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Set in a background of vibrant forest greenery and rugged mountain scenery, the sleepy city of Luang Prabang rests at the foot of Mt. Phousi where the mighty Mekong and Nam Song rivers meet. Known for being home to some of the most beautiful temples and incredible waterfalls in Southeast Asia, no Laos adventure is complete without a trip Luang Prabang. A charming mixture of golden roofed temples, traditional Laos wooden structures and European style architecture remaining from decades spent under French protection from the Chinese, this stunning little mountain city has a charm unlike anywhere else in SE Asia. A number of factors have prevented Luang Prabang from turning into a sprawling urban center like other SE Asian cities. Local culture and traditions remain largely unaffected by outside influence and this is a big part of what makes it such a far out destination. How long that remains the case is difficult to say however, as Luang Prabang is quickly becoming a bucket list location within SE Asia.
Witness long lines of young monks collecting their food for the day during the alms ceremony at dawn. Go for a hike through the jungle to the jaw dropping Kuang Si waterfalls, considered some of the most impressive in all of Asia, or trek along lush rain forest paths to the beautiful waterfalls of Tad Sae, spotting monkeys and other rain forest wildlife along the way. Climb Phou Si hill for a beautiful, nearly 360-degree view of the city and to see the incredible Buddhist temples and golden monuments that dot the trails leading to the top. Have dinner at a riverside restaurant and enjoy the incredible sunset on the Mekong, then barter for souvenirs at the famous Luang Prabang night market, one of our favorites in Asia. An 11pm curfew for businesses in town have prevented the establishment of much of a nightlife, however these rules don’t apply to the bowling alley located just outside the city, which as such serves as the de facto nightclub for Luang Prabang. Not your standard nightclub environment with 10 pin bowling and a late-night archery range, it is nonetheless a super fun place to spend an evening with your friends, getting to know other travelers.
Chances are, if you know someone who has visited Laos, they have been to Vang Vieng, the lively little town on the banks of the Nam Song River, 184kms south of Luang Prabang. Vang Vieng hasn’t been on the travel map long, but made a hard landing when some genius decided to jump in an inner tube and float down the river some time around 1999. Since then backpackers have been flocking to Vang Vieng for a float down the Nam Sok, hopping from bar to bar along the riverside, and enjoying a game of beer pong or flip cup while taking in the wondrous rock formations and stunning limestone cliffs that surround the area. The float back to town is a stunner, so you’ll want to grab one of the waterproof camera bags available all over town.
Although the city itself may be small, it’s big on fun and natural beauty. Vang Vieng is also home to numerous caves, temples and lagoons that are only a short ride away. Because of the abundance of activities available, the town can feel quite sleepy during the day, but things really come to life in the evening when the backpackers return from their day trips. Local bars and clubs battle it out for customers by offering free drinks during happy hour. You heard that right, free! You can hop from happy hour to happy hour in Vang Vieng and never pay a red cent for a drink! That being said the beverages are never more than a couple bucks anyhow, so most travelers find a vibe or atmosphere that suits them best and settle down for the evening. Certain to please the nature lover, adventure seeker and night owl alike, Vang Vieng offers wild and dramatic scenery and a party scene that’s equally wild.