A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995, Luang Prabang is unlike any other place in Laos. It was selected as a heritage site because of it’s blending of traditional Lao Temples with French Colonial buildings. All we can say is Luang Prabang is f#$!^@* cute as s#*t.
The architecture is charming and you can’t help thinking to yourself how darling this town is. Few travelers find this to be a flaw and think the town is unauthentic Laos, but after traveling through this magnificent country for over a month, it’s a nice way to break up the trip and indulge on some comforts from home. It’s easy to feel comfortable here with cozy restaurants, cafes, and guesthouses all in a beautiful riverside community. Like most of Laos, the town is nestled inside some spectacular mountains making for a surreal surrounding. It’s no wonder why so many travelers fall in love with this delightful city.
Here are our top list of activities in Luang Prabang.
Stroll or Bicycle Through the Streets
Give yourself a morning or afternoon just to wander the streets of Luang Prabang. You can rent bicycles for cheap or just walk the city by foot. You will find restaurants, shops, Wats, and cafes all tucked away in the side streets and along the river.
Mount Phou Si
Sweat your way up the 300+ stairs up to Phou Si. From here you can get great panoramic views of the city and mountains. You can’t miss the golden stupa at the top. Make sure you walk around and see the view from all angles. This is a popular place at sunset, that being said, it’s too crowded at this time. We enjoyed visiting an hour or so before sunset to have the spectacular views to ourselves.
This little bamboo bridge on the Nam Kahn River is an iconic little spot only up for 6 months of the year (they remove during the rainy season). The only downside is they charge you 5,000 kip to cross it. This is a great way to escape the city center for a little bit and check out more shops, restaurants, and even some small farms. You can also walk a little bit out of the way and use the larger bridge down the river to see the other side if you can’t bring yourself to pay the toll troll to cross the bamboo bridge.
This is one of the most common and popular things you read or hear about in Luang Prabang. Every morning at around 5:30 am the monks and young novices walk the streets and collect offerings for their daily meal. People gather around and spectate this traditional Lao ritual. The ceremony is not only for locals, tourists can participate too as long as they read up and follow the local guidelines on how to properly participate. You can find the guidelines here. And don’t limit yourself only doing this in Luang Prabang, this tradition is all over the country of Laos.
Kuang Si Waterfall
This waterfall has to be one of the most beautiful falls we have ever seen! We have seen many in Laos including the infamous Bolaven Plateau falls. What makes these falls special are the cascading, turquoise falls that continue to fall and flow like a river in the surrounding green, lush jungle. There are plenty of refreshingly cool swimming spots home to the famous Dr. Fish fishies that will nibble the dead skin away on your toes. Talk about a sweet bonus. Make sure you continue following the smaller cascading falls up to the larger falls. You can hike up along the right side of the larger falls to the top and swim in a pool in the jungle as well. We preferred the lower pools due to their stunning turquoise color. The lower falls are so gentle you can literally sit underneath them and feel straight out of a scene in a Disney film. This is a must see if you are visiting Luang Prabang. You can hire a tuk tuk (find more people to share the cost), or rent a motorbike like us so you have the freedom of enjoying the falls for as long as you like. Don’t miss the sun bear rescue center on the way in either.
Tad Sae Waterfall
Yet another beautiful, turquoise, cascading waterfall to see. Tade Sae is less crowded, closer to town, and offers a zip lining course nearby. Sounds like a fun day! Although Tad Sae lacks the larger waterfall that nearby Kuang Si waterfall has, these falls are pointless to visit unless you are here during the heart of the rainy season and a few weeks after as they dry up. We visited in May, the very beginning of rainy season, which meant we sadly did not get to see these falls. Just another reason to come back to Luang Prabang!
Pak Oa Caves
This attraction is more about the journey than about the destination. You can hire a boat to take you up the river on a day tour where you can stop at the caves, or you can motorbike yourself like we did. These were probably the most disappointing caves we have ever seen. The landscape surrounding the caves were absolutely gorgeous. We were a bit salty about how many tickets we had to buy (parking 5,000 kip, boat ride 13,000 kip/person, cave entrance 20,000 kip/person) and ended up paying around $9 to see some mediocre caves with small buddha statues placed inside that were a 2 second boat ride across the river. Considering we had an epic journey through Kong Lo Cave in central Laos where $13 got you a personal guide, boat, head torches, and a 3 hour roundtrip journey through a large, magnificent cave. We recommend skipping this unless it is already included on a day long boat trip up the river.
This has to be a highlight of Luang Prabang being along the Mekong River. You can take day trips or even overnight trips upstream or downstream the Mekong River. Day trips include seeing a whiskey village and the Pak Oa caves, although the destinations may not be thrilling, the beauty of the surrounding landscape is what makes these day trips worth it. You also have options of overnight tours where you dock and stay in different villages overnight. There are even luxury cruises from Shompoo Cruise up the Mekong for those who want a little more comfortable ride.
Luang Prabang has some great jewelry, clothing, and home décor boutiques. All of which come with a little bit higher price tags than what you are used to in the rest of SE Asia. The shops are filled with beautiful, and some unique items and a great place to buy a special gift. For those on a little more of a budget, you can shop the night market. Open every night, vendors line up under tents along Sisavangvong Road. You can find jewelry, local rice wines and whiskey, clothing, bags, and other handmade trinkets from the locals. We noticed their prices here were a bit high compared to other markets we have been to. Try to politely talk them down and you may get your asking price.
Just down a side alley from the Night Market is a street full of vegetarian buffets. Each food stall has at least a dozen dishes to choose from including rice, noodles, vegetables, fruit, and spring rolls. You get a good sized empty bowl for 10,000-15,000 kip depending on what stall you go to. You can fill it up with all the goodies you want, and they may even heat it back up for you in a skillet. For extra, you can buy bbq meat. We ended up eating here everynight in Luang Prabang. We loved the vegetable medley with rice (we split 1 bowl) and each got our own bbq chicken breast for 10,000 kip each. The both of us stuffed our bellies for $3.75 and it was delicious. There are also dessert and more meat options if you look around. This spot has become very popular with budget travelers like us. You have to try it at least once when visiting.
Have a Drink Along the Nam Kahn River
There are plenty of tiny little riverside bars and restaurants to enjoy a cold drink along the Nam Kahn River. These places are adorably cute and offer a pretty view. We even saw a cooking class being conducted along one of these riverside bars. You can also find your way down to the famous hangout Utopia that offers food, drinks, and sunrise & sunset yoga along the river. This is the perfect place to hang out on the floor cushions and unwind after a day of exploring the city.
Luang Prabang is chocked full of little cafes and bakeries scattered throughout the interior of the city. These are perfect resting places after walking all afternoon while enjoying a delicious snack and a cup of coffee. They are also a great place to grab breakfast early in the morning after witnessing the alms ceremony. We preferred the popular hangout Joma (both locations) because they had a great wifi connection, good coffee with free refills, free cold water, and delicious cookies and food! We are also internet snobs since we work from the road, so if there’s good wifi we bump a café to the top of our list.
Like most travelers that visit this UNESCO World Heritage city, we enjoyed our time in Luang Prabang. Our favorite place had to be Kuang Si waterfall. We also loved hanging out in riverside cafes while catching up on work. The highlight of our stay though would have to be getting caught in rain at a temple and befriending a 17-year old novice monk who wanted to practice English and have us help him proof read a letter he had written. Not only was this unexpected but we shared wonderful conversation and learned a lot about Lao Buddhism traditions. Our time in Luang Prabang was one great memory after another.
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