UNESCO World Heritage Site and capital of Northern Laos; Luang Prabang is one of the most popular places for tourists in Laos to visit, and for good reason! From trekking, to cycling tours, visits to ethical elephant sanctuaries and waterfalls, not to mention the amazing markets and cheap eats on offer, there is so much for travellers to do in this overgrown ‘village’!
Many backpackers arrive in Luang Prabang numb-bummed from a two-day slow boat journey on the Mekong River from Chiang Khong in Thailand. The unhurried delights of Luang Prabang (and Laos in general) will soon relax the weary voyager and many end up staying here longer than they had planned!
About Luang Prabang
Grown around the banks of the Mekong like many of the towns and villages in Laos, Luang Prabang is impossibly picturesque; with glittering temples, a mix of traditional Lao wooden houses and hints of European architecture, colourful markets and quaint streets where you’ll spot strolling monks with matching robes and umbrella. It can be hard to put the camera away.
With the presence of French cafés, bakeries, restaurants and old French Mansions with green shutters, the town is a fascinating throwback to a time when Laos was part of the French colony of Indochina.
Plus, just a short bicycle ride away from the town, you’ll find yourself in the heart of Laotian countryside with lush rice fields, stunning waterfalls and traditional local villages!
All in all, Luang Prabang is a great introduction to Laos and a fantastic place from which to explore and plan further adventures in Laos.
The tourist scene in Luang Prabang
Rather than an intrepid backpacker destination, nowadays, Luang Prabang is a fully-fledged tourist destination, often attracting an older, more sophisticated traveller with more money to spend on the delicious European/Laos cuisine and expensive eco-tours.
However, backpackers need not panic, there is something to suit every taste and budget in Luang Prabang – with delicious stuffed fresh baguettes and banana and chocolate roti that can be bought on the street for a $1 US, plus cheap, clean and friendly hostels that start at just $3 US per night! At night, there are many lively bars for young travellers; try Lao Lao Garden for some good old sitting around a bonfire, drinking beer and making new friends!
Where to stay in Luang Prabang – Top 5
1. Downtown Backpackers Hostel 2 – Backpacker Choice
Downtown Backpackers Hostel 2 is a friendly, buzzing hostel in a good location (5-10 mins walk to the night market and many restaurants along the way or just slightly further down the road, 15 minutes walk to Utopia bar). Cheap rooms, both dorms and privates, cleaned daily, good breakfast with self serve fruit and lots of choices for cooked food, spacious communal area with cushions to sit on and pool table. Services include transport tickets to many places around Laos, motorbike rental (100,000 kip for new, 80,000 for old), Tuk Tuk to Kuang Si (35,000 kip), other info and staff speak English well. They also have another hostel, yep you guessed it, Downtown Backpackers Hostel 1!
2. Sunrise Riverside Pool Hostel – Backpacker Choice
Sunrise Riverside Pool Hostel is another fun and sociable hostel with dorm beds from $8 US per night. There’s a decent free breakfast served, complete with every traveller’s favourite – banana pancakes! Plus free tea and coffee all day. The hostel also a great location, near to Utopia bar, but hidden down a side street so not too noisy… The swimming pool is also a huge bonus, especially during the hotter months in Laos!
3. Chill Riverside Hostel & Cafe – Backpacker Choice
Chill Riverside Hostel is, as the name suggests, located right by the riverside, within walking distance to the night market, bars, restaurants and other attractions. The chill out area has a beautiful beautiful view which you can enjoy whilst indulging in the free hostel breakfast, free tea and coffee and free refillable water. With clean basic dorm beds from just $5 US per night a budget backpacker can’t go wrong with this place!
4. Pakhongthong Villa – Flashpacker Choice
Pakhongthong Villa is a beautiful guesthouse set in a traditional wooden house in the heart of the Old Town of Luang Prabang. The atmosphere is quiet and cosy (perfect for a romantic escape) and the rooms have balconies with street views. With free breakfast, walking distance to all attractions and a lovely garden to relax in, this is a great mid-range choice in Luang Prabang. Rooms start at just $25 US per night.
5. Sok Villa Namkhan Riverview – Luxury Choice
If you’re looking for a bit more space and/or luxury, then the Sok Villa Namkhan Riverview Apartments are a wonderful choice! Perfect for a family or couple wanting to treat themselves with big lovely rooms and amazing balconies. Complete with beautiful riverside view, great location, delicious complimentary breakfasts, as well as cooking facilities and fridge in the apartment itself. From $50 US per night.
See Booking.com for more options in Luang Prabang.
Things to Do in Luang Prabang
The Alms Giving Ceremony
If you manage to wake up at the crack of dawn, you’ll witness the local monks receiving morning alms from villagers on the streets of Luang Prabang. Sadly, the once traditional spiritual ritual is becoming increasingly more touristy and tourists are sometimes encouraged to take part by hawkers eager to sell them food to present to the monks.
Climb to the top of Mount Phousi
One of Luang Prabang’s loveliest temples is positioned on a hill in the middle of the town. There are great panoramic views of the whole area atop the hill and many people take the climb at sunset when it is cooler. There’s also a Buddha Cave and supposedly a preserved footprint of the Buddha himself! As Mount Phousi is a sacred location (Phousi directly translates to sacred mountain), appropriate temple attire is required.
Kuang Si Waterfall
The stunning waterfalls of Kuang Si and Tad Sae Falls can be visited in a day from Luang Prabang by a variety of transport methods. You can either rent a motorbike (around 100,000 kip for 24 hours) or book a Tuk Tuk (around 35,000-50,000 kip per person) to get to the falls.
If you’re feeling energetic, you can even hire a bicycle and cycle the 64km there and back round trip! The journey there takes you through the countryside where you’ll witness the traditional way of life, pass villages, local schools, farming and be waved at enthusiastically by excited local children. The entrance fee to Kuang Si Waterfall is 20,000 kip which includes the Tad Kuang Si Bear Sanctuary, which is worth a visit.
Visit Wat Xieng Tong
A twinkling temple; one of the oldest and most beautiful in Laos built around 1560 by King Setthathirat who was the ruler of Laos from 1548 to 1571 and also a patron of Buddhism. One legend says that Luang Prabang itself was founded here by the placing of a boundary stone by of two hermits. Located in beautiful surroundings on the banks of the river, the Wat is definitely worth a visit for its intricate mosaics and carvings, notably the tree of life mosaic. There are many other temples around Luang Prabang, but this was our favourite!
Luang Prabang Night Market
Unashamedly touristy, but fun nonetheless, the Luang Prabang Night Market takes over the entire Sisavangvong Street in Luang Prabang from sundown to around 10pm each evening. Candle-lit and squashed; it’s an atmospheric affair that can get really busy, with local vendors selling a myriad of silks, souvenirs, jewellery and handmade Lao goods.
The market is on every night of the week and is a must visit, even if you’re not looking for souvenirs… It’s also a great place to grab a delicious and super cheap bite to eat! Here you can pick up a fruit shake for 10,000 kip (around $1 US!), the food is cheap and served right off the grill and there’s a lot of choice, even for vegetarians.
Try the veggie buffet (15,000 kip to fill your bowl with some yummy veggie delights) and the hot dog’s served by the wonderful lady just after the fruit shake stalls at the entrance to the street – she is lovely and the hot dogs are incredible! 18,000 kip will get you a huge hot dog with a proper bread bun, a choice of different sauces and a generous pile of soft onions on top.
You can also pick up many other local dishes and snacks here for very cheap, as well as a variety of grilled meat fish and veggies. On a side note, there are some stories of upset stomachs from the food here, but it’s worth the risk to get a delicious meal for super cheap prices! After eating you can wander down the street and buy some local souvenirs – they have everything from slippers, bags and cushions to pots, bracelets and, of course, elephant trousers!
Trekking and other Eco-Adventures
There are further trips to be taken to the surrounding mountainous countryside. Booked by tour agencies in Luang Prabang. Kayaking, rafting, trekking to hill tribe villages, and rock climbing adventures can all be arranged from Luang Prabang.
Ten Pin Bowling
In Luang Prabang? What? Whisper to the tuk-tuk drivers after curfew drinking hours where the best place is to carry on the drinking sesh and they’ll no doubt suggest the nearby bowling alley.
It seems as though the Bowling Hall has been solely created for foreigners not wanting to go home as the alley packs with backpackers from midnight onwards.
A bit of a strange thing to do in Laos, we admit, but a popular and good place to meet other travellers – if you’re not already too drunk by the time you make it here.
Visit Pak Ou Caves
Either an hour by road or an hour and a half North up the Mekong by boat, are the ‘Buddha Caves’ of Pak Ou located on the top of a hill.
The site is now a major tourist attraction – with the opportunity to finish the day at ‘Whisky Village’ – where the local LaoLao (Lao rice spirit) is made.
Luang Prabang Yoga
is a community resource site covering class schedules, locations, workshops and retreats in Luang Prabang. Classes take place at various establishments around town and the website keeps up to date on the latest yoga happenings.
Places to eat in Luang Prabang
Located near to Utopia, serves Italian pasta and stone baked pizza (cost around 50,000-80,0000 kip), lots of yummy choices, good service and a nice setting.
Bouang Asian Eatery
Bouang is a creative little restaurant with a homey feel serving a delicious mixture of classic food with an asian twist. Try the Veggie Beet Burger and their speciality Cinnamon Pork Stew with Mashed Potatoes (to die for!). Prices range from 30,000 kip for appetisers to 40,000+ kip for mains, but if there’s any place that’s worth spending a little extra it’s this one!
The Night Market
Right beside the night market, you can’t miss it because every night they sell some mouth watering cakes right outside! This restaurant has a warm welcoming feel and the food is very tasty, well presented and doesn’t break the bank. There are both cheaper options and more expensive, veggie and non-veggie, ranging from 30,000 kip for the Lao take on a khao soi, to around 49,000 kip for a Pulled Pork Ribs Burger. They also do a huge range of coffees and drinks as well as other Laotian cuisine with a western twist.
There are two Joma Bakeries in Luang Prabang, one by the river and one on the main street opposite Wat Mahathat. The cafe is air conditioned and serves a great range of coffee, drinks, cakes and wonderful sandwiches ranging from 25,000-40,000 kip. Try the Coconut Cream Coffee, the Roasted Veggie Hummus Wrap and the humongous Cinnamon Buns!
Beside the river, this restaurant is owned by Lao/Australian duo Joy and Caroline. As well as top rated cooking classes, the restaurant serves delicious and traditional Laotian cuisine which makes a nice change from the generic westernised food mostly found around the town. If you really want to try a range of yummy authentic food, you can have one of their set dinner menus at 240,000kip for 2 people. And, if you want to take it one step further, Tamarind also offer a fun Laos cooking class where you can learn to make a variety of local delights!
Cheap and cheerful with a lovely garden out the back (like many of the restaurants along this street) and a friendly owner, the food here is good and relatively cheap for Luang Prabang. There’s lots of choice, from Indian curries with roti to Phad Thai noodles, burgers and some local favourites.
A suggested 2-Day Luang Prabang Itinerary
After just 48 hours in Luang Prabang, this itinerary will leave you equal parts educated, well fed and relaxed! The town has a refreshingly laid back vibe you’ll quickly discern from the locals. After all, worry free is the way to be!
By Julia Miller.
Day 1 in Luang Prabang!
MORNING: Grab a bite to eat! – Whether you’ve flown in or have ventured over on a local bus, you’ll probably be a bit famished when you arrive. If you’re staying for a few days, a SIM card may not be worth it. To kill two birds with one stone, Joma Bakery Cafe has both steady WIFI and a good cup of Joe to get your morning started!
MORNING: Take a ride – Whether you prefer the motorised version or a regular bicycle, you can find both very easily and cheaply in Luang Prabang. Preloaded maps on your phone are always great backup, but half the fun is tossing your cell phone in your bag and seeing where the wind takes you!
AFTERNOON: Visit the TAEC and UXO bomb museums – The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center (TAEC) is a small museum that paints an illuminating view of the people of Laos. Exhibitions rotate regularly, covering everything from history and language to rituals, attire and culture. The UXO Lao Visitors Center is an educational site to gain a full understanding of Laotian history. It’s a sobering reminder that the ramifications of war still impact life today.
AFTERNOON: Climb Mount Phousi – A definite must-do in Luang Prabang, regardless of the length of your stay. The climb of the roughly 300 steps to the top is eased by the fact that there are a handful of Buddha statues along the pathway. It’s recommended to visit late in the afternoon so you can time your hike with a view of the sunset! The peak provides one of the best viewpoints of the entirety of Luang Prabang.
EVENING: Stroll through Luang Prabang Night Market – Conveniently located at the bottom of the Mount Phousi stairs, the Night Market is a perfect place for an evening walk after your climb… There are a variety of local vendors selling everything from souvenirs to handmade items. A number of street food vendors are mixed in with the stalls; the coconut pancakes are a scrumptious snack!
EVENING: Dine At Bouang
Not far from the Night Market, Bouang is making a name for itself in Luang Prabang. The casual restaurant has one of the most aesthetically beautiful interiors with high-quality food to match. In case you’ve been traversing the region without a proper salad in weeks, this is your spot!
Day 2 in Luang Prabang!
MORNING (6am): Rise early for the Alms Giving Ceremony – The Alms Giving Ceremony occurs at sunrise each morning when the monks walk the streets and each collects one meal’s worth of sustenance for the day. Remember to buy your offerings in advance and arrive early so as not to disrupt the ceremony, as this is a religious practice. If photography is your main goal, keeping a fare distance from the procession is essential.
MORNING: Practice yoga by the river – Get into the flow with a yoga class to start your morning. Few things are more peaceful than practicing a sun salutation next to the Nam Khan River; thankfully Utopia offers daily vinyasa classes alongside the river each morning. Classes on the terrace are all levels and beginners are welcomed. After class, nothing else beats the heat like one of Utopia’s smoothie bowls.
AFTERNOON: Experience the splendour of Kuang Si Falls – Another day trip worth the ride is to Kuang Si Falls, the majestic three-tiered waterfall just outside of Luang Prabang. Remember to don your swimsuit if you’d like to wade in the water. In case hiking is more your style, there’s also a trail to the top. I recommend venturing up via the left side. Nobody is in a rush–it’s Laos after all–so feel free to take your time, especially once you reach the stairs. The water pummels down these steps with full force and any athletic shoes you’re wearing will be completely soaked. Most people leave their shoes near the tree before the stairs. Remember to pack a secondary pair of footwear or carry your shoes up with you, as there’s still a bit more walking on unpaved ground before you’re at the top. Once you reach the lookout, safely push past a few branches for a gorgeous view.
How to get to Luang Prabang
By Boat from Thailand: One of the most popular ways of getting to Luang Prabang is via the two-day slow boat from Chiang Khong, on the border of Thailand and Laos.
It’s one of the well-trodden routes with hoards of backpackers cramming on wooden boats departing every day. The journey takes in the wonders of the Mekong; passing by remote villages on the banks of the mighty river. You’ll stay one night in the tiny village of Pak Beng, before arriving in Luang Prabang around sunset the evening later.
Check out this journey as part of the 7 Epic Journeys of South East Asia!
Fly: Luang Prabang’s airport now caters to flights from Vientiane, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hanoi and Siem Reap. Check out Laos Airlines and Air Asia.
Although most backpackers travel by bus, flights can be really cheap and for those short on time or those not wanting to endure Laos’ arduous overnight buses – flying can be a pleasant alternative. From the airport, it’s about a half an hour taxi ride into the town.
By Bus: Buses from Vang Vieng leave Northbound for Luang Prabang every day taking around 6 hours to get there. There’s some gorgeous scenery on the way – and as with all buses in Laos – the journey can be unpredictable.
Where to go next?
- Vang Vieng: Once a notorious party town renowned for ‘tubing’, Vang Vieng is becoming an eco-adventure hub with rafting, rock climbing and caving! 3-5 hours from Luang Prabang by bus – south.
- Vientiane: Sleepy capital of Laos where many travellers can cross the border to Nong Khai, Thailand.
- Nong Khiaw: Head north for fewer tourists, incredible mountain landscapes and amazing trekking opportunities to hill tribe villages.
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