1. Find Cheap Food in the Market
For an authentic Luang Prabang experience, go eat in the food alley just off of the main market area (look for the narrow space beside of the Indigo cafe). Hot, crowded, and filthy, the alley is the place to fill your stomach and socialize in the evenings. Food is laid out in big buffet spreads. For less than US $2 you can fill a bowl with all the room-temperature rice, noodles, veggies, and mysterious edibles that you can handle. Food is prepared off-site and is often recycled from the day before. Choose the busiest table for a better experience!
If you’re craving noodle soup and a little fresh air, go just around the corner from the market (on Kitsalat Road toward the river) and grab a bench seat at one of the pho stalls. The soup is hot, fresh, and you can season it to taste yourself.
2. Get to the Kuang Si Waterfalls Early
The Kuang Si Waterfalls, located around 18 miles south of town, are arguably the biggest attraction in the area. If Luang Prabang feels empty during the heat of the day, it’s because travelers have flocked to cool down in the cascading pools at the falls.
But getting to the falls cheaply can be a challenge if not done correctly. You can rent a scooter to make the drive, but prices are exorbitantly higher than in other places in Southeast Asia. Most travelers share a tuk-tuk or songthaew (truck transport) to the falls. Drivers won’t leave until there are at least five or six passengers, and they’ll circulate around town wasting up to an hour of your time while trying to find other passengers. You’ll either need to pay for the other seats or recruit some friends to go.
Try arriving in the market area early when people who want to go to Kuang Si are accumulating. Skip lunch and opt to eat at one of the many food stalls outside of the falls. If you begin looking for transportation too late in the afternoon, you could be standing around for a long time waiting for additional passengers. Getting to the falls earlier, before all of the tour buses turn up in the afternoon, is a good idea anyway!
3. Don’t Get Locked Out
Luang Prabang generally shuts down around 11 p.m. Many of the old colonial houses turned into guesthouses have security gates or may lock the front door.
The bell may or may not wake up staff when you return home late. Ask about a curfew during check-in to ensure that you don’t have to wake up staff, or even worse, get stuck outside!
4. Don’t Expect Good Wi-Fi
The Wi-Fi in Luang Prabang is notoriously slow and unreliable in cafes and guesthouses. If good Wi-Fi is a concern, check the speed before committing to a purchase in a cafe. Uploading your latest photos will take some serious time, plan accordingly or wait to upload until you find better connectivity.
Upscale hotels and pricier cafes typically have timed, coupon-based systems that offer better speeds. Try the Indigo Cafe in the main market area for one of the most reliable connections in town.
5. Be Careful When Passing Monks
Monks, especially young ones on errands, are a common sight in Luang Prabang because of all the temples. Women should take care when passing monks on the narrow sidewalks; give a wide berth.
If a woman brushes a passing monk, they may be required to participate in a time-consuming cleaning ritual just because of the encounter!
6. Enjoy the Riverside Restaurants the Right Way
Along tree-lined Khem Kong Road paralleling the Mekong River, you’ll find scores of ramshackle restaurants with scenic platforms along the banks. While the views are excellent, the food is typically not. Serving edible fare is an afterthought at most of these places where the river view is the primary attraction. Grab a sunset drink and enjoy the scenery, but you’ll do better eating elsewhere in town.
7. Find Cheaper Fruit Outside of the Market
Delicious local fruit is often double or triple the usual price for tourists in the market area. Instead, simply walk around the corner and check out the fruit stands just a block or two outside of the market.
Some of the fruit offered in the market isn’t even in season and is simply there to attract money from people not in the know. You’ll find better prices on the side streets and will get a better idea of what is actually in season!
8. Make Any Purchases as Early as Possible
If you’re planning to do some serious shopping in the night bizarre, arrive early as merchants are setting up their wares. Not only are they too preoccupied to negotiate, getting a sale so early in the evening is considered a sign of a good night to come. They may be more willing to negotiate prices with you earlier than late in the evening. Drive a hard bargain — haggling is a part of the local culture!
9. Arrive Early for Sunset on Phou Si Hill
The big hilltop temple in the center of town is a gorgeous place to enjoy the sunset if you’re willing to climb the hundreds of stairs and pay the entrance fee. But if your plan is to grab some great sunset photos, arrive early and secure a good spot, hordes of Chinese tourists take to the top of the hill as part of tours.
Tip: Don’t support poor environmental practices by purchasing caged birds to release on the hill. The birds are simply recaptured later with nets and then resold to tourists.
10. The Bowling Alley Is the Place to Be After Hours
Bars in Luang Prabang begin shutting down at around 11 p.m. and eject everyone at 11:30 p.m. due to a government curfew. Oddly enough, the only late-night option for socializing is a bowling alley located just a few kilometers outside of town. Backpackers flock there each night for drunken bowling and revelry.
The easiest way to share transportation to the bowling alley is to linger along Phou Si Road where the bars are open slightly later. Try the entrances of either Utopia or the Hive Bar to find a group. Drivers will be hanging around, and you can join a others heading to the bowling alley.