OK, I know everyone raves about this, but I was not impressed. When we went there were about 20 tourists to every poor alms collecting monk. I don't think tourists behaved badly; there were just too many of them and for me at least it was not particularly worth seeing.
I wandered into this place one afternoon for a beer purely by virtue of the fact there was some decent blues music playing and I do like a bit of blues. I was also a little intrigued by the very Western accented menu, including things like meatball and mashed potatoes. I had walked past here a few times and noted that it was always completely deserted, which should have been a warning sign. A further sign should have been the fact that there was a sign up in the window saying the bar was for sale or for rent a house. When I went in I noticed a Norwegian flag behind the bar, so I ordered a beer from the man sitting there who may or may not have been the eponymous owner. Trying to engage him in conversation, I asked him was he Norwegian, and he grunted a monosyllabic, "Yes." All further attempts at conversation were met with more of the same, so I gave up, read the Vientiane Times, finished my beer and left.
I have no idea for the reason this man was so rude. Let's be honest, he is in a supposed service industry and reliant on travellers for his livliehood, or that of his boss if it was not him. The area this bar is in is packed with travellers places all competing for a finite market, and he really wants to learn a little about common civility if not how to make money.
I don't suggest you skip this place entirely as it would be unfair to prejudice you against a potential new owner, but you might want to look for an "Under New Management" sign before you venture in.
Unique Suggestions: You don't have to do this, there is aplethora o9f decent bars nearby.
Fun Alternatives: See my other tips for plenty of alternatives.
Most tour agencies charge 50,000 kip per person for 1/2 day tour of Pak Ou or 1/2 day tour of the waterfalls. either are really tours, since when you get there, it is basically a do-it-yourself walk.
Unique Suggestions: If you negotiate, a tuk-tuk will do each destination for as many people can fit for ~110,000 kip total. Once you split the cost between your travel mates, it is much cheaper than the minivan tours and allows you flexibility of scheduling your own arrival/departure.
Entry fees once you arrive are additional 20,000 kip for foreigners. Be prepared to be overcharged 10,000 kip per person for river crossing if you go to the Pak Ou cave (tourist price is x5 that of local price).
Not sure why scooter runs $18~20 in Luang Pranang when they are 35,000 kip in Vang Vieng... in my opinion a complete rip off and exploitation of the tourists.
If you do not want to go to the caves or waterfalls, everything in town is accessible by foot, so no need to rent a scooter.
Fun Alternatives: If you rent a scooter and pay for gas, a visit out of town becomes rather expensive. If you want to go to the Waterfalls or the Pak Ou Caves (the Pak Ou cave in my opinion is a tourist trip in itself), it is best to haggle with a tuk-tuk and spit the costs with your travel mates.
This is another embarrassing tourist trap, we visit the village after visiting Kwang Sy waterfalls, the bus stopped and there were some little girls singing triying to sell their handicrafts ( nobody wanted to leave the bus) and the chants ended when a girl of the tour bought some stuff.
Unique Suggestions: Take pictures of the beautiful girls, and buy something....or
Fun Alternatives: Stay in the bus.
The Red Cross Sauna came heavily recommended in the guidebooks, since supposedly the money you spent there will go into helping the locals more directly. However, aside from this plus point, I wasn't sure what other charms this place holds.
I decided to go for a 2 hour body massage. At the rate of 32000 Kips an hour (circa Nov 2007), it was almost a steal. Unfortunately, the good points end there. The room I was guided to was dirty and dusty and the bed really uncomfortable. It was drafty as well so I was getting a humid room with occasional blasts of ice cold air. The thin and small piece of towel covering me didn't help. The masseur wasn't properly trained and wasn't exerting enough strength despite me asking him repeatedly to increase pressure.
Street noise was seeping through the thin walls (as the building was built next to a busy intersection) and at one stage, I could actually felt the booming of a plane flying overhead.
I was glad to leave the place without my sinus going into overdrive.
I went away feeling oily and more unrested. Eeeky.
Unique Suggestions: The sauna was amazingly popular though....though I am not sure how much fun squeezing into a small room full of strangers could there be. Maybe, and maybe, that was the real draw of the place.
For those still keen to chance it out, the place is open daily 0900-2100. Go and book your massage slots early (as they were always booked out - goodness know why). The sauna is available, however, only between 1700-2100.
Fun Alternatives: I could say that at least for massages, I found another place leagues better. Yeah, I pay a little more but hey, sometimes, being cheap really comes at a price.
We almost got sucked into a tourist trap by White Elephant Adventures on the main tourist street of luang prabung. They are not officially certified and the owner is manipulative and threatened my girlfriend, my friend, my friend's fiance and myself.
Unique Suggestions: Go on a different adventure tour group\, there are plenty!
The day and night markets are both attended by either family or village groups - with people of all ages, from the money savvy kids to the older ladies who are undoubtedly the craftspeople. We bought some beautiful panels of stitching from this old lady, who had virtually NO English, even the money negotiation requirements. To the rescue, some of the kids playing nearby - with the pens and books WE gave them - came and quoted absolutely top prices. She then started negotiating with her fingers - but obviously had NO idea of the value, price or the US $$ we paid with.
Unique Suggestions: Get some idea of what the item is worth, by asking a few mamas - not that this is an easy task, when you are hotly pursued! - and then insist on a firm price.
My policy is to respect the craft and time spent making the items, being fair and reasonable, but still getting a good bargain for myself.
....even when its dealing with a monk.
We were approached by a monk in Luang Prabang, much as a tout would initiate discussion - the usuall "where are you from?" etc. questions. We were in the grounds of a temple, during a general amble. We were offered an escort into the temple - photographs were requested, and then an invitation across the courtyard to his "room". Anyway, one thing led to another, and then he asked for money for school books - and my husband obliged. We then gave him our card with contact details, and promised to send email copies of the photographs. We received 2 emails after we arrived home, before the third, which was essentially requesting money to help him buy a computer.
Unique Suggestions: I would definitely recommend maintaining relative caution, and keeping contact relatively superficial, avoid going behind closed doors - and do try to maintain a sensible caution, without becoming unduly cynical. This can undermine opportunities at authentic encounters with people.
We have just had our second trip to Luang Prabang - after a 1 year gap. We are amazed at how much busier the little town is, and the predictable increase in prices.
There is an increased number of retail stores in the town, and they are very expensive. They are much more expensive than they were 1 year ago, and the asking prices were higher, sometimes triple prices I saw for exactly the same items elsewhere.
Most of the stores in town appear to be European owned, and therefore the money isn't going to the craftspeople anyway.
Unique Suggestions: Don't impulse buy - look around, and try to negotiate the prices.
Fun Alternatives: Absolutely best alternative is to buy at the markets, which is mostly a direct purchase from the craftsperson or a member of their family or village.
During the Mekong River Boat trip the boat stops at the rice wine village. After a steep walk up hill you get to see a bunch of vendors selling potent rice wine and liquor with snakes in the bottle. A short wander through the village with more vendors and back on the boat. A waste of time.
Unique Suggestions: you can taste the liquor-its not that terrible
Fun Alternatives: just have the boat bypass it if you have a private boat.
A couple of hours by boat from Luang Prabang, on the Mekong river are the Pak Ou caves which are filled with hundreds of smaller and bigger Buddha statues. A trip to the caves also involves a stop at a 'whiskey village' where you can sample a locallty made concoction.
In my opinion, this half-day trip is not worth it. There is no adventure and nothing to explore
Unique Suggestions: Go on an overnight trekking tour
Out near Luang Prabang's airport is the Iron Workers Village. There is a sign at its entrance proclaiming so for tour buses that stop to give their passengers a glimpse into "real" Lao village life. The village seems like it was constructed for this purpose (it probably wasn't) and the squalor there is far from the rugged beauty of most Lao villages.
The handful of Lao villages in the immediate vicinity of Luang Prabang specialize in some sort of craft and this village produced a great many knives among other metal products. It was interesting to see knife making in action, but I didn't really care for the attempted money-scamming going on by the local who brought me there and a few of the village members.
Unique Suggestions: There is a beautiful wat in this village.
Fun Alternatives: If you wish to see Lao handicraft in action, visit the silk weaving village of Ban Lu.
Although it was somewhat interesting it was nothing compared to the Waterfalls. Plenty of tourists cramped into some small caves. You can also hike up the hill to a temple, but again nothing spectacular. It is interesting from a distance but once you are in you see it all in just a couple minutes.
Unique Suggestions: At least take the local boat across, I think it is much better than the tourists in these big boats with cushions and life jackets. What's up with that!
Fun Alternatives: Go see the waterfalls.
This sweetheart had volunteered herself to be surrounded by all the kids selling little something so that we can take some photos. Anyway, she didn’t just do it for fun. She did buy one, but the question is which one to buy from?
Try not to buy things when there are too many sellers want to offer you their products. Some of them may act very aggressive to you because the competition is great.
Never offer money to any kids, or you will be surrounded by hundred kids asking for money.