Luxury for way less.
Compared to traveling around Europe or the U.S., Asia (especially Southeast Asia) is relatively cheap. In Laos, where the exchange rate is around 9,000 Lao Kip to $1 USD, this is especially true. Luang Prabang, in particular, offers an exceptionally good value. And though backpackers and the places that cater to them form a large part of the tourism industry, this sleepy ancient city is a great place to take a luxury vacation at a fraction of the price you’d pay elsewhere.
Though it isn’t known for major monuments (like Angkor Wat) or thumping nightlife (like Bangkok), Luang Prabang is celebrating 25 years as a UNESCO World Heritage site this year. It’s known for its harmonious blend of French colonial and Buddhist architecture and culture, and the city is more affordable and less intimidating than mega-cities like Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City. In other words, it’s perfect for a relaxing getaway where you can splurge a bit—while still sticking to a reasonable budget.
Top Picks for You
Luxury Hotels Are Actually Affordable
The range of hotel rates is truly staggering here. You could get a room in a guesthouse for around $15 USD per night or pay upwards of $1,000 per night to stay in the lap of luxury at the new Rosewood Luang Prabang. On average, though, you can find rates ranging from about $250 to $350 USD for 5-star hotels like Belmond’s La Résidence Phou Vau and Sofitel Luang Prabang. For the best quality-to-value ratio, a good pick is the Avani+ Luang Prabang, which recently opened in refurbished French officers’ quarters just steps from the night market. The design incorporates many Laotian elements, like teak flooring and locally woven textiles. After exploring the city, the hotel’s central pool is exactly where you want to cool off and unwind. A 60-minute massage at the hotel’s Anantara Spa costs just $60 USD, so go crazy—this is the time to splurge.
There’s Quality Shopping for Good Prices
Yes, some of the items sold at the night market are imports from China, but look for the stalls with “Made in Laos” signs and you can score some beautiful local items on the cheap—I bought an embroidered pillow for about $5 USD and three scarves woven with gold patterns for $8 USD each. You can also find indigo sarongs, basket bags (the ones that sell for $185 in the U.S.), jewelry, tea, and lots more.
Don’t be afraid to bargain—the vendors expect it and are willing to haggle, especially if you buy more than one item. Another great place to shop is Ock Pop Tok, a weaving center run by women that trains and supports female Laotian weavers and sells their beautiful pillows, clothes, and more. You can visit the shop in town or hop in a tuk-tuk and go to the weaving center, which teaches classes and has a café and a shop about a mile from the city center.
Sightseeing Won’t Cost You
A day pass to Angkor Wat will put you back $37 USD, but the main sights in Luang Prabang aren’t nearly as expensive. Granted, there are no major bucket list sights like Angkor Wat, but you can learn about Buddhism by visiting the temples and Mount Phousi. You’ll only pay a few bucks to enter and the path is lined with golden Buddha statues in various poses, plus the views from the top are spectacular. Entrance to Kuang Si Falls—18 miles out of town—costs about $2 USD and gives you the chance to swim in the refreshing crystalline water.
You Can Enjoy a Boat Ride on the Mekong
You could pay thousands of dollars for a multi-day river cruise on the Mekong—the famous river that snakes through Vietnam, Thailand, China, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar—or you could enjoy a sunset boat ride on the river for a fraction of the price. Avani+ Luang Prabang partners with a local company called Mekong Kingdoms that offers sunset cruises on the Mekong with cocktails and canapés. They also offer a full dinner cruise that costs $55 USD per person.
The Food Is Delicious and Cheap
This being Southeast Asia, there’s plenty of street food and casual cafes, but even at nice restaurants, you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy a great meal. Manda de Laos—an elegant family-run restaurant with a lotus pond in the center—has main courses for $6 to $12. Try local specialties like laap (minced meat salad), nam khao (crispy rice and coconut salad with peanuts), and flavorful curries. If you’re feeling brave, vendors at the morning market sell everything from fresh herbs to bugs, eels, and bats.
You Can Relax and Enjoy the City’s Slow Pace
What makes Luang Prabang so nice to visit—or perhaps add onto a multi-stop trip through Southeast Asia—is that it’s got a much slower pace than larger and more “popular” cities. The fact that there are no major bucket list sights means you won’t feel pressured to rush around checking things off a list or waiting for the other tourists to move so you can get that perfect Instagram shot. The city is small, safe, and easy to navigate. You can wander around observing the daily sights and sounds or while away an afternoon at the hotel pool. Allowing yourself to slow down and relax will make your trip feel more luxurious. After all, the greatest luxury of all is having leisure time.