Luang Prabang is as much as favourite with locals as falang. In one sense arrested in time but in another, it's always evolving. I never get tired of seeing the iconic frangipani trees against the gold-tipped temple roofs; the weathered wooden shutters of the old colonial shopfronts; and gorgeous poinciana trees lining the riverbanks. It's all just so beautiful and calming.
But all that scenic beauty aside, let's talk about food! In fact, whenever we visit Luang Prabang, we always plan our meals in advance. The real dilemma is finding activities to occupy the space between meals.
Here's my take on the best foodie experiences in Luang Prabang - you can just about manage these in a long weekend.
Luang Prabang cafe culture
Lao coffee just keeps getting better with so many niche producers and cafes taking the time to finely tune the art of a fantastic cuppa. Add a plate of freshly baked French pastries and a view out onto Luang Prabang's imperturbable street life, and you'll be ordering a second cup...
Saffron Coffee is a fair trade, specialist coffee producer and hot favourite on the Luang Prabang cafe scene. They're housed in a lovely street front cafe by the river, where you can pop in 7 days a week for a freshly roasted brew and a piece of cake. Pick up a bag of their signature Peaberry beans on the way out; you can't buy it anywhere else.
Cafe de Laos
The elegant little Cafe de Laos is tucked away to the side of the boutique Chang Inn on the main road. Pop in for a sophisticated siphon coffee or best of all, a cup of real Italian hot chocolate. Heaven. The staff here really try to give you a lovely beverage and their efforts show.
Novelty Cafe is perched on the main street in the centre of town. They do an expert coffee and freshly baked cupcake of a morning. Or better yet, get a thirst-quenching fresh fruit juice, perfect when you've just stumbled back down Mt Phousi's 300 steps in 30 degree heat. Bring a book to while away the afternoon or exchange in their sizeable library, and give the friendly George a pat; he's just a big smooch (and a dog).
A French institution, Le Banneton has been around for the long haul. It's opens early with a generous selection of freshly made croissants and pastries, then carries on through the day with equally generous portions of sandwiches, salads and more. It sees a steady stream of tourist traffic, which perhaps explains its somewhat lacklustre service but its location down the temple end of the main street can't be beat. Nor can a chocolate almond croissant for breakfast.
Luang Prabang Lunch & Dinner
There's loads of great restaurants for lunch and dinner in Luang Prabang. Unfortunately there's also some mediocre ones and you don't want to waste your time learning by experience. Here are my favourites...
Azerai Bistro at the new Azerai hotel is definitely worth checking out for lunch (see cover photo) or dinner. In fact, dinner is when UK-Australian chef Ben Faker (formerly of the 3 Hat Bridge Room in Sydney) really gets his creative groove on. Plus, the gorgeous bar upstairs is open. Oh, and you're going to want to save room for the desserts - don't say I didn't warn you. Check out the full Azerai review here.
Tangor Bar & Grill has been on the scene for a while and it consistently delivers. Bypass the smoky balcony for a table inside, order a couple of glasses of French red and some tapas to start. Ravenous? My money's on the baked camembert and the duck breast - not everyone can cook this succulent bird to perfection; Tangor can.
For family friendly, delicious Lao food, you can't go past Khaiphaen. We certainly didn't. Khaiphaen is a vocational training school for Lao disadvantaged youth, run by Tree Alliance. All of the staff are unfailingly cheerful, helpful and lovely which makes a big difference when you need dinner served asap at 5pm to small and increasingly whiny children. Read more on visiting Luang Prabang with kids here. Kiddies aside, Khaiphaen serves fabulous regional Lao food, any time of day. Our favourite is the fish amok curry and of course, the khaiphaen (river weed).
A relative newcomer, Bouang (meaning 'spoon') is a Lao fusion restaurant with a simple, creative menu. It's both retro with the exposed walls and jazzy lights and chilled, because it's Luang Prabang, after all. Grab a table out the front if you can and order cold beer Lao and one (or two) or everything. The fresh mango fried rice is a particular winner.
When the sun sets, you know it's cocktail time! That means a visit to the popular cocktail bar, 525. Park yourself in the garden (bring mozzie repellent) while the bartenders inside whip you up one of their fancy signature cocktails. Order tapas such as empanadas and buffalo burger sliders. Or if you prefer to go straight to dessert (a perfectly valid choice), the mini cheesecakes and the brownies are delish.
Well, there you have it! A roundup of my favourite foodie haunts in Luang Prabang. It's by no means and exhaustive list and I'm always on the lookout for new finds, so pop yours in the comments below.
And if you do find time on your hands between meals, or you just need some calorie-expelling activities, check out my post on family friendly activities in Luang Prabang. You can also... walk up the iconic Mt Phousi (best at sunrise or sunset), go market-hopping, take a weaving class at Ock Pop Tok, visit the Elephant Village, explore the multitude of temples, or simply walk around this beautiful town.