A holiday in SE Asia; Laos 2011

My wife and I visited Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam in November 2011. This was our first visit to Cambodia and Laos, our forth visit to Vietnam. We had most of one day in Singapore – by accident. This page is about the few days we had in Luang Prabang, Laos.

The purpose of these pages is partly as a short record of our holiday, partly to show friends and others some of our better photos, partly to record some interesting (at least to me) observations on SE Asian culture, and partly in the hope that it might be of some use to others who are considering a similar trip.

Written 2011/12/26, last edited 2022/04/06
Contact: David K Clarke – ©

Luang Prabang from Wat Chom Si, near sunset
View from Wat Chom Si
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Denece and I had five nights in Laos, all of the time in and near Luang Prabang, which is the most visited city in the north of this little country. For us, Luang Prabang's most interesting points are it Wats (Buddhist temples), its museums, its food and its people.

As in the other countries we found just sitting at an outdoor restaurant, sipping coffee or eating a meal, and watching to be among our favourite things to do. However, there are caves and waterfalls to be seen near Luang Prabang and river trips and canoeing (if I remember rightly) and trecking can be done.

The condition of the roads and footpaths in Luang Prabang compared to what we saw in Siem Reap was rather striking. In Siem Reap many footpaths in particular were very rough and poorly maintained compared to Luang Prabang. In Siem Reap the roads to the most visited tourist sites were in fair condition, but some of the streets were in poor shape.

There are at least two museums that are worth a visit: the one in the grounds of the Royal Palace and the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre, Ban Khamyong (northern end of Phou Si Hill, not far from the night market).

Luang Prabang

Feeding the monks

The day in Luang Prabang starts with monks walking through the streets and collecting rice and other food offerings from people who want to gain merrit by so doing; and also from tourists.

The dim light forced a shutter speed of only a fifth of a second, hence there is blurring due to movement.

Feeding time for the monks was around 0530 to 0615.


Luang Prabang Tuk-tuk

The tuk-tuks in Luang Prabang are quite different to those in Siem Reap. Those in Siem Reap were trailers attached to only slightly modified motorbikes. (See Getting around Siem Reap.)

Motor bike load

As in Vietnam, Laotian motor bike are used to carry large and heavy loads. The man is intending to go as well – to hold the load on.

Luang Prabang food and restaurants


As in other parts of SE Asia the food in Luang Prabang was both delicious and cheap.

In the photo is "Mekong seaweed" on right and "fried cashew nuts with garlic" at back. The Mekong seaweed was an interesting side dish that we had not come across before, quite nice; the cashew nuts with garlic, like many of the other dishes we ate, were delicious.

Western food was readily available, but we generally ate the local dishes; we could eat western food when we went home.

Good places to eat

There were several very good restaurants on the bank of the Mekong at the end of the ally that ran to the NW from Sok Dee Guesthouse. Cafe Mekong Fish was one, The Big Tree was another.

There were many other restaurants; we didn't have time to try more than a few of them. Most were good or excellent.

Big Tree

This is a part of the eating area beneath The Big Tree. There were at least three small restaurants within twenty metres of a huge and beautiful tree that was covered with epiphytes. All were overlooking the Mekong River and about fifty metres from our hotel (Sok Dee Guesthouse).

Big Tree again

The Big Tree again

There were three levels of eating areas, all overlooking the Mekong. We never saw more than ten or so people in any one of the three restaurants at any one time, so the three levels were certainly not needed while we were there. Perhaps they were used once in a while for large group bookings?


Sunset over the Mekong


Night market

Night market shelters

The way that this appeared every evening and disappeared before morning was very impressive. All day it was no more than a normal, quite busy, street. At night a length of 440m of the street became a busy market. The shelters were needed because there was occasional very heavy rain.

This photo was taken when the shelters were being erected in the late afternoon.

Night market

The night market in the dark. There were four rows of stalls, one on each side and two in the centre, with a walkway each side of the centre block.

A tall Caucasian finds it necessary to duck his head quite a bit.

There was a huge range of goods on offer (not fresh foods, which were sold during the day from a different market not far away).

Royal Palace


The Pavilion in the Royal Palace enclosure was built only a couple of years before our visit.

The 'Royal Palace' has not been used by the kings for several decades; Laos is no longer a kingdom, the government calls it a People's Democratic Republic.

The museum in the same area is well worth a visit.

Traditional performance
Traditional performances could be seen on one or two nights each week in one of the buildings of the Royal Palace area. Denece and I thought the performance we saw well worth the moderate fee; it was based on a part of the Hindu Ramayana epic.

(It is interesting that a Hindu epic is popular in a predominantly Buddhist country. We heard that the other main Hindu epic, the Mahabarata, is much less popular in Cambodia and Laos. Both epics are also performed regularly, I believe, in Jogjakata in Muslim Java.)

Pac Du Cave

Pac Du
Pac Du is several caves used as Buddhist shrines on a steep cliff above the Mekong about 10km upstream from Luang Prabang. While the caves/shrines were little more than a place in which hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of Buddha images were packed, the river trip was worth taking for itself.

In the photo boats can be seen tied up to a jetty below the cave. It was raining at the time.

There was a stop at 'the Whiskey Village' on the way to the cave. One could taste (and buy) whiskey as well as view and buy locally made products. One thing that could not be bought at the Whiskey Village was cheap raincoats or umbrellas; we were not prepared for the heavy rain that started while we were there.

Kuang Si Waterfall

Also called Kouangxi Waterfall (and possibly Tad Sae Waterfall?)

The water must have contained high levels of calcium or magnesium, which precipitated at the top of the cascades and gradually built them up as little dams.

I have never seen anything quite like it (with the possible exception of the mound springs in northern South Australia); although I've seen photos of such ponds in volcanic areas. Quite beautiful.

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The main waterfall at Kuang Si.

Some of the mineral precipitate can be seen near the top.

There was also a bear rescue centre and a place where hand crafts, meals and refreshments could be bought nearby.

Wat Xieng Thong

Wat Xieng Thong

This large temple complex is near the end of the peninsula on which is the old part of Luang Prabang. There is an entry fee of, if I remember rightly, the equivalent of a couple of dollars.

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Decorated wall

A part of a decorated external wall on one of the Wat buildings. Scenes from the life of the last Buddha?


Musician monks

For some reason, I know not what, these monks played their gongs and drums for quite a few minutes while we happened to be at the Wat. It was quite rhythmic and pleasant.

We also heard loud drumming at night; usually, I think, around 0400hrs. (Much more pleasant than the calls to prayer that one hears at about 0500hrs in Muslem societies.)

Wat Chom Si

Wat Phon Pa

The golden roof is on Wat Phon Pa, in this view it is seen from Wat Chom Si, which is on a prominent hill in the old part of Luang Prabang. Photographed near sunset.

There is a small entry fee for Wat Chom Si. The temple itself is not special, but the view from the hill on which the Wat is built is.

View from Wat Chom Si

The view from Wat Chom Si near sunset.

I counted 330 steps to the top of the hill.

Sunset from Wat Chom Si

Standing room only on the Wat Chom Si hill. There is a very limited amount of space on the hill and the evening that I was there, there was quite a goodly crowd (mostly Caucasian).