The best things to do in Luang Prabang, in addition to enjoying the blissful peacefulness of this sleepy town, are to explore the sights in and around the town. You won’t lack things to do here, even in the historic center of town.
Luang Prabang is often known as a place where there isn’t much to do. Though, I found it wonderfully soothing and a refreshing break from some of the buzzing Southeast Asia cities.
I spent two days there and wished I had another couple days to spend as well to explore a little further. Here’s why you’ll want to visit Luang Prabang and the amazing things you can do when you’re there.
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UNESCO World Heritage
Luang Prabang, meaning “Royal Buddha Image,” was the former Royal Capital city in north-central Laos formerly known as Xieng Thong. It is a UNESCO world heritage site for architectural, religious, and cultural heritage.
The historic town is located at the junction of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers. It has many Buddhist temples, or wats, and many French colonial buildings. You can still see a good bit of the French influence in the food as well and there are French restaurants around town as well.
If you’re looking for what to do in Luang Prabang, then you’re in the right place! Read on for the top things to do when you’re there.
Visit Luang Prabang Temples
There are more than 30 Buddhist temples, or wats, in the historic center of Luang Prabang. Temples are aligned with households and traditionally have been the center of both religion and education for the family. Historically only boys received an education, though that is changing.
It is well worth visiting at least a few and is considered one of the top things to do in Luang Prabang. Many of them are free of charge and are in close proximity in the historic center of Luang Prabang.
Plan to visit a few and then plan to stumble upon a few others to see as well. Some appear to be in independent locations and others are part of the property of a family home.
Please dress appropriately when you visit. Make sure shoulders and knees are covered or bring a wrap that you can use for this purpose.
If you’d like to learn more about the area and get a guided tour, either in a group or private, there are a lot of Luang Prabang tours to consider.
Wat Xieng Thong
Wat Xieng Thong, sometimes also called the Golden City Temple, is one of the largest temple complexes in Luang Prabang. It is on the northern end of Luang Prabang near where the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers meet.
Wat Xieng Thong was built in the 1500s and functioned as a royal temple until 1975. It is very ornate and has several beautiful shrines on the property.
Wat Xieng Thong is open from 8 a.m. to 5 pm.m daily and there is an entry fee of 20k kip ($2.30 USD).
Haw Pha Bang
Haw Pha Bang is the Buddhist temple at the Royal Palace. It was constructed recently and completed in 2006. It was built to house the Pha Bang Buddha, for which Luang Prabang got its name. It’s a stunning wat and worth visiting with the Royal Palace Museum.
Admission to the temple is included in the Royal Palace Museum ticket. The temple opens daily except Tuesday from 8 a.m. until 11.30 a.m. and from 1.30 p.m. until 4 p.m. This link provides the location for Haw Pha Bang on a map.
Wat Nong Sikhounmuang
This stunning wat features a large pagoda with ornate stenciling and a gold design. It also has a tiled roof similar to some found in Thailand. It’s beautiful and worth visiting.
Wat Nong Sikhounmuang is open to the public from 8-5 and is free to visit. Here is the map for the location of Wat Nong Sikhounmuang in Luang Prabang.
Explore the Luang Prabang Night Market
The night market consists of hundreds of stalls nestled next to each other. They contain everything from food, textiles, carved goods, spices, teas, and other local items. It’s mostly women selling in the market.
You can often see their young children playing or sleeping next to them as they work. You will see many similar items throughout the market. There are also some more unique items carved from stone and wood that are quite interesting and beautiful.
It’s a great place to buy locally-made items directly from the people. The sellers aren’t pushy and you can negotiate a deal if you desire. It was one of the most pleasant market experiences I have had in southeast Asia.
The prices are really low already, so you can also help the locals by just paying what you feel is reasonable for your purchase. There are also some great options for food carts in the night market.
The night market is on Sisavangvong Rd, Alley Behind Lao National Tourism Office, Luang Prabang 0600, Laos and runs from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. nightly.
Climb Mount Phousi
I climbed Mount Phousi to see the view and the wat at the top, Wat Chom Si. The steps were quite high, steep, and uneven at the bottom part, where you pay the fee and it almost deterred me.
I did it anyway and climbed, which wasn’t nearly as bad as that bottom part. I was told there are 300 steps and it didn’t seem like so many. There were nice views of the river and of the town. Much of it was obscured by trees though.
Mount Phousi dominates the landscape of the historical section of Luang Prabang and provides wonderful views of the town and the surrounding rivers. It’s also a popular place to watch the sunset and does get quite crowded as dusk approaches.
I had planned to go there to view the sunset but got there a bit too early, and didn’t feel like waiting a couple of hours. It was already pretty crowded, too.
The Wat Chom Si shrine is at the top and though it has a gilded dome, it’s not very ornate otherwise. It’s amazing to think of people carrying to supplies so many years ago to build it.
The fee to climb Mount Phousi and Wat Chom Si is 20k kip ($2.30 USD) and it is open for entry from 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Tour the Royal Palace and the Royal Palace Museum
The Royal Palace Museum, also known as Haw Kham or Golden Hall, is right across the street from Mount Phousi. It is the location where the last rulers of this area lived. It is a blend of traditional Lao style and French Colonial and features a lovely typical Lao temple.
The museum within the Royal Palace includes interior furnishing, clothing, paintings, and other items and gifts belonging to the royal family. It is a view into Lao culture and life as Lao royals.
The main building is rather large and guided, and there are several others on the property. Definitely get a tour guide to better understand the life and history of the Laos Royal Family and the people who lived in the area.
There are impressive glass mosaics stuck to the walls with rice glue. There is also a room with gifts that were presented to the Royals over the years.
The Royal Palace Museum is located at 27 Ounheun Rd, Luang Prabang, Laos. Opening hours are every day, from 08:30 a.m. 11:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. There is no cost to tour the grounds, but if you want to go inside the museum it costs 30 kip ($3.45 USD). Be warned that there is no air conditioning in the building.
Visit the Living Land Farm
The Living Land Museum rice tour is one of the most popular things to do in Luang Prabang according to Tripadvisor. It was high on my list to see. The grounds are beautiful and you get to see a bit of Luang Prabang outside of the historic center while heading to the farm.
This organic farm provides fruit and vegetables for a local market and the rice helps to feed families in need. The most special thing about this farm, though, is that proceeds go to schooling children and teaching them English.
It’s a wonderful way to support the local people and the next generation.
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Rice Tour at the Living Land Farm
This tour shows the 14 steps to get rice to your table from seed. It’s amazing to think that such a cheap staple food around the world is so difficult to produce in the traditional way. Though there are machines that handle much of the labor now, in times past it was all grueling manual labor.
The tour is highly interactive and you have the opportunity to try out the work at every step. I will never see a bowl of rice in the same way again! You can read more about my trip to the Living Land Farm here.
The cost is 424k kip (just under $5 USD) and includes a snack. The cost without the snack at the end is 344k kip (just under $4 USD). The Living Land Farm website provides information about the farm, tour, restaurant, and homestay bungalow available. The address is Ban Phong Van, Luang Prabang Town, Laos.
If you’re interested in other local activities to learn how to make some of the amazing handicrafts made in the area, check out these tours. I wish I saw some of these before I went on my trip! It’s a really interesting way to immerse in the culture while learning something new!
Watch the Alms Giving Ceremony
Every morning, hundreds of monks from the various monasteries in and around Luang Prabang walk through the streets collecting alms, which are gifts of rice, fruits, and snacks.
It’s a long-standing tradition in Laos Buddhist culture dating back to the 14th Century. It starts at sunrise and I was told it could start as early as 5:30 a.m. I was up very, very early to wait.
And wait. And wait.
My hotel told me there can be a time variance of 30-45 minutes, and in my case, they didn’t arrive until 6:20. I almost missed them as I had read that they would chant along the way.
Since I left my door open, I took the silence to mean no activity. I took a quick peek out the door to see a row of orange and raced out to capture it.
The Arrival of the Monks
Monks wore a few different shades of orange (representing their region or the temple) and ranged in age from as young as 7 or 8 and up.
The traditional way to give alms is to kneel, and I did see a couple of people doing that. The rest were with a tour group and they also set up some small plastic seats to sit on when they participated in the ceremony.
I selected my hotel, Lotus Villa Boutique Hotel, as it was right on the main route the monks take during the ceremony. My primary reason for selecting this hotel is that it also has a second-floor balcony from which you can take photos at a polite distance without being disrespectful snapping pictures in the monks’ faces.
One of the most popular places to see the ceremony is by Wat Mai temple on Sisavangvong Road, though it can get crowded with tourists. Your best bet is to ask at your hotel or accommodation what they recommend, or stay at a hotel right on the route, like the Lotus Villa Boutique Hotel Ban Phone Heuang Kounxda Road, Luang Prabang Laos, 06000. Prices range from $37 USD a night to around $120 USD a night (depending on the time of year and room size) and a full breakfast is included.
The famous Mekong River is one of the boundaries of Luang Prabang. You can go on boat tours of the river and you can also walk along it watching the boats go by. The river is pretty muddy, or at least, it was when I was there. It’s still worth seeing when you visit Luang Prabang.
There are several bridges that cross the Mekong. The one at the northern-most end of the town leads to an area where the tapestries and fabrics are made by hand by the locals and are sold in the markets. Some are quite beautiful and depending on when you go, you may see them being woven.
There are a number of tours you can do with boat rides on the Mekong River that are worth checking out.
Enjoy the Luang Prabang Waterfalls—Kuang Si Falls
They are a short trip from the historic center of Luang Prabang, and make for an amazing half day trip. Though they’re not in Luang Prabang, they are sometimes known as the Luang Prabang Falls as people usually visit from here.
Beware though, as the water can be extremely cold, and it was during the dry season when I went in December. It’s a bit cooler here than in Luang Prabang as well, which offers a nice break from the heat and high humidity.
The drive was close to an hour and we came across some of the most impressively large potholes I have ever seen! So beware if you decide to drive a car or moped on this trip. There are a number of farms, terraced rice fields, and small villages in the countryside and it’s quite beautiful.
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Asiatic Black Bear Rescue
Once you enter the area of the falls, you will see a lot of food stands with people selling food and other wares. Pay the fee and enter the woods. First, you will see the Asiatic Black Bear Rescue, started to assist these endangered animals.
There were over 20 bears there and you can read about them and watch them sleep and play. They also have an exhibit about how they are kept in captivity in tiny cages and used for Chinese medicine. They even have a cage you can climb into to see how horrible their conditions are.
Then you hike to the falls and they are really beautiful. There are three main areas with the falls and lots of smaller falls around.
Great hiking trails and watering holes are everywhere, so take a dip if you dare! My hotel packed me a bag with a beach towel and a bottle of water, which was a nice touch.
There is a butterfly park not far from the entrance to the falls, a short drive away, and it’s worth seeing. My driver laughed at me as it costs twice as much to see the butterflies as it does to see the falls! It’s a beautiful place with a mission to teach children biology, which is not taught in local schools here.
They are training school teachers to be able to reach this subject. They also have entomologists, biologists, and botanists come to train locals about caring for the park.
The Butterfly Park does have some small turquoise waterfalls throughout and the place is very well designed and beautiful. The owners are from the Netherlands and I had a chance to meet Olaf, a cofounder.
His passion is orchids and gardens, and their presence is everywhere. His wife’s passion is teaching and children. They built a structure to teach others onsite and hold classes regularly.
The butterfly enclosure is fenced off and netted to contain the butterflies. I met a girl from the United States who is volunteering there for a few months. There are more than 20 different types of butterflies.
My favorite was the dead leaf butterfly that has blue, orange, and black bands on its wings but when closed, it looks like a dead leaf, stem and all! There are also many chrysalides to see, each a little different based on the butterfly contained inside.
Kuang Si Falls is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Make sure you wear proper footwear with good tread on the bottom as it can get very slippery walking by the falls. It costs 20 kip to enter ($2.30 USD). The Kuang Si Butterfly Park costs 40k kip ($4.60 USD) and is open from 9 to 5.
Get a Massage
I decided to get a Lao massage at a place around the corner from my hotel and it was very good. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of it. There was a large room with 6 pads on the floor.
They provide a loose-fitting cotton shirt and pants and the massage is done with full hands and elbows applying pressure to and stretching the muscles. It was under $10 USD and delicious.
The next day, I couldn’t resist another massage. This time I went to Frangipani Spa for a head, neck and shoulder massage. The massage room was similar and again, the massage was incredible.
A Lao massage is similar to a Thai massage where there is a lot of stretching of your muscles. It feels exquisite! It’s a great way to relax into your vacation. Especially if you’re like me and are on the go for most of the time you travel.
Massages in Southeast Asia are generally very good and are incredibly inexpensive.
Ride a Tuk Tuk
Like in most of Southeast Asia, in Laos, the tuk-tuk is a primary means of transportation. Once you get outside of the historic district in Luang Prabang, the roads are quite poor (read: potholes from hell). Be prepared for a bumpy ride.
There are few things more quintessential Southeast Asia, except perhaps riding on a moped or a little scooter. It’s an experience and an inexpensive means of transportation.
Some of the tuk-tuks in Luang Prabang are quite colorful and fun, like this one pictured below. Make some new friends and ride a tuk-tuk when you go. It’s all part of that great experience you’ll have.
Stroll Around the Historic District
The historic center of Luang Prabang is very quaint and quite beautiful. Many of the buildings have a French Colonial influence and you can see Lao touches all around.
Many of the buildings fly the Lao flag out front along with a communist flag with a red background and a gold intertwined sickle and hammer. Laos is still a communist country.
There are a lot of nice shops along the main road and some great restaurants. It’s fun to just wander the streets to soak it all in. It’s such a pretty place and a sleepy town that seems worlds away from the crazy hustle and bustle of many of the southeast Asian cities.
What to Wear in Luang Prabang
Many of the sites you will want to visit require conservative clothing, with shoulders and knees covered. In particular, the wats and the Royal Palace Museum.
It’s best to wear a shirt with sleeves wherever you go and longer shorts, skirts, capris, or pants. It’s always a good idea to bring a scarf or shawl that can be used to cover up if your outfit is deemed inappropriate.
Many places do have people selling “Lao skirts” if you need to make a quick purchase to cover up before entering a building.
It is often very humid in Luang Prabang, even in the dry season. I recommend wicking clothing that will keep you cooler. REI has a great selection.
Best Hotels in Luang Prabang
I highly recommend the hotel I stayed at, Lotus Villa. It’s a small boutique hotel located on a secondary road in a quiet area very convenient to everything in Luang Prabang. The hotel is small and quaint and offers great service including transportation to the local sites.
The room is fairly large and is quite comfortable with some nice touches including a hand-knit scarf from the local village as a gift to guests. Their breakfast is impressive with many “American-style” items as well as traditional local foods.
I highly recommend trying the Lao khao soi soup, a traditional breakfast item. It’s very different from the Thai khao soi and oh, so good!
There are a lot of Luang Prabang, Laos hotels in the historic area, and this one is one of the best.
Proximity to the Alms Giving Ceremony
One of the best features of the hotel is that it’s on the walking route for the Alms Giving Ceremony and has a second-floor walkway where you can stand to take great pictures at a respectful distance.
Prices range based on room size and time of year from around $37 USD a night to $125. A full breakfast is included as well as free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, airport transport, and a 24-hour front desk.
There is a wide range of other accommodations from hotels to hostels and guesthouses that can fit every budget. I met someone who stayed at the DownTown Backpacker’s Hostel for only $7 USD a night including breakfast and he thought it was a great place.
There are a number of hostels in Luang Prabang if you’re looking for options.
Best Restaurants in Luang Prabang
There are many restaurant options in Luang Prabang, from tourist establishments to small local places. Food in Luang Prabang is good and varied. These are what I believe are some of the best Luang Prabang restaurants.
My favorite meal was at Bouang and I think this is the best restaurant in Luang Prabang. I finished walking around the night market and was quite hungry and didn’t feel like walking back to my hotel to get a recommendation. Instead, I walked down the main street in town and found this very busy restaurant.
It turns out it’s ranked #3 on Tripadvisor and I understand why it is! The food was incredible and a fun twist on Lao cuisine.
Bouang is open from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and located right on the main road in the town. It is considered Asian fusion with a local modern twist.
Kaiphaen was another favorite dinner spot as it helps disadvantaged youth by providing it as a school to teach the culinary arts. I went to a similar place in Hanoi and really enjoyed it so I decided to give this one a shot. Dinner cost me around $20 USD and was the most expensive meal I had.
I got a traditional dish with pork, eggplant, greens, and sticky rice with 2 glasses of wine. I also got dessert (to help the students!) which was a specialty in their sister restaurant in Cambodia of banana fritters and coconut ice cream. Certainly a lot of food for the money!
Cafe Kaiphaen is located at 100 Sisavang Vatana Road, Ban Wat Nong (Between the French Institute and the Mekong River), Luang Prabang, Laos. It is open from Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. though I believe it closes for a short while in the afternoon.
I went to 3 Nagas for “lunner,” you know, the meal between lunch and dinner before heading out of town. My order was a Lao eggplant dish which was a salad wrap with mashed green sweet eggplant with green beans, white noodles, mint, and a couple of other things I couldn’t identify but tasted good.
I also got pork larb with mixed greens, mint, lettuce leaves, green beans, slivered cucumbers, something that looked like watercress, and small eggplants that looked like Chinese eggplants but were tart.
It’s recommended to not eat any fruit or vegetable in Southeast Asia that is not cooked and/or peeled and I will admit that I wasn’t overly careful about my food and water.
Most of the tourist restaurants do use bottled water, as I was told. This place is highly rated on Tripadvisor and was good though the service wasn’t the best.
Local Soup Stand
I also went to a small local restaurant to get soup. It was crowded and people were flowing out to the street, which is always a great sign. The soup was a clear broth with wheat noodles, chunks of pork, some greens, and dried garlic slices.
It was quite good and $1.50 US. I don’t recall the name and I’m not even sure it had one as it appeared to be the back of someone’s house.
They mostly only had soup and accompaniments for it including some dried rice cakes to dip in the soup. You can see these rice cakes around town drying in the sun.
Some of the locals were entertained that I was there and encouraged me to try some different things. It’s a great way to connect.
I highly encourage some adventurousness in trying some local places in addition to tourist-style restaurants to really get a flavor for the local area.
Luang Prabang Tips
- Consider visiting during one of the Buddhist festivals, like the light festivals, where the temples light up boats along the river
- Make sure you’re prepared to cover your shoulders and knees and wear conservative clothing to visit temples or bring a wrap to cover-up
- Very few places take credit cards and ATMs are limited, so be prepared with cash
- Try the watermelon juice and pineapple jam. Why don’t we have them in other countries??
- Ride in a tuk-tuk for a fun adventure
- Reach out to connect with the locals. Few speak English but they are so very friendly, and those that do are very happy to translate.
Additionally, you will find prices here are generally a lot lower than in many areas in Southeast Asia, reflecting their struggling economy. Consider being a bit more generous with tipping for good service and possibly negotiating a little less for the items you purchase in the markets.
Luang Prabang Airport
The Luang Prabang airport is only 2.5 miles from the historic center but it takes a while to get there due to traffic in town and the road conditions. It’s a small airport but surprisingly, it’s the second busiest airport in the country.
This airport is a regional hub with regular flights from Chiang Mai and Bangkok in Thailand, and Siem Reap in Cambodia. There are a good number of flights to Luang Prabang, and it’s easy to find transportation or have your hotel arrange it. Taxis run around $7 USD to get to the historic center and tuk-tuks are a little less.
Luang Prabang is a sleepy town in Laos and a perfect break from visiting some of the busy cities in southeast Asia. It’s quaint and beautiful and though it’s known for not having much to do, there are a lot of fun things to do in Luang Prabang. Check it out!
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