We’re past the age of thin mattresses and 8-to-a-room dormitories, past the constant noise of drunken kids stoning out at all hours, the dissonant guitars and all-night chats. We’ll still lug a backpack, and occasionally find a (clean) guesthouse, but for the most part, we’re glampackers; because the hotel is now an important part of the holiday.
It’s easy to eat at any number of restaurants by the Mekong, or to book ahead for a meal at a well-known joint like Tamarind or 3 Nagas. Or we could have it by the pool deck of the Kiridara, with cocktails at half price to start us off. The bartender at the hotel apparently has some measure of fame, we saw people come to the bar because they’ve heard of his bespoke genius. In any case, our sangrias were done to perfection and so were our respective curries.
We had both the simple and the sumptuous. Rimvang Guesthouse, just off the night market street, had clean, basic rooms with a wood panel finish for USD20 a night. On the other end of the spectrum, the Kiridara was an elevated, storied affair with huge rooms and a quiet but not inconvenient location just outside the heritage area of Luang Prabang. We were upgraded (yay!) to a suite that had a view of the infinity pool below and the sunset over the hills in the distance.
Living on the fringes of the heritage town opens your eyes to a more local, less ordered side of Luang Prabang. And to ratchet up our experience, we asked Francis, Kiridara’s accommodating general manager, on how to have a ‘local’ night. Much to our delight, he volunteered to take us. And so, we embarked on our mini adventure, together with a few of his colleagues.
Our first stop was the Star Beer Lounge, a local drinking hole where a large Beer Lao goes for 6,000 Kip (US$1). Each table has at least a crate. Yes, a crate. To be shared amongst three or four people. And that’s just the first stop, where people tank up before they get ready to hit the dance floor. A few minute’s drive away is the Dao Fa Night Club, looking like an industrial cavern, with raving lights and small bunches of enthusiastic dancers. Most people were content to stand around and ogle. The music is a mix of dance, dubstep and Laotian backbeats. Occasionally, the DJs will break into a most enthusiastic rendition of ‘Happy Birthday,’ turning the entire club into an oversized family gathering. Beers are pricey here, at a minimum of 20,000 kip, which is why everyone first sees the stars at the beer lounge.
When revelers have swayed their fill, they pile onto motorbikes and scoot over to the local bowling alley, the final stop on a typical night out. To our surprise, it was heaving with tipsy backpackers. “So that’s where they went!” we observed, as we watched people bowl; barefoot, backwards and buzzing with beer.