Luang Prabang surely will be one of your highlights traveling through Laos. Luang Prabang is a city in the north of Laos and famous for its cultural and religious sights, as well as its French Colonial influenced architecture. If you are planning to tick another great UNESCO World Heritage site off your bucket list, you can do it here – it was awarded with that title in 1995.
After two days on the slow boat I was happy to just arrive somewhere new. Even after less than 5 minutes walking through the streets of Luang Prabang, I fell madly in love with this charming, quaint town and never wanted to leave again. As opposed to many Asian cities the atmosphere here is very relaxed, life goes slow, but still there is a lot to do.
Wondering what to do in Luang Prabang? Here is a list of my 10 favorite places and activities in Luang Prabang.
Take a stroll through town
Navigating in the city center is actually an easy affair. The city center of Luang Prabang is not very big and it’s best to start on the main street. Here you will find most attractions like the Royal Palace Museum, the Old Quarter and some temples. You will also find shops and plenty of cafés, restaurants and food stalls. If you are looking for a great place to have breakfast and coffee, then go to Le Banneton Cafe. Prices are reasonable and they have delicious baguettes, croissant and good coffee.
Climb Mount Phousi for great views over Luang Prabang
Mount Phousi is a hill in the centre of the city with a temple on top. The entrance can be found opposite the Royal Palace. Before going up you have to pay 20.000 kip as an entrance fee. Climb up the stairs for a nice view of the city and surrounding countryside. It can get very crowded at sunset, therefore I would recommend to go in the morning or in the early afternoon. If you don’t mind the crowds the view at sunset is still worth coming up for and a nice opportunity to take pictures.
Watch the sunset down at the Mekong River
In my opinion nothing can beat watching the sunset down by the Mekong with a cold Beerlao and a group of new friends. We simply brought some drinks and sat near the water, watched boats pass by and saw some locals fishing. At the river there are hardly any crowds and it is a nice end of the day to watch the sunset from there. Along the Mekong River are a few restaurants where you can order food and watch the sunset or you could take a cruise down the river.
Hire a scooter and explore the area
Hiring a scooter is a great way to explore the surroundings of Luang Prabang and see more of the area. There are many rental places for scooters. For a day you will pay around $8usd. Make sure to wear a helmet, be safe and have fun!
Spend the day at Kuang Si Waterfalls
If you only have a short amount of time to spend in Luang Prabang, definitely go to Kuang Si Waterfalls. The waterfalls are located around 30 kilometers outside of town and to get there you could either book a tour, take a taxi or tuk tuk. The drive is around 45 minutes. If you are comfortable enough riding a scooter, then I would recommend you doing that as it gives you more flexibility. If you have the time, plan to spend the entire day here – it is so worth it!
Kuang Si Waterfalls is a magical place and there is plenty to see. The main falls are 60 meters high and the water collects in numerous turquoise blue pools as it flows downstream. Bring a towel and a bathing suit as you can swim in the pools. If you walk past the main waterfall and climb up the hill there are also numerous small pools which are really nice.
On your way back, don’t forget to stop at the moon bear sanctuary to watch and learn about the bears. This organization works to rescue and protect the bears of Southeast Asia. If you want to support the charity, you can leave a donation and in return you will receive a t-shirt.
Watch or take part in the alms giving ceremony in the morning
The alms giving ceremony is one of the most sacred Lao traditions. Every morning at sunrise, the monks walk through the streets of Luang Prabang to give merit and collect alms for their one daily meal. That can be sticky rice, fruit or traditional sweets. Get up one morning and watch the locals kneeling down along the street and giving their donations as the monks pass by. Visitors can also participate in the ceremony, but there are certain rules to follow. Wear appropriate clothing, kneel down. When seated, shoes and socks must be removed with your feet tucked underneath as you observe the ceremony in absolute silence and wait until it is finished.
Learn what it takes to grow rice at the Living Land farm
Rice holds a very important place in Laos culture and cuisine. But did you know how many steps it takes from the seed until the rice is on your plate? 14 steps to be exact! I never knew how much hard work goes into growing rice. At the Living Land Farm, which is 15 minutes outside the city center, you can spend a fun half day learning all the steps of the process.
It is very hands on, so be prepared to get dirty. We helped to prepare the field with a water buffalo, assisted with the planting and harvesting and got to enjoy all kind of different foods that are made from rice in the end.
During the tour you will not only learn a lot, but also have the chance to take some cool photos to make your friends at home jealous.
Relax and have some drinks at Utopia
Strong drinks, good music and a relaxed atmosphere – that is Utopia. During the day yoga classes are held in the garden and all the bean bags look just too inviting not to have a nap. At night it turns into a very cool jungle lounge with a river view were people from all over the world come together to have drinks, dinner and some fun. They also have a range of activities like beach volleyball, movie screenings, shisha pipes and more!
Still haven’t had enough? The evenings finish quite early in Laos due to the curfew, but if you feel like having another beer, you can head to the bowling center that doesn’t close before 3 am. Quench your thirst and try to score some strikes in a round of bowling.
Take part in a Lao cooking class
There are a lot of fantastic Laos dishes. Among my favorites are green papaya salad or larp – minced meat mixed with fresh herbs. On my trips I try to eat only local food and taste as many dishes as possible. Being able to recreate those dishes at home brings back so many memories and is a great way to surprise friends who stayed behind. Therefore, I can only recommend taking a cooking class when in Luang Prabang. Cooking classes usually consist of a visit to a local market and then you will be able to choose between certain dishes that you will learn to cook and taste afterwards. Tamarind Cooking Class is among the best, well organized and a lot of fun.
Visit the night market for great shopping and some street food
Every day vendors set up their stalls on the main street for the night market that opens around 5 pm. Bring some Lao kip (that’s the local currency) and have a look around. The night market is among the best in the entire country – if you are planning on buying souvenirs to take home, do it here. There are plenty of different clothes, handicraft, carpets, books and other wonders to discover. Haggling is recommended!
Off the main road is a food market where vendors sell BBQ skewers, salads, pastries and many other delicious things. There are also bigger stalls that have tables and chairs where you can sit down and have dinner. Take a plate, pay once and then you can fill it up with as many things as you like.