This is the land of friendly buffalo and waterfalls, all against the landscape of paddy fields and the Mekong River. That’s all in 48 hours. Follow along my guide on where to stay and what to see in Laos.
We begin at the Avani+ Luang Prabang hotel, which is centrally located just off the Night Market and a short walking distance to the Royal Palace. The colonial structure has an unassuming facade that fits right into the neighbourhood but beyond the French doors of the lobby is a sweeping courtyard. Here you’ll find a pool worthy of hours spent languidly lazing beside, a yoga studio and gym and spa.
The rooms are contemporary with thoughtful touches like a sketchpad and a book on Laotian myths. Compared to the Siem Reap property, it’s polished and elegant rather than cosy with those tropical vibes. Main Street Bar and Grill is the hotel’s restaurant, which despite its anglicised name, serves a majority of local dishes. Try the ‘fer’ (spelt as pho in Vietnamese cooking), a clear meat broth with rice noodles. The leun son moo is a pork in coconut milk, which gets its crowd pleasing vibrant pinkness from caviar. The desserts are something special too, you may be tempted by everyone’s favourite mango sticky rice, but the chocolate mousse is not to be missed. It’s accompanied by a crispy black sticky rice crumble and a scoop of coconut ice cream.
The Avanispa is something to add to your itinerary. The chic minimalist design puts you in the mood for detoxing and relaxation and it doesn’t stop there. The private treatment spaces are as beautiful and spacious as the waiting area, fully kitted out with a shower and separate changing room. The Avani Signature Touch is a bespoke oil massage that focuses on your points of concern and lifestyle habits and lasts for 90 minutes ($70USD). Those of you that like all the extras, there are various body polishes and express treatments.
Things to do
Laos Buffalo Dairy farm
I had a few reservations going to a farm where visitors are given a chance to milk nursing buffalo but seeing how happy they were, and how attune the guide was to each animal changed everything (read more about their sustainability policy here). Laos Dairy Farm started in an unconventional yet familiar way – on IndieGoGo. The aim was to purchase pregnant cows for farmers that lack the means themselves, and to train them to properly care for the animals. Before I was able to ask any concerned questions about how the calves are fed and reared, we were told that until they’re old enough to be bottle-fed, they’re not separated and they graze together. We saw this first hand as they were herded from the fields into their pen. We also had the chance to bottle feed some greedy not-so-small babies! My other concern was hurting the cow during the milking process but this was quickly put at ease too – compared to oxen teeth, human fingers barely feel like anything! Having the chance to cuddle with (yes really, they like physical contact) the young Lola and wash the mud – and other dubious materials – from her legs was a special experience. After all the luxury of the grand hotel, it was meaningful to see another side of the rural Luang Prabang. Especially if you have kids or love animals, this is a must do activity!
Carpe Diem restaurant
When they say you should be careful of raw fish and uncooked vegetables in certain parts of South East Asia, this is especially true in Laos (although I’ll spare you the details). Carpe Diem restaurant shares an address with Kuang Si falls and a short drive from the buffalo farm. It’s a garden paradise teeming with butterflies and a maze-like structure of stairs surrounding its waterfall. The backdrop to your meal is a thunderous gushing of water. This most impressive feature is also safe for swimming, which makes this one of the most exciting restaurants for novelty and ambience. Bring your swimsuit!
Free The Bears and Kuang Si falls
One of the highlights of the area is the stunning Kuang Si falls, where visitors are able to swim. If you intend to go for Instagram photos alone, the water is brown during rainy season – what you see here is edited to look like its usual state in drier months! Pictures or not, you can easily spend hours here in the cool water. It’s a page out of a jungle fantasy novel. As you make your way into the complex, you’ll find a Free The Bears sanctuary, where the animals smuggled from China into Laos are given a free-roam home. It originated in the 1990’s from an initiative to save moon bears from abuse, where they were caged in metal barely larger than themselves and harvested for bile. Although authorities have cracked down on this type of cruel farming in Laos and Vietnam, the charity claims that China still operates 10,000 of these. To find out more, click here.
Mekong River Cruise
Avani hotels operates a luxe cruise experience along the Mekong River at sunset. It’s every bit as romantic as it sounds – and yes, there are canapes. From the changing watercolour sunset to the hues of misty grey mountains, what better way to spend that hour before dinner?
Manda de Laos Restaurant
This is one of the most beautiful restaurants I’ve ever seen and that’s not a statement I make often. Imagine a fairytale setting, where candlelit tables sparkle in the tropical night. Three great water lily ponds unfurl in the night as you carve your way past diners. It’s no surprise the site is UNESCO classified and wine glasses are tinkling as the tables are packed. Manda de Laos is a family restaurant, beginning with owner Toune’s mother, who took great pride in feeding her children. Chicken laap is one of the common dishes you’ll find during your stay in Laos and one of the restaurant’s signatures. Other star dishes to try are the pork ribs, the red chicken curry and the roast duck. Although most places have an airy, casual vibe, this is the kind of venue you’ll want to dress up for. The kind of place so stunning that you’d like to think, anything could happen.
Hua Xieng Village
Luang Prabang 06000