One of the jewels of Southeast Asia and a Unesco World Heritage city, Luang Prabang offers wonderful food, incredible scenery and myriad cultural delights. By Eamonn Seoige
Where exactly is it?
The ancient city of Luang Prabang is located in the north-central province of the mountainous and land-locked Southeast Asian country, Laos. The mighty Mekong River, which connects many of the historically important cities in the region, has linked Luang Prabang through trade with the outside wold for centuries. Roughly translated, ‘Luang Prabang’ means ‘Royal Buddha Image Dispelling Fear’, which is regarded as the most sacred representation of Buddha in Laos. Unsurprisingly, Luang Prabang is famed for its many culturally significant Buddhist temples and statues. With a population of only 50,000, Luang Prabang is a compact and easily navigable city.
How do I get there?
Luang Prabang is not serviced by direct flights from Western Europe. The best value option is to take a scheduled flight from London to one of the major Asian hubs such as Saigon or Bangkok. From there, Air Asia offer excellent, year-round, low-cost flights direct to the diminutive Luang Prabang International Airport.
What language do they speak?
Lao, also commonly referred to as Laotian. The majority of Luang Prabang’s natives speak the Northern Laos dialect. However, Luang Prabang is also home to multiple minority ethnic groups such as the Laos Theung, who speak a Khmer dialect. English is widely spoken by persons in the hospitality and tourism industry.
What is the local beer like?
The local beer available in Luang Prabang is largely brewed by the Lao Brewery Company. Similar to its neighbouring Southeast Asian countries, the vast majority of beer consumed is of the lager variety and, to a lesser extent, dark beer. Amongst the most popular brands are the crisp tasting Beerlao Original, which is also widely exported, and the stronger and more pungent ‘Beerlao Dark’ at 6.5%. Beer Lao Light is palatable, but only if served ice cold! Beer in Laos is brewed from Jasmine rice and imported hops and yeast from Europe. However, for something a little less ordinary, seek out a bottle of Golden Palm, a caramel and herb infused ale from the Batieng Brewery.
If the local beer doesn’t tickle your fancy, why not try some rice wine or rice whiskey? However, be cautious, the often nuclear-strength rice wine isn’t always produced under the strictest hygiene conditions. Nonetheless, once you locate the good stuff, a swift shot after dinner is an excellent digestif. Lao-lao, a type of whiskey native to Laos, has a slight vanilla flavour and is excellent when served on the rocks with a fruit mixer. Again, try to avoid drinking any backstreet distillations, unless you’re looking for a mega-strength hangover or a visit to the local hospital!
What is the transport like?
Some of the more adventurous travellers arrive into the ancient city from Northern Thailand via a boat journey along the vast and imposing Mekong River. Whether it’s by a snail’s pace slow-boat or high-speed longtail, it’s an amazing way to experience the epic terrain of this mountainous and lush country. The airport is only 4km from the city and is serviced by endless taxis and minibuses. When you’ve settled in at your hotel or guesthouse, there are a number of options for getting about town to the sights.
As with most Southeast Asian cities, Tuk-Tuks are ready and waiting on every street corner. However, this is a small city and it’s easy to get around on foot or bicycle. A number of bus companies offer a scheduled service to key destinations both in Laos and beyond, including Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). However, be forewarned! Due to poor roads, multiple stops and border crossings, a bus trip from northern Laos can become an epic event. For example, a journey from Luang Prabang to Hanoi in Northern Vietnam will take 40 hours, even though the distance is just over 250 miles!
What’s the food like?
The daily fare in Luang Prabang’s cafes and restaurants is broadly similar to Vietnamese cuisine, and is generally very wholesome and healthy. The classic everyday staple and most commonly available offering is sticky rice, which is served everywhere. Khao Poon is a type of spicy vermicelli noodle soup with added chilli, chicken and vegetables such as shallots and coriander. Or Lam is a stew speciality unique to Luang Prabang. It’s a broad mix of vegetables and herbs including lemongrass, basil and vines, with water buffalo meat sometimes added.
Tam Mak Houng, a form of spicy papaya salad, is worth a try, mixing strong tastes such as lime, hot chilli, fish sauce and salt. Lao-style barbeque known as sindad is widely available and normally consists of pork or chicken, cooked in the centre of the table on a hot plate. Larb is another local speciality, based around marinated meat or fish, often prepared raw, and served with a mix of vegetables and herbs. The influence of French colonialism in Indochina is still visible today, with croissants and baguettes widely served.
What’s the nightlife like?
Unlike the raucous party town of Vang Vieng, eight hours to the south, Luang Prabang is a relatively low key destination for anyone looking to party. There are some bars, but they tend to be quaint, mellow establishments with few late-night venues pumping out cheesy hits. However, as the authorities crackdown more on unregulated activities in Vang Vieng, it’s likely that Luang Prabang will increasingly look to cater more to European and Australasian backpackers.
No visit to this area is complete without trying a shot of snake wine! This is a rocket fuel strength drink, made from infusing a rice based alcohol in whole venomous snake! If nothing else, it’s a bizarre experience to view rows of large glass bottles, each with a coiled fermented reptile inside. The chief watering hole is Bar Utopia, which includes a volleyball court and tropical gardens. It serves decent food, projects movies and attracts a broad mix of customers. Oddly, the after-hours destination of choice is a bowling alley that serves alcohol late into the night.
Needless to say, the bowling is purely an afterthought…
Former Republic of Loose man brings "da funk"Read More
The Virginian's innovative show hits the capital - and you can colour us impressed!Read More
Whether it’s a beautifully preserved Belgian city or the historic capital of Ethopia, in 2015 travellers are set to spread their wings as never before. Here are the destinations you can’t afford to miss.Read More
Know as ‘The Venice of the North’. the picturesque Bruges is a perfect location in which to unwind and enjoy the simple pleasures, such as fine beer and chocolate.Read More
The Arab Spring put the capital of Tunisia on the world map. Today, calm has returned to its ancient streets – making it an overlooked gem with lots to tempt the adventurous traveller.Read More
Cosmopolitan, friendly and surprisingly under-visited, Geneva is well worth investigating… but be sure to bring plenty of money. You’ll need it!Read More
The German capital is Europe's hipster and clubbing hotbed - plus there's lots to see and do after you've been up all night grooving to the hottest DJsRead More
It's one of the cultural capitals of New Zealand, a slice of home-counties bliss deep in the Southern Hemisphere. Here's all you need know about the capital of the Canterbury region.Read More
To most Irish people, it's synonymous with JR Ewing, cowboys and bucking broncos. But Dallas has more to offer than oil wealth and stetson hats (though there's plenty of those too)Read More
This glamorous centre of the international diamond trade has something for everyone: cool clubs, great beer and gorgeous Renaissance architectureRead More
From kitsch Soviet-era architecture to some of Europe's hottest clubbing, the Latvian capital is a must-visitRead More
It’s the home of bourbon and the birthplace of rock’n’roll. But these are just two of the many, many reasons to visit Memphis, Tennessee...Read More
CONCEPT SPECIALIST RETURNS TO FAMILIAR GROUNDRead More
ECCENTRIC LONDON DUO ALMOST GET IT RIGHTRead More
It’s been a while since Chris Cornell and co’s last appearance on Irish shores. As a sizeable crowd filed into the Docklands venue, many, no doubt, were looking to recreate those heady early ‘90s days when American alt-rock ruled the airwaves...Read More
There’s buzz of nervous anticipation in the packed confines of the Academy as Elvis’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ rings out and the crew run through final checks. An eruption of noise greets BP Fallon’s arrival on-stage to introduce Cavan’s gift to rock ‘n’ roll in his unique, poetic style.Read More
The Jewel in the Crown of Sicily, Palermo is a city of intrigue, beauty and crazy drivingRead More
It’s where Londoners go to party and is an epicentre of bohemian culture. Add to that its Victorian grandeur and it’s no surprise Brighton is the jewel in the crown of the English south coast.Read More
One of the world’s most northern capitals, Finland’s largest city boasts a fantastic nightlife, great architecture and more mobile phones than people.Read More
One of the world’s most northern capitals, Finland’s largest city boasts a fantastic nightlife, great architecture and more mobile phones than people...Read More
The Spanish capital is one of Europe’s entertainment hotspots, with a thriving restaurant scene and fascinating history to boot...Read More
Eamonn Seoige gives his verdict on Iron and Wine's performance at The Olympia...Read More
The capital of Serbia has recovered from the wars of the ’90s and is now establishing itself as Europe’s party hotspot...Read More
Little Green Cars’ blend ‘60s West-Coast pop, folk, blues and experimental rock in a manner that defies conventional genre limitations...Read More
Shrugging off the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, ‘the Big Easy’ is regaining its prominence as one of the most diverse and exotic cities in the US...Read More
As the throng disperses into the night, shouts of “best fuckin’ gig ever!” are to be heard from perspiration-drenched fans. I wouldn’t go that far but tonight Death Grips did the business, big style…Read More
A small city with a big heart, the capital of Eastern Slovakia has lashings of culture, oodles of charm and a cracking nightlifeRead More
The Netherlands' very own ‘city of light’, as the home of Philips Eindhoven is famed for its industrial might, its fanatically supported football team and its, er, bike roundabout.Read More
Hearty food, a laidback lifestyle and ample tourist attractions await those heading for the New Zealand capital. Eamonn Seoige investigates Wellington.Read More
The crossroads of the Americas, there’s more to Panama than the canal! A fantastic party atmosphere, paradise islands and stunning scenery for a start...Read More
It gave the world Kraftwerk and is a financial and media hub. But in the capital of North Rhine-Westphalia they also know a few things about letting their hair downRead More
Eamonn Seoige continues his tireless non-stop race around the globe with a voyage to sunny Marrakech.Read More
The Academy, DublinRead More
It’s not the most glamorous city in America but, if you know where to look, the Midwestern metropolis is plenty charming, says Eamonn Seoige.Read More
Judging by the sea of sunburnt, smiling faces, GOTR certainly hit the spot.Read More
A good night was had by all, but this was far from a vintage year’s entertainment.Read More
The Ireland soccer team will play two crucial Euro 2012 group games here in the summer. But there’s more to the historic heart of Poland than sport and beer. Eamonn Seoige pays Poznan a visit.Read More
The recent controversy over the alleged hurling of “racist” abuse at Ulster footballers has highlighted the problem of ‘sledging’ in the GAA.Read More
It’s the undiscovered jewel of the American North-East, a city steeped in history, with a personality distinctly its own.Read More
France’s gateway to the Mediterranean, Marseille is determined to shake off its image as a capital of crime and stake its claim as one of the great cities of Southern EuropeRead More
The Venice of the North is famous for its red light district. But there’s more to Hamburg than schnapps and prostitutes.Read More
The ‘payments to managers’ topic masks real issues facing the GAA – as does the recent media kerfuffle over violence at a club game in Portlaoise.Read More
East meets west in Bulgaria’s wonderfully exotic capital. Eamonn Seoige reports on this largely tourist-free gem.Read More
The ‘Mother of All Cities’ is having a face-lift in time for next summer’s European Championships. But there’s a lot more to the Ukrainian capital than spanking new soccer stadia.Read More
The Hill was alive with the sound of cheering this year as the Dubs reasserted their credentials as a football power by winning the All-Ireland. Star forward Alan Brogan gives Eamonn Seoige the inside story on an historic – and couldn’t-make-it-up dramatic – victory against old foes Kerry.Read More
The ‘White City’ of the Balkans is an overlooked tourist gem with stunning medieval architecture and a laid back sensibility – in other words, the perfect place for a weekend break.Read More
Small but perfectly formed, Salzburg is famed as the birthplace of Mozart. But even if you don’t like classical music, there’s lots to enjoy in this gorgeously baroque Austrian city.Read More
If gentility is your thing, get thee to balmy Savannah, Georgia – aka the Hostess City of the South.Read More
With the eyes of the world on New Zealand as the Rugby World Cup gets into full swing, we take a look at its largest city.Read More
Motor City USA has garnered a reputation as an edgy and even dangerous spot, but recent years have witnessed a remarkable resurgence in the city’s fortunes.Read More
One of the great metropolitan centres, the Mexican capital guarantees a trip you’ll never forget...Read More
The city formerly known as Saigon will be forever synonymous with the Vietnam war – as far as Westerners are concerned at any rate. But behind the cliches is a teeming metropolis of nine million and South East Asia’s friendliest urban centre to boot.Read More
The scene of fierce ethnic conflict through the ’90s, Bosnia’s capital has bounced back and is now an exotic blend of modern and ancient, east and westRead More
Well worth the extended wait from south London's soulful dubstepperRead More
Forget all the negative stuff you’ve heard, Nairobi is a fascinating, easy to navigate and, above all, friendly city to visit.Read More
A passionate blast of Inide Pop excellence from hotly tipped New YorkersRead More
Emo kings stutter with odd comebackRead More
Whether you’re interested in cultural pursuits or good old-fashioned hardcore partying, Montreal has got something for you.Read More
The pearl of Asia and Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh’s vibrancy is testimony to the country’s recovery from one of the most atrocious genocides of the 20th Century.Read More
Dee-Dee Continues To Impress With Progressive EPRead More
Gothic delights and jaw-dropping modern architecture combine to make Germany’s third city a must-visit.Read More
London Duo Reach For The Charts With Disastrous Results.Read More
If you’re after cultural and geographic diversity with a side order of beautiful wildlife, Malaysia is your only man.Read More
Uninspired live anthology from Seattle's great survivorsRead More
F&M Engage In Dreary, Inferior Self-ParodyRead More
Brighton’s Eccentrics Continue On Their Road Less Travelled.Read More
Rivers Cuomo & co rejuvenate some long lost gemsRead More
Capital of Victoria and Australia's second largest city holds a myriad of possibilitiesRead More
High prince of bad taste delivers unexpected meisterworkRead More
Cornell Haynes is back with latest dose of crass cliche - sigh!Read More
A guide to the East African country..Read More
There is nowhere quite like Cuba, and if you’ve half a mind to go, then go soon!Read More
Travel guide to the beautiful Canadian city of TorontoRead More
Tinie turns Titanic with surefire mega-selling debutRead More
Former Zero 7 chanteuse lightens things upRead More
One of the largest and most beautiful cities in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro is a place to get to know before the 2012 World Cup heads to the land of the sambaRead More
COVERS ALBUMS – DON’T YOU JUST HATE ‘EM!Read More
JOIN THE DOTS ROCK/DANCE FORMULA LEAVES THIS LISTENER WEARY.Read More
SAME AS IT EVER WAS FROM INOFFENSIVE HAWAIIAN BEACH BUMRead More
A HALF-HEARTED ATTEMPT AT re-inventION, with decidedly patchy results.Read More