If you’re spending some time travelling around South East Asia, Luang Prabang in Laos is well worth a visit, and unlike anywhere else in the area. It has the conveniences of a city with the atmosphere of a town, often called the ‘Heart of Laos’ many visitors choose to come here for its gorgeous countryside and scenic views across the majestic Mekong River. Add to that it’s huge emphasis on religion—it’s one of the most sacred places in Laos—and you’ve got a destination worth visiting.
Luang Prabang is a highlight on many people’s Laos itinerary, and I highly recommend a trip there to any keen traveller. Whether you’re interested in temples, local history, nature, amazing food or the traveller atmosphere, you’ll find it in Luang Prabang.
It’s very different to Vang Vieng—Laos’ other travel hub—as it’s a lot more chilled out and there isn’t a huge amount in the way of nightlife. But it’s a fantastic place to chill out, take life at a slower pace and soak up all the authentic local culture.
Top Things to do in Luang Prabang
While Laos in general is stunning there is no shortage of of amazing places to see and things to do in Luang Prabang! We’re only going to scratch the surface of the attractions in Luang Prabang in this post but we promise they’re some of the best!
Visit The Luang Prabang Waterfall – Kuang Si
The beautiful Kuang Si waterfalls are one of the main things to do near Luang Prabang. Located about a 40 minute drive away, they are some of the best waterfalls in Laos (and there are a lot of waterfalls here!).
You can reach the falls either by van pick up (this is easy to arrange at your accommodation) or by renting a scooter and driving the distance yourself. You’ll see some spectacular scenery on the way, always a bonus!
The falls cost 20,000 kip to enter. In the main waterfall area there are a few swimming spots and different viewpoints to admire and photograph the waterfalls from. Some hiking trails meander through the surrounding jungle and reward the hiker with plants, birds, and animals they may not otherwise have seen. The water here is so impossibly blue that it looks magical, so make sure you factor enough time to take it all in.
The Luang Prabang waterfall as some might call it, Kuang Si Falls, is always busy, so generally it’s recommended to get there as early as possible (it opens at 8am) – but do be aware that in the winter, mornings in Luang Prabang are cold so it might not be ideal swimming weather.
Visit the Pak Ou Caves
Accessible from the city by boat, the Pak Ou Caves sit high above the Mekong. They’re a spiritual, historical and natural marvel; the caves are filled with thousands of Buddha statues and images.
Some have been here for hundreds of years, others have appeared more recently. It’s a place where many old or broken Buddha statues come to rest, and even nowadays people travel to the Pak Ou Caves to put their statues here.
Shop at the Night Market
Luang Prabang has one of the best night markets in South East Asia. Lining the streets of the city centre every night are stalls selling food, drink, trinkets and clothes. I found it especially prominent that they created souvenirs from the shells of bombs dropped during the Vietnamese War (Laos is the most bombed country in the world per capita). It serves as both a harrowing reminder of the trials that this country has been through and helps them make something from it.
Also on sale are clothes inspired by native cultures, jewellery and artwork. Purchasing any souvenirs from Luang Prabang Night Market is a great way to help locals.
There are lots of places to eat and drink at Luang Prabang Night Market, but I would advise against eating anywhere that serves cold/ lukewarm food – even if it’s just vegetables. I got very very sick after eating a plate of lukewarm vegetables and noodles there! However, I had friends who ate food that was cooked in front of them and loved it.
Watch the Almsgiving
If you don’t mind an early start, the daily almsgiving is a must-do. It’s the religious practice of the monks of Luang Prabang, and visitors sometimes get the chance to offer alms – normally sticky rice – to them. If visitors don’t want to take part in the actual almsgiving, they can take in the procession from the streets as the sun rises.
It takes place at 5am every morning, so it’s definitely an early start – but it’s well worth it!
Do Yoga, Eat and Drink at Utopia
One of the best hang out spots in the city is Utopia. It’s a restaurant and yoga studio in the day, but turns into a bar at night. This makes it perfect to visit in the late afternoon for some yoga and dinner, and to stay for some Beerlao as the sun sets!
Because Luang Prabang is a religious city, it has a curfew of 11pm – 12 midnight. This means that all bars close then, apart from one (which we will cover next!).
Take a Spin at the Bowling Alley
The Bowling Alley is the only establishment in the city that stays open past curfew – it’s allowed to do so because it is located a little out of town. This means that anyone who wants to do anything past midnight descends on the bowling alley to show off their tenpin skills.
Locals and tourists alike frequent the alley, all at varying levels of drunkenness. There is a bar there, and even if you’re not drinking yourself it’s quite entertaining to watch others drunkenly bowl.
Visit The Royal Palace Museum
Luang Prabang used to be Laos’ capital; and the Royal Palace was built in 1904 as the residence of King Sisavang Vong.
These days it functions as a museum where guests can learn all about Laos’ royal history, including some interesting legendary stories which are illustrated around the museum.
While at the palace don’t forget to checkout the temple on site as well.
Learn About Laos’ Dark History at the UXO Centre
This isn’t quite as captivating as the COPE centre in Vientiane, but it’s well worth visiting, especially if you aren’t going to Vientiane. You’ll learn all about the horrors of the ‘Secret War’ in Laos and how it still affects people today.
Approximately 2.5 million tonnes of munitions were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War period – more than were dropped in Vietnam itself. A third of these never exploded when dropped, meaning that they were around to detonate later.
Many of these still explode to this day, and there are still casualties and deaths because of the unexploded ordinances. The UXO centre raises awareness about this tragedy and suggests ways in which we can support UXO victims in the country today.
Walk Around the City Centre
Because Laos was a French colony, many cities still have colonial buildings with a somewhat European feel. Luang Prabang is no exception, the city streets are lined by beautiful french colonial buildings which pay heed to an era long past.
Just walking around the city streets and the Mekong river is one of the best things to do in Luang Prabang. Taking in the sights and exploring it’s forgotten corners is a great way to pass an afternoon in the city.
Take a Traditional Cooking Class
While Lao food isn’t quite as famous as neighbouring Thai and Vietnamese cuisines, there are still some distinctive dishes here. A fun thing to do in Luang Prabang is to learn how to cook some of the local cuisine!
One popular dinner is larb, the unofficial national dish of Laos. It’s typically made with minced meat and spices (but vegetarian versions can be made with tofu and mushrooms) and sticky rice.
Sticky rice, spring rolls and curries are key components of the delectable cuisine of Laos, and it’s very possible, if not easy to learn how to make these dishes during a short cooking class in Luang Prabang! Instructors are able to cater for many dietary requirements, and classes are a cheap & fun way to learn about this important part of Lao culture.
Where To Stay in Luang Prabang
While there are plenty of options for hotels & guesthouses in Luang Prabang you won’t find many chains! It’s refreshing to see so many independent accommodations in what has become a backpacker paradise. Below are a couple of our top recommendations in the area.
Le Bel Air Resort
The Bel Air Resort Luang Prabang with it’s french colonial architecture, gorgeous grounds, awesome pool and great service is an excellent choice for accomodations in Luang Prabang. Slightly outside the city centre but well located on the Nam Khan River the Bel Air Resort feels like a refuge away from the hustle and bustle. With cheap fares or a short walk to get downtown or to the Mekong River you’re still plenty close to the action!
Victoria XiengThong Palace
Propped right next to the famous Wat Xiengthong Temple in central Luang Prabang, the luxurious Victoria XiengThong Palace enjoys epic views of the Mekong River. An on-site spa and an amazing pool compliment the grandeur of the grounds and former temple that you’ll be staying in. Located in one of travellers’ favorite areas of Luang Prabang, this hotel is only a short jaunt—especially with the hotels supplied bicycles— from all of the best attractions in the city!
The Take Away
As you may have guessed by now, there are many amazing things to do in Luang Prabang. From learning about the country’s strong cultural heritage, to visiting the surrounding spectacular nature, there’s plenty to do in a few days or longer here – so be sure to add this city to your travels throughout Southeast Asia!