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Laos. One of the lesser-known, often-missed countries in South East Asia. If you play a game of South East Asia Bingo, most travelers would tick off the neighboring countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and perhaps even Malaysia (my homeland!) and go “OKAY, I’ve completed my South East Asia tour!” It may be easy to gloss over this country because perhaps, there hasn’t been much promotion on the country, so most people assume there isn’t much to do here.
And that may be true, but it is here that I truly savored the art of doing nothing. It is here that life slows down, and you realize that you don’t need a packed itinerary and day full of adventures to enjoy a country. Sometimes it’s just about the people, the culture and well, the local delicacies. So let’s get into it! Here are the top things to do in Luang Prabang.
- 1 Things to do in Luang Prabang
- 1.1 Go chasing waterfalls (…or don’t, as TLC would have it)
- 1.2 Watch the sunset from Mount Phousi
- 1.3 Visit the Buddhist Temples
- 1.4 Take a sunset cruise down Mekong River
- 1.5 Walk through the local night market
- 1.6 Indulge in the local delicacies
- 1.7 Run through paddy fields (and work it, too)
- 1.8 Get a good rub down
- 1.9 Witness the Morning Almsgiving (from afar)
- 1.10 Just slow down…
- 1.11 More things to do:
- 2 Where to stay in Luang Prabang
- 3 Visiting Luang Prabang Checklist
Things to do in Luang Prabang
Go chasing waterfalls (…or don’t, as TLC would have it)
So if you google Luang Prabang, you’re bound to find a ton of search results on their waterfalls. And they do have their fair share of ’em, but the biggest and most popular one is Kuang Si Waterfalls. It’s the one with milky blue water that beautifully cascades from pool to pool. Very different from the picture you see above. Yeah, unfortunately, this is what you’d get if you come during the monsoon season, and that beautiful cascade becomes a raging torrent. Still majestic nonetheless! When the water is calm, you can actually jump into the pools and have a swim. Obviously, we didn’t because we sorta like living.
I recommend coming early to avoid the crowds so you get to enjoy the falls to yourself. We arrived around 10am, and it was still pretty empty until about half an hour later when throngs of tourists came.
If you do end up coming during the monsoon season, you can still take a dip into the waters a little further down the stream where water is much calmer. Watch out for signs though as there are designated areas where you can swim, and some where entry is not permitted for safety reasons.
At the entrance of Kuang Si Waterfalls, don’t forget to stop by and say hi to the bears at the bear sanctuary! They are really well taken care of, and it’s great to see these cutie patooties lounging around in their hammocks.
If you want to continue chasing waterfalls, you can also visit Tad Sae Waterfalls which is much less touristy so you’ll pretty much have it all to yourself. The only way to access Tad Sae is via boat though, so you can book an organised tour to get there.
Watch the sunset from Mount Phousi
Remember how I said that no one’s really heard of Laos, it’s less touristy, yadda yadda, well you definitely won’t feel it here at Mount Phousi cause you’ll feel like you’ve just fallen into a tourist trap. This place is paaacked with people, and it’s a small area to begin with. It’s one of those expectations vs. reality things. See me perched on that rock looking out into the sunset? Well, there’s actually a line of people waiting to take the same photo. But that aside, the view really is quite spectacular, with the view of the Mekong River on the right, and the town of Luang Prabang on your left.
It gets really hot up there, so a lot of us left once the sky started to get dark. But I’d recommend waiting another 10-15 minutes because that’s when the sky turns the most beautiful shade of purple!
Word of caution: Watch out for the bees! If anything, what I enjoyed the most was admiring the beautiful sunset amidst tourists swatting bees out of their faces and squealing in terror.
Visit the Buddhist Temples
Buddhism being the main religion in Laos, you’ll find plenty of temples all around this little town. One of the biggest and also my favorite is Wat Xieng Thong. The colours and intricate carvings and details were unlike any I’d seen anywhere else.
Take a sunset cruise down Mekong River
When you’re in the region, it’s hard to miss the Mighty Mekong, and a sunset river cruise is the best way to experience it. Depending on your budget, there are simple 1-hour tours or even some with dinner included. The one we went on was only $20 and had a cocktail included in the price.
Walk through the local night market
One of my favourite things to do is visit the local night market, and Luang Prabang’s was one of my favorites! Unlike the markets in other South East Asian countries selling cheap knock-offs, the one here is filled with local, handmade pieces. I found myself walking through the market almost every night of my trip! If you take a left onto one of the little alleys, you’ll find yourself in Buffet Street where you can try their local barbecued food. I’d suggest arming yourself with an iron stomach if you have one, otherwise… you’ve been warned!
Indulge in the local delicacies
Well, when in Rome… or in Laos. You just have to try the local food! We found this little shack where locals gather to have their breakfast. And bonus! It was situated right by the Mekong River, so it was such a wholesome experience. Dough fritters by the Mekong, oww yes! To find this location, copy “ร้านกาแฟประชานิยม” into Google Maps. Or this Google Maps Plus Code: V4RJ+6X Luang Prabang, Laos.
PS. That’s my own metal straw I’m sipping from that I bring everywhere. Say no to plastic straws and save the environment! Get your own on Amazon 😉
Run through paddy fields (and work it, too)
Ever wanted to know what it took to get that delicious steaming hot bowl of rice on your table? Well, it’s a 12-step process! The Living Land Farm offers you a rare glimpse into the lift of a rice farmer, and you get to try out ploughing the land, planting the seeds, harvesting them, and then threshing the rice. It’s certainly an enjoyable experience, especially if you have kids! Be prepared to get a little knee-deep in mud though. Plus the occasional water buffalo excretion 😉 Great for silky smooth legs after! Spots are limited so be sure to book your spot in advance here.
Get a good rub down
After working the paddy fields, it’s time to let those sore muscles do some relaxin’. Lucky for you (and us), Luang Prabang has no shortage of good, affordable (around $10 per hour) massage parlours. We tried a different one every day, and one of our favorites was MK Wellness Centre. It’s a little further from the city centre, but it was really good! Don’t be misled by the exterior, they’ve actually got really comfy clean rooms and excellent masseurs.
Google Maps Plus Code: V4PJ+6G Luang Prabang, Laos
Witness the Morning Almsgiving (from afar)
This is probably one of the most popular, but controversial things to do in Luang Prabang. Every morning at the break of dawn, hundreds of monks walk the streets in a state of meditation to receive alms from the local devotees lining the streets. They believe that this tradition of offering alms to the monks will bless them and their family. We were quite lucky as our visit coincided with the Dragon Boat Festival which is a huge thing in Luang Prabang, so the morning’s almsgiving ceremony was ‘grander’ than usual.
This is an incredibly sacred ritual that has unfortunately turned into quite the dog and pony show due to tourism. Some tour operators even offer packages where you can buy rice to offer to the monks (BYO selfie sticks). I personally find this very disrespectful, and would highly urge you to refrain from taking part unless it really means something to you, not just for photos! Watch from a distance, and use those zoom lens, people! And I think it goes without saying, no flash!
With that said, proceed respectfully. The almsgiving happens on the main road of Sakkaline Road, and this is where most tourist busses stop. If you’d like to get away from the crowd and get a more authentic experience, I recommend trying the smaller side streets. We were quite lucky to find the ceremony happening right outside the street of our Airbnb where we were the only ones there, so we were able to watch quietly from across the street. Below is a map of areas marked in green where you can and should go if you want a truly authentic, less touristy version of the ceremony.
Just slow down…
One of my favorite parts about Luang Prabang was how slow-paced life is. There isn’t a long list of things to do here, so there’s a lot of downtime for you to just relax and do nothing. Take a break and spend the afternoon having a coffee, soaking in the atmosphere of this lovely town. I really enjoyed Saffron Café. They have ample space for guests to unwind or even work on their laptops. I loved that they had live acoustic music there which really amped up the atmosphere.
Our Airbnb also had a really nice balcony, which was great for lounging outside in the evenings with a good book!
More things to do:
- Learn about Laotian arts and crafts at Ock Pop Tock Living Crafts Centre. There are plenty of workshops that you can participate and learn the art of weaving, traditional batik painting and more. You can book a full day at the centre here.
- With such a vibrant town, and such warm and friendly locals, you’d soon forget that Laos is actually one of the most heavily bombed countries in the world. With many undetonated bombs still present today throughout the country, the effects from the bombings many years ago can still be felt today. Learn more about the history and current effect it has on the locals at the UXO Museum.
Where to stay in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang town is pretty compact, only about 2km from one end to the other, so everything is very walkable. There is one main road, and you’ll find yourself on the same roads everyday since it is so small. Alternatively, there are plenty of tuk-tuks you can take around that are relatively cheap.
This is the Airbnb that we stayed at while in Luang Prabang, and it really felt like home. It was really spacious, and our lovely host, Tara even arranged for us to be picked up and dropped off at the airport! Get $30 off your first Airbnb booking when you sign up via this link!
Alternatively, find your perfect accommodation at Booking.com! There are plenty of options to fit every budget. We found many backpacker hostels for $3 per night while walking around. But one hotel that caught our eye was the Avani+ that’s located right by the Night Market. If we were to return, we’d definitely like to give this one a go!
So there we have it! I hope you feel a little more inspired to visit this beautiful little town of Luang Prabang now. Let me know in the comments if Luang Prabang is on your list, or if you have any more hidden gems to add on!
Covers: Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Luang Namtha, Phonsavan, Xieng Khuang, Hua Phan, Ban Phanom, Paksan, Savannakhet, Pakse, Champasak, Si Phan Don and more
Further reading: Lonely Planet Laos Travel Guide is an up-to-date guide on what to see and skip, and the hidden secrets Laos holds. It features color maps and images, highlights and itineraries, insider tips, essential info, honest reviews, and cultural insights.
Visiting Luang Prabang Checklist
⇢ Compare flight prices to Luang Prabang
⇢ Compare accommodation options and prices on Booking.com | HotelsCombined.com | Agoda | Airbnb
⇢ Book tours in advance on GetYourGuide | Viator
⇢ Don’t forget travel insurance! Travel insurance is the most overlooked purchase when traveling, but one of the most essential. Anything can happen when you’re on holiday and you’d want to be covered in the case of travel mishaps such as flight delays, personal accidents or theft. Choose World Nomads Travel Insurance, designed by travelers for travelers.
⇢ Don’t leave home without a power bank!
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