Visitors to the Southeast Asian country of Laos are regularly taken aback by the stunning, unspoiled natural beauty of the place - and nowhere more is this true than of the northern destination of Laos.
Located in the jungle a day or two's journey from the nearby border with Thailand and perched on the banks of the imposing Mekong River, Luang Prabang is an oasis of tranquil, French colonial peace and quiet in pretty much the middle of nowhere. It actually takes quite an effort to get to Luang Prabang by land, since the popular route in from Thailand requires a two-day boat trip and a night's accommodation in a sleepy village on the river where the town generator gets switched off at 10.30pm.
That said, visitors to Luang Prabang rarely regret the schlep that it might have taken them to get there. The place is unique and offers tourists superb quality French-influenced food as well as great accommodation. Indeed hotels in Luang Prabang city centre might be among some of the best value for money available anywhere, offering as they do class and quality - plus of course the essential air conditioning - for considerably less than the price of a standard roadside motel in the USA.
Picking up some mementoes and souvenirs in Luang Prabang is a pretty straightforward affair and since the place offers such great value for money all round, it is one of the cheapest places to stock up on gifts on the Asian tourist trail. Luang Prabang is home to a quaint night bazaar which offers the usual Southeast Asian trinkets laid out on brightly coloured rugs and blankets for the customer to browse. Laos isn't quite as full-on as somewhere like Thailand when it comes to bartering for goods and products, but you will still more than likely need to haggle a little at least - if only for the look of the thing and to keep your Laotian guests happy!
Further to the outdoor night bazaar, Luang Prabang is home to a decent number of boutique and specialist shops which offer rather better quality gifts. Jewellery is popular here, made from both precious metals and also fashioned from wood and bamboo, while there is no end of items to buy which have been hand-made by one of the local hill tribes. A few of the most popular shops include:
1. Ban Lao Natural Products - this specialist store can be found a few minutes’ walk from the town centre and on the banks of the mighty Mekong River. The shop offers silks, locally produced artworks, all manner of ethnic clothing plus hand-made cosmetics. The store also advertises a commitment to fair trade among all local suppliers and manufacturers.
2. Cama Crafts - a shop with a difference and one which attracts tourists who want to make a contribution to the local society while in Luang Prabang. All products and handicrafts here are designed and made by local Laotian artists and producers, and the money generated from sales is reinvested back into the local villages to give them an income.
3. Kopnoi - another local vendor which boasts a commitment to sustainable productivity in the region, Kopnoi specialises in hand-made clothing manufactured from locally-sourced and produced natural cloths. This store can be found close to Mount Phousi in the centre of Luang Prabang, the temple landmark atop the mountain making it an easy store to find.
Lek Boonlert is an editor and content reviewer at DirectRooms and is responsible for all Hotels in Luang Prabang City Centre content.