Luang Prabang may have retained much of the charm that first drew visitors here, but there are times when, walking down Sisavangvong Road, you feel as though you can't move for travellers in Beer Lao T-shirts and cafes serving banana pancakes.
Few tourists make the short journey across the Mekong to Xieng Men - and all the better, for it's the ideal place to escape to when you want to discover a more Lao side of the city. The village, which stretches along a path that runs parallel to the river, is little more than a collection of traditional wooden houses and the occasional snack or noodle shop, and it's fantastic to be able to experience village life so close to the city.
The path (which is just to the right of the road up from the boat landing) takes you through the village and past a number of interesting old temples before eventually offering up excellent views across the river to the city. The second temple, Wat Chom Phet, is the one to head to for great sunset views, otherwise keep heading straight for the final one, Wat Long Khoun, set in a large compound overlooking the water. Your ticket (5000K) includes a guided tour of the nearby cave which houses old Buddha images. Though there's not a great deal to actually see in the cave, it's an atmospheric detour, and quite fun to scramble over rocks in the dark.
There's a real feeling of peacefulness here and it's a great place to explore, especially if you've been longing to get away from the crowds. The highlight is actually just catching the passenger boat across - your fellow passengers will most likely be en route to or from work, school/college or the market, and you'll probably find yourself the centre of much interest. The boats head across regularly from the small boat landing near the northwest corner of the Royal Palace Museum compound, or there's a vehicle ferry that operates from the slow boat landing. Expect to pay around 5000K one way. Alternatively, you could hire a boat with one of the many boatmen who congregate in this area - anticipate paying around 50,000K for a boat, including waiting time, though you'll miss out the more local experience.
Written and contributed by Emma Gibbs