Thursday, 12 April 2012

Addresses in lantern lit Luang Prabang

 © Copyright Millie Brown

I am sure you all know by now how much I love the town of Luang Prabang (in Northern Laos), its people, its heritage and its uniqueness.  I hope sincerely that this gorgeous place can retain its authenticity as the years pass and it finds itself welcoming more and more tourists.

The UNESCO World Heritage listing has saved much of Luang Prabang from having its shabby chic french architecture and traditional wooden Lao houses razed to the ground, and has helped Luang Prabang retain its old world charm. I am told that it is in fact one of the most authentic towns  to be found in southeast Asia today and the current restriction of disallowing any large tour buses to enter the town's centre can only be a good thing.

Having said all this, tourism is of great importance to the people of Luang Prabang and in fact for a lot of Laos, so I imagine the challenge will be to keep its renowned old world charm and laid back atmosphere while still catering to the tourists. So far so good. 

 © Copyright Millie Brown
Early evening and some flowery old world charm on Luang Prabang's main street

One of the most delightful areas of this town is the main street itself, (Sakkaline Road & Sisavangvong Road, they run into each other), its where you will find many of its cafés, restaurants and little shops. But certainly do not restrict yourself to the main street, wander the other streets and alleys, they hide all sorts of treasures.

In case you ever venture to this southeast Asian jewel here is my little book of addresses (it's little because I am only including the places I have personally experienced, and that have either taken my eye for some reason or been personally recommended).

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
Lantern lit dining terrace on the bank of the Nam Khan
Where to Stay

My first visit was spent at The Apsara Hotel which sits opposite the Nam Khan river on Kingkitsarat Road. The position is excellent, a 2 minute walk to the main street and the tranquility of the river opposite. I would have stayed here again for my second visit if i could have.

Rooms and bathrooms are just as they are photographed on the hotel's website. The open air restaurant, bar and reception area has a low key tropical feel and leads onto a terrace. The staff could not be more helpful or considerate, (being greeted by Khamsing's beautiful smile each morning at breakfast was the sweetest start to each day). Their terrace restaurant is also a great place to enjoy their Asian and western fusion dishes. 

There is also The Apsara Rive Droite (as you will see on their website) , its gorgeous but on the other side of the river to the centre of town.  Here you will find a tropical garden and pool.  If you don't stay here, take a walk over the Nam Khan via the bamboo bridge and visit anyway).

My second stay was spent at the Riverside Guesthouse, a cheaper option than the Apsara.  It has the same location, situated opposite the Nam Khan river on the same street.  If you are traveling by yourself I advise you not to take the single room as it is very small.   Half way through my stay I moved from the single room to the front double room with a balcony (a large and more comfortable option).  This guesthouse is a good choice if your budget is too tight for the Apsara. Both hotels have a terrace dining area on the bank of the Nam Khan.

Other hotels that have caught my eye while wandering Luang Prabang are;
Satri House here , Villa Chitdara here  Belle Rive Boutique Hotel here & 3 Nagas here

Where to eat

If you are staying at The Apsara, take breakfast at the hotel, the setting and the breakfast itself are great. However when I was at the Riverside Guesthouse I would go to one of my two favourite 'french' cafés on the main street for a croissant and coffee.  

Le Banneton (café french bakery) - 46 Sakkaline Road (spelt many ways Sakaline, Sakkarine, Sakkaline)!! for great bread and pastries (photo below)

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
Le Banneton

Le café Ban Vat Sene, on Sakkaline road, great for lunch, dinner, pasties coffee or glass of wine. It belongs to the same group as the renowned L'Elephant Restaurant, The Mango Tree, and The 3 Nagas.

Just a warning before I mention the restaurants, I am certainly no food critic (and I never remember to jot down what I have eaten) but I do love food and the following are restaurants I have enjoyed and that you may like to try.

L'Elephant Restaurant (French) here
Enjoyed the french ambiance and the food.

Sala Café Restaurant - (French, Lao, Thai & Vietnamese dishes) sits opposite the Nam Khan river on Kingkitsarat road. I have eaten or stopped here for a glass of wine many times and enjoyed the  terrace setting and the food. Yum to the spicy Larb salad, a Thai dish with minced beef (or other meat) served with sticky rice.

Tamarind Restaurant and cooking school - Kingkitsarat Road - Their terrace is always overflowing with clients, but to be honest I cannot rave about the one meal (and one course) I had here. However it was... one meal, and it is overflowing with people every night and day so they must be doing something right. Worth a try.

3 Nagas here the restaurants are attached to their very elegant boutique hotel (which comprises of three heritage listed buildings). Serves Lao and western dishes and you can choose to sit either in the restaurant or over the road in their luscious garden terrace, I enjoyed both.

Utopia here I randomly stumbled on this and love this new find. For a complete chill on the shores of the Nam Khan river head to this den of relaxation. You can chill on  the bamboo terrace overlooking vegetable farms and the river while eating a mouth watering sandwich, take a yoga class on the deck as the sun rises, play a game of 'beach' volleyball, lounge in the open air bar or garden (dotted with old UXO  bombs, a very sad and violent story behind these, dropped during the 'secret war', and I think it is fitting to bring it to the attention of travelers ). Very cool place, don't miss it (photo below)

© Copyright Millie Brown
Lounging on the deck at Utopia (they describe it as 'zen by day groovy by night')

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
Bamboo terrace at Utopia

For another interesting bar location and another random find of mine, take the bamboo bridge (photo below) over the Mekong river, turn immediately left and follow the path to a little rustic bar, sit on tree stumps with a beer Lao and watch river life play out. (Sorry I do not know the name of the bar but its the only one there so you won't miss it).

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012

This bamboo bridge will take you over the Mekong river (photo taken at dusk, note the smokey light, March is slash and burn season in Laos).

Blue Lagoon restaurant I have not eaten here but it was personally recommended to me) here

Un petit Nid Biblio Bistro 98 Sakkaline Road (another personal recommendation) and located in a heritage listed building.


Even though I am not a 'shopper' per se I still managed to 'pop' into most of the shops while strolling the main street.

Firstly you cannot go to Luang Prabang without visiting their famous colourful night market, this takes place every night of the week (I'm not sure about low season), and takes up half of the length of the main street. My favourite buys are the elephant slippers, the bags and the scarves, and even though I'm not the biggest  shopper on earth I still managed to weigh my luggage down with far too many of all of the above.

If you love a silver ring, bracelet or anything else in silver there are many shops to visit on the main strip and as you can imagine the choice is huge and the value excellent.


Again... I am not a keen clothes shopper, and I like it to be over in a matter of minutes if it can be, and funnily enough in Luang Prabang it took just that... minutes to find that perfect little black summer dress that a lifetime never found in Australia.

You may have the same success if you 'pop' into either of these two gorgeous low key stores on the main street...they are; 

Bamboutik (46 Sakkaline Road)
The little black dress (label Phao) that I purchased here is made from exquisite bamboo cotton and there is an interesting local story behind the label, read it here  

Another little black dress was picked up in another favourite store of mine on the main strip but because of a lost notebook (that contained most of my travel notes :-/) I am unable to tell you the name! 

However you may fall upon it; divine range of jewellery with an equally lovely range of clothing, situated on the left hand side of the road if walking west and only opened late in 2011. Not much of a tip really when there is no name attached to it but I was their first customer back in 2011 and I promised them after my second visit that I would include them in my blog (it's definitely worth a recommendation).

There really are so many high quality local handcrafts and other products available in Luang Prabang that it is impossible to give them all a mention here.  You will discover them as you move around, its all part of the fun. There are clearly many very talented, industrious and hard working people in Laos.


Last but not least, my favourite shopping experience, wandering the morning food market.  I have mentioned this experience in previous blogs on Luang Prabang, but I can't bypass it here because it really is the most colourful and eye opening shopping experience of all.  It's also a brilliant way to interact with the locals and buy some fresh fruit for the day. Get up early for almsgiving (see post here) and then make your way to the market.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
The fishmonger in action at the morning food market

There are also many, many other fantastic discoveries to be made in the town of Luang Prabang and outside it, however that's another post for another day.

© Copyright Millie Brown 2012
Almsgiving in the early hours of the morning is one of the most beautiful moments of the day in Luang Prabang

PS... Massage
After all that browsing, discovering and shopping don't forget a good massage or spa treatment. I love L'Hibiscus on Sakkaline Road no 45. Clean, relaxed tropical atmosphere and great massages. Enjoy

Millie xx
Post and all material © Copyright Millie Brown 2012

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