Finding a place to stay in South East Asia is hard. It’s not difficult to find accommodation, in fact the plethora of options is completely overwhelming and makes advance booking unnecessary and expensive. What is really difficult however is finding those diamonds in the rough, and steering clear of problems like bed bugs, noisy neighbours and hostile staff – problems that often don’t become apparent until you’re already payed up and settled in. It’s no good being precious, and some of the roughest places can also turn out to be some of the best places, but that’s no reason not to try!
So how to find good accommodation? Lonely Planet has steered us wrong enough times that we’ve become extremely wary of their recommendations without performing further research. Word of mouth can be great – some of the best places we’ve stayed have been by personal recommendation. However, in general, we’ll take the time before arriving (or en route – thank you local SIM card!) to read reviews on places through sites like TripAdvisor, Agoda and WikiTravel. Spots that match our criteria for cost, amenities and rating get pinned on a custom Google Map that makes it easy to cruise into town like a local (thanks again local SIM card!) and walk from place to place, looking for that perfect spot.
But sometimes, you’ve just got to go with your gut. And so it was that we found ourselves walking past the Xay Chaleuang Guest House in Luang Prabang. I’m not sure what it was that caught my attention; maybe the stylish looking lobby and cafe or perhaps just the fact that it looked so *clean*. The prices were reasonable, and despite a quick Google search only turning up one mention (a positive sentence in a single blog post), I went for it. Being the skinflints that I am, I elected for the 100,000k twin over the 120,000k double (they also have a single at 80,000k) – something I later came to regret when I saw inside the double with it’s king size bed, balcony and bath tub. There are only four rooms here but be sure to check out the different options as they are not all made quite equally.
Still, our room was comfortable, well equipped with fan and plentiful lights and power sockets. The shower is hot and has good pressure. The guesthouse is on a little alleyway so city noise is kept to a minimum, but with the added bonus of getting to observe Luang Prabang ‘alleyway life’ on a daily basis. And again – it’s just so clean! Really the perfect base while figuring out what to do in Luang Prabang.
The guest house is run by Mr Sai and his lovely Japanese partner, who both speak excellent English and were honest and happy to help with anything I needed (including bus tickets and the cheapest scooter rental I saw in town). Not only that, but they supply free bananas and other fruits (seriously, this is like a red rag to a bull for us!), free drinking water, and free use of the laundry facilities. On one particularly blazing Luang Prabang afternoon I returned to escape the heat and do our daily yoga and were treated to complementary ice cold guava juice. The next morning I was given fresh-from-the-market guava slices to accompany our market breakfast of coconut sticky rice and bananas. Just… Yes.
There’s a small cafe downstairs serving really great food and coffee for very competitive prices (Luang Prabang is perhaps not the cheapest place to eat, so this was a bonus). But it’s also a 30-second walk to both the morning fresh market (for both fruits and the aforementioned sticky rice wrapped in banana leafs!) and the night market’s “food street” (where you too can dice with the risk of food poisoning for the low, low price of 10,000k – although mysteriously raised to 15,000k on our second night – at the vegan buffet). If you are not willing to gamble with your gut health, fear not, as there are several vegan and vegetarian options scattered across town (Indigo Café is great).
You’ll obviously want to pay a visit to Luang Prabang’s magical night market, since you’re pretty much next door.
Beat the scorching heat and ride a motorbike to the beautiful Kuang Si Waterfall…
If you promise to behave yourself, wake up at the crack of dawn and go take a respectful peak at the alms giving from a distance. Cover up. Stay away. Please don’t make a fool of yourself. It’s such a wonderful tradition, don’t spoil it any more than it already is.
Open for less than a year, Xay Chaleuang Guest House doesn’t have any presence online and with only four rooms it seems that they do quite well without marketing themselves. However I was so happy with our stay I simply couldn’t leave without writing something about them. Definitely check them out when you want to stay in Luang Prabangs historic district, and if they’re full, don’t be afraid to follow your gut with some of the surrounding places!