Luang Prabang is the heartbeat of Laos and an absolute must-see if you’re visiting the country. We loved travelling through this beautiful city.
Meandering around her bougainvillea-lined streets, ogling at the glorious glistening wats along the way and relaxing by the Mekong or Nam Khan riversides can easily fill a few days.
Her surrounds also feature some worthwhile places to visit if you fancy an excursion out of the city.
Luang Prabang translates to mean “Royal Buddha Image” and is wonderfully calm, beautiful and intriguing.
She is a wonderful mixture of crumbly French architecture, natural beauty and spiritual atmosphere with much of her history deep-routed in Buddhism.
We initially pinned two nights to capture the little city but couldn’t help but extend our stay each day, not keen on moving away from the sheer beauty and chilled vibe.
We travelled to Luang Prabang from Nong Khiaw, catching a minibus from its little bus terminal just a few kilometres out of the village.
As the standard cram-as-many-bodies-into-a-minivan commenced, we stumbled across two southern British accents and started chatting. And, just like that a travelling party of six was born – two French-Canadians and four Englishmen who subsequently travelled together for the next two weeks through the rest of the country.
Landing in the city a few hours later we commenced a hunt to find ourselves somewhere to stay and, under recommendation, visited Utopia, a little bar with low tables and bean bags on the banks of the river.
The six of us set about getting acquainted with each other, a few too many Beer Lao and Lao Lao whisky before hitting the hay.
The subsequent four days were spent exploring Luang Prabang and its surrounds.
From our amazing time, we have put together 7 things to do in Luang Prabang, a city where you can easily relax and do lots of exploring.
7 Things To Do In Luang Prabang
Discovering Utopia on our first night was a little blessing as we found that they offer sunrise yoga classes in a beautiful setting on the banks of the Nam Khan.
There are a few options for practicing yoga in Luang Prabang, but imagine practicing your pranayama and asanas as a burning orange sun rises over the Nam Khan river. It was just bliss.
7am at Utopia was where we found our happy place. It was an amazingly relaxing session in a stunning setting – we’d really recommend it!
2) Visit The Night Market
We stumbled upon the night market on our first evening in Luang Prabang which was beautiful and wonderfully atmospheric to explore as the sun went down.
The market is held between 5pm-11pm nightly, starts at Wat Mai and runs along Sisavangvong road to the centre of town. The vendors sell a variety of handicrafts, local products and clothing.
Take the (multitude) of steps to Mount Phousi to watch sunset over the city.
Whether agreeable or not, on the steps, sellers offer flowers for blessings and caged birds to set free. The Laotians believe that in setting a bird free you will enjoy good luck and future happiness.
3) Visit The UXO Visitor Centre
Did you know that Laos is the most heavily bombed country per capita?
Between 1964-1973, Laos was hit by an average of one B-52 bomb-load every eight minutes, 24 hours a day for nine years during the Secret War.
Having already travelled through northern Laos, we’d seen the evidence of the Secret War and were desperate to visit the UXO Visitors Centre in Luang Prabang to learn more about it.
We’d go so far as saying that you cannot miss it when visiting Luang Prabang.
The lasting effects of the war are staggering, with up to 30% of the 260 million cluster bombs dropped by the US failing to detonate.
This has had subsequent grave effects on the population with ‘bombies’ littered in villages, rice paddies and school yards. Many children pick them up thinking they are toys. Unfortunately, less than 1% of the UXOs have so far been cleared.
Go. Learn. Donate.
4) Pop Across To Chomphet
Venturing across the river on the public car ferry to Chomphet is a different side of Luang Prabang life to experience. Chomphet is a little village on the opposing river bank that can be explored on foot (like we did), by bicycle or by moped. If you choose to explore by moped, you can bundle in with the locals who also ferry their mopeds across the Mekong this way.
Cost for the ferry is 2,000 kip pp on foot, 5,000 kip pp with a bicycle, 10,000 kip pp with a motorbike and 35,000 kip with a car.
On arrival, head up the hill and take the first right through Ban Xieng Maen village. Wat Chomphet was built in 1888 by the Thai’s and while it isn’t going to win any prizes for ‘most beautiful temple’, it does have wonderful views over the Mekong and the city of Luang Prabang. If you do wish to poke your head in, it costs 10,000 kip for foreigners.
We decided not to hang around for the return ferry back to Luang Prabang, instead jumped into a little boat chartered by a local for 5,000 kip pp.
5) Watch The Sun Set Over The Mekong River
If you can time it right, linger by the banks of the Mekong on the Luang Prabang side, at one of the riverside bars or cafes to catch a spectacular sundown. This is a great little ‘cherry on the cake’ after an afternoon exploring Chomphet.
6) Head Out To Kuang Si Falls
Kuang Si Falls are the largest waterfalls in proximity to Luang Prabang and well worth a visit.
The waterfall is three tiered with a 50 metre drop into insanely milky blue pools. The trail to the falls and around them is really beautiful too.
We took a tuk tuk from the city which, with a little negotiating, is easy to pick up and you can arrange for the driver to wait for you and drive you back. We spent a very chilled afternoon there splashing around in the milky blueness and exploring the wooded trails.
7) Morning Alms (Sai Bat)
For a city steeped in Buddhism, the Sai Bat (morning Alms) is a fascinating ritual to get out of bed for and observe.
It is a longstanding tradition in Lao Buddhism for the devoted to offer food to monks every morning in various places in Luang Prabang.
Offerings take place on the Main Street – outside Xiengthong temple, Luang Prabang Primary School and the National Museum.
From March to October, get yourselves there between 5:30am and 6:30am and 6:00am to 7:00am from November to February.
Bear in mind though that this is a religious ritual and so remain silent and only offer food (sticky rice) if it is meaningful to you. If not, keep your distance and be sure not to get in the way of people offering food. A bit of common sense is called for here by observing respectfully, not using flashing cameras and dressing appropriately (shoulders, chest and knees covered).
We’re sure you get the drift.
We think there are definitely enough things to do in Luang Prabang to enjoy a few days in the city. We have suggested 7 things to do in this beautiful Laotian city but we bet you find some more…
We found Luang Prabang to be a very special place, arguably a rare gem in the usual slightly crazy Southeast Asian city list.
It is one of those places that we would have liked to find a little apartment and spend a few months in.
Maybe next time, hey?
We hope you love Luang Prabang as much we did – let us know how you got on.