Luang Prabang is a small city full of character and charm. I recently had the chance to visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site, and fell in love with the mix of French and Laos culture and architecture. Check out my list of 10 things (out of many!) to see and do in this city!
1. Kuang Si Waterfall
If you do one thing in Luang Prabang, it should be to visit this majestic waterfall. The falls are located about 30-40 minutes outside of the city, but can easily be reached by taking a tuktuk or renting a motorbike. On the way to the falls just inside the gate is a bear conservation center that is informative about the abuse the bears face. If you continue on, you will come across the lower falls which are a great place to swim in the blue pools (though very cold!). The most impressive part is the large water fall which cascades down and is absolutely stunning. It is possible to hike to the top but you need proper footwear as parts of it are very steep. Read more about visiting Kuang Si Waterfall HERE.
Cost: 20,000 kip (~$2.50) entrance fee
Insider Tip: There are changing facilities at the falls for those wanting to swim. It is possible to book a combo package that includes the waterfall with another activity. When I went, I booked a package that included a stop at an elephant sanctuary and a trip to the falls.
2. Golden City Temple (Wat Xiang Thong)
This is the main temple in Luang Prabang, and it is from here that the monks process every morning for the Alms Giving Ceremony (see #4). This temple is beautifully decorated with a long and rich history attached to it. It is possible to get a guide to learn all about it, since there are no real signs explaining the history or significance. If you only visit one temple in Luang Prabang, it should be this one.
Cost: 20,000 kip (~$2.50) entrance fee, money used for maintenance
Insider Tip: It is best to visit in the morning (before 11:00 AM) before it becomes crowded with tourists. Make sure to cover bare arms and legs as a sign of respect.
3. Mount Phousi
Located in the center of town, Mount Phousi isn’t really a mountain but a very big hill. Getting to the top is not a hike but just a climb up a very long set of stairs (over 300). At the top is an old wat and 360 views of the surrounding area. Make sure to walk around all sides of the temple to get a glimpse of the Nam Khan River as well as the Mekong that snakes by. Another entrance leads down the backside of the mountain with Buddha statues along the way.
Cost: 20,000 kip (~$2.50)
Insider Tip: One of the best times to climb the mountain is right before sunset. This gives you the opportunity to see the city and surrounding mountains with the last bit of sunlight and then watch as the sky changes into all sorts of colors. It can get crowded though!
4. Alms Giving Ceremony
If you are willing to get up super early, you could witness a deeply moving and beautiful religious tradition. Early each morning, the monks from the temple walk in a procession through the city collect alms (food, mostly in the form of stick rice or fresh fruit) that they eat for their one meal of the day. The locals line up along the street to provide the food to the monks. The procession begins at 5:30 AM from Wat Xiang Thong and goes along the main road before heading back along the side streets.
Insider Tip: Please make sure to be extremely respectful of this tradition. Because it happens so early in the morning, it may still be dark. This does not mean you should get really close and flash your camera in the monks faces for that perfect photo. Take time to live in the moment, maintain your distance, and save the camera for another activity.
5. Old Quarter
With brick sidewalks, beautiful architecture, and lovely temples, the Old Quarter of Luang Prabang is the cultural heart of the city. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this part of the city is mix of French colonial architecture and old Laos temples. The Old Quarter is not large, and you can really get a sense of the atmosphere by strolling around and exploring on foot. Make sure when entering any religious sites to cover up your bare arms and legs as a sign of respect.
Cost: Free to wander!
Insider Tip: Give yourself some time to walk around and explore this older part of the city. There are lots of nice shops to check out as well as little cafes, bakeries, and restaurants where you can stop for a quick bite.
6. Night Market
Markets are hugely popular in South East Asia and the market in Luang Prabang is a particularly good one. The market is open every night and features all sorts of goods! You can find lots of clothing, handmade bags, jewelry, beautiful hand-crafted cards, Laos whiskey (get one with a scorpion in it!), and much more! The market is two rows that stretch along the main street into town and is open from 5:00 PM until 10:00 PM
Cost: Free to wander, only spend money if you want to shop
Insider Tip: If you climb Mt Phousi at sunset (see #3) you can visit the market after coming back down as it will be open by then. If you want to avoid the crowds, it is better to go earlier or later as it can get very congested with people around 7-8 PM. Always remember to barter for better prices!
7. Bamboo Bridge and Crafts (Seasonal)
If you visit Luang Prabang during the Dry Season, you will have the chance to cross the Bamboo Bridge the only exists for a short time each year. At the beginning of the season, a family erects the bridge entirely out of bamboo. It is only possible to build the bridge at that time due to the low water levels of the Nam Khan River. Definitely something to check out! And it leads across to a few amazing restaurants and craft shops on the other side!
Cost: 5,000 kip (62 cents) which goes toward maintenance and to build the bridge the following year
Insider Tip: If you are hungry, cross the bridge and visit the restaurant immediately to the left on the opposite side. Dyen Sabai has a great atmosphere and even better food. There is also a good pizza spot if you walk further up the street and take a right when it ends.
8. Tad Sae Waterfall
While this waterfall may not be as impressive as Kuang Si Falls, it is a lot less crowded and a great place to escape the city and beat the heat. To get there, you must drive about 15 km and then take a 10 minute boat ride. The waters at Tad Sae Falls are crystal clear, though very brisk! There is a deck where you can sit to view the falls, but seats go fast. Other activities include elephant riding as well as zip lining.
Cost: 10,000 kip
Insider Tip: This waterfall is more popular with locals than with tourists so be mindful of your dress when swimming to avoid causing offense. There are restaurants on site if you do get hungry.
9. Morning Market
I kind of stumbled across this market looking for a sweater during my stay and was happy that I did. The morning market gives you a real sense of Laos culture since you will see many locals shopping for food. Veggies, meats, and treats are spread out on blankets placed on the ground for customers to buy. Expect to get some interesting whiffs as you walk by the different stalls. You can find everything here from clothing, to food, and much more.
Cost: Free to wander, only spend money if you want to shop
Insider Tip: The market is located in a very small walking street and extends into some of the alleys off of it. Prepare to be cramped and pushed past as you explore.
10. Eat like a local
There is so much good food to eat in Luang Prabang that it is hard to find a bad place. Below are a few of the places recommended to me that I found absolutely delicious.
- Buffet Street – A perfect place to eat for very cheap! The concept is simple – pay for a bowl and fill it up with however much food you want. Then hand it to the lady to cook it all together and enjoy! Seating is communal style along picnic tables and benches in a cramped space. Very fun and budget friendly dinner!
- Pizza Phan Luang – Located across the Bamboo Bridge (see #7) is a pizza spot serving up simple, wood-fired pizza. Easy to find, laid-back vibe and a welcome break from rice dishes.
- Dyen Sabai – Also located across the Bamboo Bridge (see #7), is an amazing restaurant called Dyen Sabai. The atmosphere is relaxed, with lounge cushions and free wifi. I tried traditional Laos BBQ where you cook meat on top and heat veggies up in a broth around the edge. It was a fun way to eat a meal and everything was delicious.
- Lao Lao Garden – This tree-shaded garden restaurant has a great menu of Laos food as well as Laos BBQ. At night, they sometimes have a bonfire in the back garden, which is a great place to grab a few cocktails and enjoy the fire!
- Tamarind – A popular place in Laung Prabang that has a diverse menu and deliciously prepared food. Everyone raves about this place and for good reason! Great flavors, you will not be disappointed. Because it is so highly rated, reservations are recommended.
Have you visited Luang Prabang? Share your experiences in the comments below!
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.