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Lazy Luang Prabang

Posted on 31 March 2016 by admin

It has been quite a while since my latest visit to Luang Prabang. Last week I got to travel to the former Lao capital again. This time, it was different from previous trips.

Nope, it’s not about the town, which is a World Heritage Site. Of course, now there are more hotels and restaurants than before. But thanks to strict regulations and people’s co-operation, most of them blend in well with the old town. There was virtually no eyesore such as modern-styled commercial signs or buildings to foul Luang Prabang’s nostalgic charm.

What made the recent visit different for me was that it was the first time I flew there. With budget airline AirAsia’s new route linking the Lao destination and Bangkok, flying there has become more affordable. The other difference was that it was the first time I got to explore the town on two wheels, something I had always wanted to do but never had time for it. This time I had an entire afternoon free for bicycling.

Luang Prabang is great for a leisurely ride. The town is rich with beautiful Buddhist temples and well-preserved French colonial buildings, but it’s not large and there is very little traffic. With a bicycle, you can cover more areas than walking. Another big advantage is that you can spin your way to your favourite coffee shop any time you’re craving a glass of iced cafe latte and some cake, whereas if you’re touring the town on foot it might seem too far away or too hot to walk to.

Rental bikes are widely available in Luang Prabang but I brought my own foldie because of two major reasons. First, I believe my 12-inch-wheel bike looks less distracting when photographed with old monuments than those of the “housewife” type and mountain bikes, which are put up for rent. Second, I wanted to know how well the airline handles a passenger’s bicycle. As it turned out, my little bike and my “new” bike bag, which was actually second-hand travel luggage I had bought a few weeks earlier from a flea market, were both unscathed after both flights.

Before you start exploring any town, it’s good to have some idea about the place. Follow my basic instructions and you’ll have the town plan of Luang Prabang embedded in your head.

Raise your left arm level to the ground with the palm upward. Curl all the fingers so you have a loose fist, then stick out the index finger. That’s the shape of the historical town!

The left side of the protruding finger is marked by the Mekong River, while the other side by the smaller Khan River, which also runs along the top of the fist. At the base of the index finger, which is basically pointing north, is the big intersection where the town’s Tourism Office is located. It’s also the south end of the night market. Just a shot walk from there, in the direction of the Mekong, you’ll find the morning fresh market.

From the base of the index finger, three main streets run in parallel up north toward the fingertip. The west one follows the Mekong, the east one goes side by side with the Khan river, while the one in the middle takes you to Phousi, the revered hill and a famous lookout point, the royal palace and several beautiful temples. These streets are interconnected at various points along the way by side roads which are home to communities and guesthouses, and more temples.

Of course, with a bicycle it is convenient to venture to other areas outside of the index finger. There are interesting neighbourhoods and, again, even more temples, including the five-century-old Wat Visoun, Luang Prabang’s oldest. You can also cross the Khan River to areas around the airport, or even go all the way to Kuang Si Waterfall about 30km or so southwest of the town, but for that you will be much better off with a mountain bike.

Well, see you here again next Thursday. Until then, if you have questions, news or biking insights you wish to share, please feel free to send an email to or go to Freewheel Bangkok communitypage on Facebook.

Pongpet Mekloy is the Bangkok Post’s travel editor and a mountain bike freak.

Luang Prabang, Lao PDR

GPS co-ordinates (Luang Prabang Tourism Office): 19°53’21.61″ N 102°08’00.99″ E 

Trail condition: Paved road with little traffic but lots of interesting sites to stop by.

Distance: Completely up to you.

Getting there: A number of airlines offer flights between Bangkok and Luang Prabang. AirAsia is the only low-cost option. Visit

Food drinks: Luang Prabang has numerous choices of decent restaurants and coffee shops.

What your family can enjoy while waiting: Actually, it’s a good idea to persuade them to ride with you. In case they don’t want to, they can just explore the World Heritage Site on foot.

Accommodation: There are a great many available for all kinds of taste and budget.

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