all by his lonesome self and fell in love with Luang Prabang as his most favorite destination in Southeast Asia because….
1. There’s no one to hustle, bustle, or wrestle you
If you have visited other spots in SEA such as Vietnam and Cambodia, you might be used to being tussled by the muscles of the shopkeepers. Regardless of how much you tried to offer, they would always give you an expression of disbelief implying how—incredulous—your proposition was. They might even leap two steps backward to demonstrate their shock.
But once you are in Luang Prabang, try visiting their famous night market and you would only experience… serenity. According to blog SeeYouSoon.ca, a little bartering is okay, but the first price offered will immediately be followed with a new “discount for you” price.
The night market itself is so starkly different from any other pasar malam we are used to. It is… calm. When I was there, I even saw one adorable little granny sleeping on the job. In fact, one shopkeeper even asked me to buy from his neighbor because he already got some sales during the day. This might be a rare case, but it was definitely memorable.
So rest assured that you have very little concerned about being conned in Luang Prabang. Oh, speaking of buying stuff. Another advantage of visiting Luang Prabang is…
2. You can use your leftover USD and Baht
Ok… this will be a very short point, as long as you aren’t being shortchanged.
Do you still keep leftover USD and Baht in your wallet hoping that one day our Ringgit drops so low that you can make a profit out of it to settle your mortgage, adopt a child, and start investing in Bitcoin? Well unless you’re Warren Buffet, it really won’t make that much of a difference.
Thankfully in Laos, aside from the the official currency Kip, Baht and USD are also accepted! This is not uncommon in Southeast Asia – especially for neighboring countries such as Vietnam, Cambodia, and Philippines that are all accepted USD in most shops and malls. Since USD is much larger in value, it’s better to use local currencies for smaller purchase, and USD for the bigger ones.
One thing to keep in mind – traveling doesn’t just test your physical strength, but also arithmetic strength. So make sure you have a currency converter app in your phone for convenience.
3. Luang Prabang’s food will Laap you long time
What’s the point of traveling to SEA if not for food? What’s the point of going anywhere at all… if not for food?
You might not believe this, but Laos and Malaysia have one BIG thing in common. Their most commonly used greetings is “kin khao” which roughly means “dah makan“.
If you think that Laos’ food is not that different from any other food in Southeast Asia, WELL YOU ARE… not that wrong. The blog Jimmy Eats World observed:
“Overall, Lao cuisine for me is a mish mash of several cultures due to being landlocked and bordered by five different countries: China, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar. Throw in a period of French colonisation and you have some interesting combinations.” – Jimmy Eats World.
Since Jimmy frequently eats world, he must know what he’s saying. According to him, you can get a pork noodle soup for about USD1.50 (RM6.50), sounds like any other food court’s price in SS2, PJ.
Besides that, popular food travel site TravelFish has documented Luang Prabang’s cuisine in such great depth that it’s deeper than our belly could even carry. One highlight is laap which is mince meat salad, that you can get as cheap as 15,000 Kip (RM8).
However if you are a backpacker, one place that you cannot miss is the all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet. (Ironically I almost missed the turn into this narrow alley). You can fill as much as you could on a plate just for USD1! Meats are also included, which you would have to pay more.
Luang Prabang is also famous for their fruit juices stall that you can find in almost every street corner. Wants banana in your papaya? Banana in your apple? Banana in your pineapple? Banana in your banana? Semmmmua ada.
4. Authentic experiences in nature and culture
If Bangkok has nightlife, Bali has beaches, Siem Reap has temples, and Singapore has efficient transportation system; what does Luang Prabang have to offer, other than their gastronomically fantastic fruit juices?
If you Google ‘things to do in Luang Prabang‘ you wouldn’t actually find that many results, which is actually a blessing! For one, Luang Prabang’s population is only around 55K which is almost five times smaller than Perlis! Also, Luang Prabang hasn’t become as commercialized as their other Southeast Asia counterparts, making your experience even more authentic.
So walk around in Luang Prabang and the first place that they will recommend to you is to go to… Kuang Si waterfall. Backpacker/blogger Nomadic Matt went through the details on his adventure to this waterfall.
If you’re more of a historical monuments kinda person, there are a lot of buildings you can add to your list, particularly Golden City Temple (Wat Xieng Thong). Clicking on this link that will show you a sneak peek into the temple, and all the famous Wats (temples) in Luang Prabang. (Pro tip: Since Luang Prabang is not too big, download the area in Google Map so it’ll be available offline!)
You can head to TripAdvisor to see the list of other attractions to visit. Of course if you’re following tours, that would add to your budget, includeing:
One other noteworthy ritual to do in Luang Prabang is alms giving—to the Buddhist monks of Laos. But make sure you observe how to do it respectfully as this ceremony is very sacred to the locals.
But if you are a lonesome warrior with no set destination (in life or in travels), you can just walk around the town and savor all the beauty in this almost-untouched part of civilization, natural or man-made. While you’re at it, might as well whip out your phone’s camera and snap a bunch of mildly interesting photos that could net you maybe 20 FB likes a snap.
5. It’s too cheap…. (especially the flights)
Once you’ve arrived at the airport, you can get a tuk-tuk to the city centre for around 10,000 Kip to 25,000 Kip (RM5-RM13), according to comments on TripAdvisor. The trip back from city centre to the airport sounds a little more pricey at 50,000 Kip which is RM25, according to Travelfish.
Now let’s talk about accommodation. If you don’t mind sleeping in the same room with strangers who could potentially snore, you could get a bed as low as RM30 per night! You might not even have to go full-blown frugal, as we also found a twin room from as low as RM50-RM60.
If you have tasted the finer things in life and couldn’t afford to go back, there’s always the more luxurious options that are (yet) still affordable from RM100 to RM1000 per night.
Then, how do you get around town? Like we have said previously, Luang Prabang is such a small town that you can either walk or rent a bike for 1USD a day.
6. You don’t need to take a bus from Vientiane anymore
Back then when I was younger and more active, there was no direct flight available from Kuala Lumpur to Luang Prabang. So I had to touch down on Vientiane first, then take a 10-hour bus trip to Luang Prabang. Fortunately for me, the bus has a sleeping pod for each passenger, but if you’re unlucky, some buses have double beds where you have to sleep right next to a stranger who could potentially snore.
Thankfully those days are over, as the only thing you should share with strangers are knowledge. Or Kindle books. Which is pretty much the same anyway.
Clarity, peace, serenity in Luang Prabang
Personally, the reason why Laos (and Luang Prabang in particular) is my most favourite destination in SEA – was how peaceful and calming the atmosphere felt. While other destinations are more hectic and lively with shopkeepers buzzing for your attention and motorbikes whizzing in a chaotic mess; the locales in Luang Prabang are much more laid back.
Luang Prabang also is one of the best budget travel destination in Southeast Asia. So let’s make a quick calculation here, if you’re on super budget and just intend to sniff their nature to your heart’s content – for 5-day stay, that would be RM129*2 for flights, RM40*5 for rooms, RM40*5 for food, and hey just throw in RM4.30*5 for bicycle. After asking our accountant friend… that only amounts to RM679.50!
Even better, since Air Asia now provides a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur to Luang Prabang, you no longer have to go through to Vientiane to make that flight exchange! (And that loooong bus trip!) So wait for