Ask anyone who’s visited Luang Prabang and they’ll tell you this sweet little city captured their heart.
From the heritage architecture to the Buddhist traditions and vibrant markets that crowd the streets every morning and night, this is the place to get lost in the beauty of Lao culture and soak up the soul of the country.
Luang Prabang’s small streets are lined with funky little restaurants, shops selling gorgeous handmade silk clothes and silver jewellery, and museums dedicated to the area’s ethnic diversity. The food night market is a crush of people, smoky barbecues and tantalising smells, while vendors whip up flavoursome meals for a couple of bucks.
Monks wander the streets in groups of two or three. The Mekong River meanders along one side, with the smaller Khan River the other side, joining the Mekong at the tip of the peninsula. Cute little side alleys cut through and around elegant French colonial buildings – and looking down on all this is Wat Chomsi, a golden stupa sitting atop of Phousi.
A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to spend three months living in Luang Prabang while I interned at the Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Center. It was a life-changing experience that instilled a love for Luang Prabang that I’ll carry for the rest of my life.
A lot has changed since I was last in Laos – so for this guide, I thought I would invite a few of my colleagues to share their travel experiences and recommendations for what to do in Luang Prabang as well. Together, we’ve come up with a pretty comprehensive list – and a pretty awesome guide to Luang Prabang if I do say so myself!
This guide includes:
- The top 12 best things to do in Luang Prabang
- The best things to do around Luang Prabang
- The best things to do in Luang Prabang at night
At the end of the list, I’ve included detailed information about where to stay in Luang Prabang (my personal recommendations), how to get to Luang Prabang, plus more tips for planning the perfect trip to Laos’ Golden City.
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Luang Prabang cheat sheet
Get there: Train or minibus from Vientiane. See your transport options and buy your bus/train tickets here on 12GoAsia.
Airport transfer: If you’re flying in, pre-book a hassle free transfer to your hotel (prices start from $28 per group).
Where to stay in Luang Prabang: Mekong Riverview Hotel (luxury hotel; from $150); Ock Pop Tok Mekong Villa (boutique hotel; from $70); Sabai Sabai Estate No. 1 (villa; from $65) Golden Lotus Place (mid-range hotel; from $35) Vanvisa Guesthouse (budget guesthouse; from $9).
Best city tour: Half-day walking tour of the UNESCO Old Town with a local guide (from $25).
Best Laung Prabang day trip: Pak Ou Caves & Kuang Si Falls by slow boat (from $45).
5 things to pack: Lightweight cotton scarf (for visiting temples); travel pumice stone (for cleaning your feet after temple-hopping!); refillable water bottle; a few bottles of your favourite sunscreen; the latest Lonely Planet guidebook for Laos (published July 2020).
Top 12 best things to do in Luang Prabang
Let’s start with the Luang Prabang essentials. Here are 12 things no visitor should miss.
1. Explore the UNESCO Old Town & heritage architecture
One of the best things to do in Luang Prabang is to relax and soak up the scenery of the historic Old Town. More popular with visitors, Luang Prabang has a very different vibe to the capital city of Vientiane. After a long day of travel or sightseeing, we found that the most enjoyable way to relax each evening was to wander the streets and find somewhere to have a drink with a view.
Luang Prabang’s Old Quarter, which is nestled on a small peninsula surrounded by the Nam Khan and Mekong River on three sides, is a lovely area for an evening stroll. The Old Quarter seems to have less traffic and is surprisingly quiet.
Strolling the Old Quarter streets, we loved admiring the mix of Buddhist and French Colonial architecture. Surrounded by lush greenery and tall trees, many of the historic buildings in this area have been converted into luxurious hotels and restaurants.
After an evening of wandering, we found no better way to cap off the night than to visit the Viewpoint Café and Restaurant. Located at the point of the peninsula where the two rivers converge, it offers a wonderful view of the area and surrounding mountains. Sitting here at sunset, looking out over the rivers is simply the best way to spend the evening in this charming, historic town.
Recommended by Liz of Peanuts or Pretzels Travel Blog
Guided option: This half-day walking tour visits all the main landmarks over four hours.
2. Observe the Alms Giving Ceremony
We visited Luang Prabang as part of a three-month sabbatical around Southeast Asia, and it was by far our favourite city of the entire trip.
Our most memorable day started with getting up early to watch the alms giving ceremony that happens at dawn. Alms giving is common in Buddhism and is a way to support the monks by offering them food. There are 34 temples in Luang Prabang from which the orange-robed monks emerge with baskets, ready to receive balls of rice from local people.
Unfortunately, this ceremony has become somewhat controversial over the past few years, with tour guides bringing large groups of people here to view it. There have been many occasions where the ceremony has been interrupted, and a number of signs have now been placed around town encouraging people to show more respect while it’s happening.
We sat quietly out of the way on a back street, and were treated to a magical experience that could easily have been lifted from a movie script. The single-file line of monks wrapped around the corner, each monk quietly making their way from house to house. Some of the monks were very young, and were struggling to hang on to their baskets which were now full of sticky rice balls.
The colour of their saffron robes breaking through the morning mist is as iconic imagine of Asia, and an unforgettable memory from our time in Laos.
Recommended by Ben of The Sabbatical Guide
Guided option: If you want to participate in the Alms Giving Ceremony, I highly recommend going with a local. This early morning tour will pair you with a local guide to ensure you understand the significance of the ritual and maintain etiquette. Also including a wander around the morning market, it’s the perfect way to spend a morning in Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang is probably the coolest place to visit in Laos. One of the most unique and memorable things to do in Luang Prabang is witness and take part in the early morning monk offerings.
Every morning the monks depart from their temples to walk the crowded streets. During this walk they collect food offerings provided by the locals (and tourists). The locals do this as a sign of respect for the monks and to find peace within themselves in satisfaction of helping out the spiritual Lao monks.
To take part in the ceremony, take some food and wait on the side of the pavement. This is before sunrise, usually around 6am. As the monks walk past in single file, they will collect the food you offer in a basket.
Top tips for the early morning offering:
- You should be aware that this is a Lao tradition. Before you try to get that Insta photo, remember to be respectful of the monks and this local tradition.
- Take a jacket as it’s usually a little cool at that time of the morning.
- The offerings last around 45 minutes to an hour. You can either then go back to bed or begin the day with a good breakfast and a hike up to Mount Phousi.
Recommended by Louis of TheNorthernBoy
3. Wander the morning market
After morning alms, head to one of Luang Prabang’s sprawling morning markets for an insight into local food culture and commerce. It’s also the perfect place to grab a quick breakfast snack of khao jee – grilled sticky rice on a bamboo skewer served up on a banana leaf.
These food markets start early and usually wind by around 10am, so you need to arrive early if you want to see the most plentiful array of tropical fruits, still-flopping fish and piles of curious-looking produce. Unlike the night handicraft market, this is the domain of locals and a place where families come to do their grocery shopping – it has a more authentic vibe and an energy that the night market is missing.
Wander the aisles and photograph the spread of vibrant produce, stopping to say good morning to a few of the vendors. Amongst the fruit and veg you’ll also find jars of homemade rice wine and little packets of rice cakes – the latter makes for the perfect midday snack, so pick up a couple to fuel the rest of your day in Luang Prabang.
You can find the main morning market on the peninsular, just off Luang Prabang’s main street (see the exact location here). If you’re too late for morning market, Phosy Market is open throughout the day and is a good alternative.
4. Visit the Royal Palace
The Royal Palace in Luang Prabang, also known as the Golden Palace or Haw Kaum, was the royal residence of King Sisavang Vong and his family during the French colonial era. It was built in 1904 to replace the old palace, which had been destroyed by mercenaries from China in 1887.
King Sisavang Vong was a collaborator with the French colonialists and supported their rule over the country in exchange for a life of opulence for himself and his family. This perhaps explains why the palace is built in a mix of traditional Lao and French styles.
After the Lao Revolution in 1975, the palace was converted to a museum and opened to the public. On display are relics from the period of the monarchy, including the throne room and the King and Queen’s sleeping quarters.
More interesting is the 2,000-year-old golden statue of Buddha known as Phra Bang, which is the holiest Buddha image in Laos. The city of Luang Prabang is named after this statue.
You’ll find it inside the Haw Pha Bang temple, which is brightly decorated in gold. The temple is constructed in the traditional style, making it appear old, but in fact it was built in 2006.
The palace complex is in a prime location right by the river. It was built here so that official visitors who arrived by boat could be received by the royal family as soon as they disembarked.
Entry to the complex costs 30,000 kip, and it’s open from 8am to 11.30am and again from 1.30pm until 4pm daily. Cameras, videos recorders, shoes and bags are all prohibited. There are free lockers at the entrance where you can leave these items. Sometimes local drama or dance performances are held in the adjacent theatre.
After your visit, stop in at the nearby Coconut Garden restaurant, which comes highly recommended and is one of the best places for vegan-friendly food in Laos.
Recommended by Wendy of The Nomadic Vegan
5. Go Wat hopping
When visiting Laos you will definitely not run out of amazing things to do and places to explore. Of all of the places in Laos, Luang Prabang was one of my favourite Southeast Asian cities and it is quite a magical place.
The way the city is laid out right next to the Mekong Delta is quite breathtaking. We were lucky enough to in Luang Prabang during the Lai Heua Fai festival, which is the festival of the fireboat. During this week-long festival, all of the wats in Luang Prabang are lit up by little tea lights, giving them a gorgeous luminescent look.
Even if you are not there during this amazing festival, exploring all of the different wats is one of the best things to do in Luang Prabang. They are all decorated so beautifully and inspire such a feeling of zen as soon as you enter.
Luang Prabang was also the place where we had the most interactions with monks, and we really enjoyed it every time. The monks living at the wats are so friendly and happy that you’re there exploring their home. They smile and wave at you and invite you to explore and take photos.
You’ll find many wats sprinkled around the entire city. There is no way you could miss them when walking around. Don’t be afraid to go in and see what they are all about!
Recommended by Jessica of Unearth The Voyage
Wat etiquette: Be sure to behave respectfully (no running or raised voices) and observe the conservative dress code when visiting temples in Luang Prabang. If you really want to look the part, why not rent a traditional Lao outfit from Sao Sinh for the day!
6. Admire the glass mosaics at the splendid Wat Xiengthong
Wat Xiengthong is one of the most famous Buddhist temples in Luang Prabang. Built in 1559-1560 by the Lao King Setthathirath, it was the place where all kings were crowned up until 1975.
The wat has carved gilded wooden doors depicting different scenes from Buddha’s life. Here you can also see a very rare reclining Buddha, dating back to the time of the temple’s construction.
The most impressive feature of this temple are the glass mosaics that decorate the external walls. Miniatures of people, palm trees and animals form elaborate scenes from daily life and sparkle in the sunlight.
What’s so fascinating about this temple is how intact it has remained throughout the years, and many of the Buddha images are original. This means that you can actually see how Buddha’s life story was being told in Laos back in the 1500s.
It’s easy to find your way to Wat Xhiengthong since there are signs in many places in the centre of Luang Prabang. The temple is located next to the Mekong River. You can access the stairs from Khem Khong Road. The entrance fee is 20,000 kip, or around $2.
Recommended by Alexander of Destinavo
7. Climb Mount Phousi for a view
Mount Phousi (Phou Si Hill) is a 100-metre-high hill in the centre of Luang Prabang. From its summit there’s an incredible view over the city, the Mekong River, and the Nam Khan. The views are simply breathtaking, especially at sunrise and sunset, and it’s the ideal spot to take photos of the city and its surroundings. It was one of our favourite things to do in Laos.
To get to the top of Mount Phousi you will need to climb about 300 stairs, but it is well worth the strain. Along the way, there are small Buddhist temples and statues; the name of the mountain means ‘sacred hill’ in Lao language and it’s a pilgrimage site for Buddhists.
On top of the hill there is a Buddhist temple, Wat Chom Si, and a small cave with a Buddha statue. Traditionally people leaves flowers and incense here as a sign of respect.
There are two entrances to Mount Phousi, one opposite the Royal Palace Museum and the other next to the Nam Khan River. We opted to climb through one way and descend through the other. But we advise you to start by the Royal Palace Museum as it has fewer stairs. There is an entrance fee of 20,000 kip.
Recommended by Jorge of Travel Drafts
8. Eat Lao cuisine
When it comes to food, Laos might not have the same reputation as neighbouring Thailand or Vietnam – but Lao cuisine is full of surprises. Regional dishes in the north are particularly delicious, and there’s certainly no shortage of restaurants to sample local cooking in Luang Prabang.
Sticky rice is the building block of any meal in Laos and holds every meal together (literally!). Known locally as Khao Niao, it’s typically presented in delightful little single-serve woven baskets. Fresh and fragrant Larb is another staple of Lao cooking and a must-try. It consists of marinated meat (usually chicken or pork) mixed with chopped herbs, greens, spices, and usually a healthy dose of chilli.
Other dishes to look out for include Orlam, a local beef stew, Khao Soi, a mind-blowingly good noodle dish made with pork and a fragrant broth (it’s also popular in Chiang Mai), and Mok Pa, fish steamed in banana leaf.
Tamarind is my favourite restaurant in Luang Prabang and a great place to try all of the above plus many more local specialties.
9. Join a Lao cooking class
Once you’ve eaten your way through Luang Prabang, learn how to recreate your favourite dishes at home. I’ve done cooking classes all over the world but the only meals I continue to recreate at home were from the workshop I did in Luang Prabang.
There are half a dozen cooking schools in Luang Prabang – some better than others. A good itinerary usually starts with a visit to either the morning market or Phosy Market to pick up the ingredients before a hands-on demonstration and finally a sit-down meal to enjoy the spoils. I recommend the classes offered by Tamarind – they’re family friendly and great value for money.
For something truly memorable, this four-course cooking class at Kuang Si Waterfall also includes a short hiking adventure.
10. Learn about hill tribe culture at the TAEC
Laos is the most ethnically diverse country in mainland Southeast Asia, with at least 49 ethnic groups and 240 subgroups. The cultural diversity of Laos is simple stunning, and there’s no better place to get an insight into these different traditions than at the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center (TAEC).
Located in the centre of town behind Dara Market, the TAEC is by far the most engaging and interesting museum in Luang Prabang. If you only visit one museum, make it this one.
A permanent display of clothing, costume, tools and textiles from Laos’ different ethnic groups is brilliantly documented and presented, with detailed signage in English and information booklets in half a dozen other languages. There are plenty of interactive elements as well, including videos. Special exhibitions explore themes such as Hmong New Year and traditional woven baskets.
Behind the scenes, the TAEC does amazing work to research, document and preserve the country’s fading traditions, as well as advocate for the rights of minority communities. It’s an organisation worth putting your money behind.
The Center is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9am-1pm and entrance costs 25,000 kip. While you’re there, don’t miss the TAEC Gift Boutique.
11. Shop for silk scarves and Lao handicrafts
Vibrant woven textiles, delicate silks, painted paper umbrellas and extravagant silver jewellery are just a few of the traditional Lao handicrafts you can find in Luang Prabang. Save your souvenir spending money (and some space in your luggage) because there’s no way you’ll come away from Luang Prabang’s boutiques empty handed.
Many of these arts and crafts are traditionally practiced by Laos’ ethnic minority communities – for example the Hmong, who are known for their gorgeous appliqué and batik textiles. Unfortunately, as Luang Prabang has become a more popular tourist destination, the city’s shops and especially the night market have become overrun with an influx of cheap, mass-produced goods.
For authentic and meaningful souvenirs that are handmade locally and created under fair partnerships, it’s better to stick to reputable boutiques. My personal favourites are Ock Pop Tok, Ma Te Sai, Passa Paa, the TAEC Boutique, Village Crafts and the Weaving Sisters.
12. Learn a new (unexpected) skill
Ever thought of learning how to weave on a traditional loom? Or make a traditional knife? What about weaving with rattan, or even whittling your own crossbow?
There are so many beautiful skills you can learn in Luang Prabang through the many workshops and hands-on experiences on offer. Try a bamboo weaving masterclass or learn how to throw traditional clay pots with these great immersive tours organised by The Bamboo Experience.
Recommended by Rebecca of Rebecca and the World
Best things to do around Luang Prabang
Here are the best things to do around Luang Prabang, including day trips and short excursions.
13. Cool off in the magnificent Kuang Si Falls
A great way to spend half a day in Luang Prabang is to take a trip to Kuang Si Falls.
Located in the jungle about 29km from Luang Prabang, these impressive falls cascade 50 metres down into three limestone sculptured rock pools. The striking turquoise waters of the pools are mesmerising and a beautiful creation of nature, reminiscent of our time in Halong Bay, Vietnam.
Swimming is allowed in the pools and changing sheds are provided. We recommend swimmers wear a t-shirt and shorts over their swimwear to comply with the local dress code.
To see the pools at their best, avoid the wet season when the waterfall and pools can become murky with increased sediment. The rest of the time, Kuang Si Falls is popular with locals who spend the day swimming and picnicking. Also nearby is the Moon Bear Sanctuary. Here you can observe endangered bears being cared for in a safe environment.
To get to Kuang Si Falls, check with your guest accommodation to see if they can organise a driver, or join a tour. Otherwise, you can find take a shared tuk-tuk or hire a private tuk-tuk from in front of the Luang Prabang post office. Shared tuk-tuks accommodate eight people who share the roughly 200,000 kip (about $25) cost. The journey takes approximately 45-60 minutes depending on your transport option.
You can purchase tickets for Kuang Si Falls Park at the entrance for 20,000 kip per person (about $2.50). The park area is open daily from 8am until 5.30pm.
Recommended by Maura of TravelKiwis
Guided options: Find a seat in a shared minivan to the falls; or make a day of it with this longer guided tour to Kuang Si that also includes a cooking class. You can also get to the falls by slow boat – this itinerary combines a visit to the nearby Pak Ou caves.
Stay longer: Vanvisa at the Falls is a lovely family-run guesthouse close to Kuang Si. They also host cooking classes.
14. Tour the Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Center
The Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Center is my favourite place to spend a few hours in Luang Prabang. The complex consists of a workshop where the handicraft social enterprise produces many of its textiles and silk scarves, a restaurant overlooking the Mekong River and a textile gallery, all enveloped in gorgeous leafy gardens.
A team of women weavers work in a gorgeous open-air workshop on upright looms, while other artisans colour cotton and silk with flower and plant dyes, hanging the strands out in the garden to dry. Others still paint wax batik onto rolls of hemp cloth, and another team sews the results into beautiful garments and accessories.
You can observe and learn about the entire process on a free guided tour. Hands-on workshops in weaving and plant dyeing with the Ock Pop Tok masters are offered daily. (If you were wondering how I first fell in love with Luang Prabang and why I decided to come back to volunteer at Ock Pop Tok, it was during one of these weaving workshops on my first visit to Laos as a backpacker!)
The Silk Road Cafe is a wonderful place to stop for lunch overlooking the river. You can even stay the night at the Ock Pop Tok Mekong Villa, a handful of boutique rooms decked out in textiles.
The Center is located on the river 2.5km south-west from the Royal Palace. Free tuk-tuk shuttles run to and from the Center throughout the day, departing from the Ock Pop Tok boutique in the middle of town.
15. Get knee-deep at the Living Rice Farm
One of the best things we did in Luang Prabang was learning to harvest rice at the excellent Living Rice Farm.
The tour at Living Farm involves a detailed look at the different stages of harvesting rice, including the famous glutinous ‘sticky rice’, a Luang Prabang favourite. There are 13 stages of harvesting rice, all of which you get taken through on the tour.
First, we started by selecting and sorting through the best grains to use. The bad ones are fed to the chickens. Then the seeds are planted into a field of marshy water and germinate after three days. Step three is ploughing and harrowing the field with water buffaloes. The buffalo at Living Rice Farm is called Suzuki! Step four is planting the seedlings that grow from the grains into the paddy fields. Then, workers build a grid-like water irrigation system around seedlings to ensure they are carefully watered.
After three months, stage six is when the seedlings have hardened and turned yellow, so at this stage they are ready to be cut and placed into bunches and left to dry for three to four days. Then the dried bunches are thrashed against a piece of wood to remove the rice grains.
Step eight is ‘winnowing’ – fanning the rice grains to separate them out from the other plant matter. After this, the rice grains are collected. Stage 10 is ‘husking’ – beating them for around 30 minutes with a machine to prepare them for cooking. The grains are then separated out by placing the white grains into a tray and carefully shaking it to. This stage is like an art, a rite of passage for Lao women. The remaining powdery material is fed to the animals.
The white grains are soaked overnight to make them more digestible and finally, at stage 13, the rice is steamed in a bamboo basket over an open fire for around 20-25 minutes.
Not only do you learn about making rice on this tour, but you also get an insight to local countryside life in Laos. Fascinating and highly recommended!
Recommended by Stefan and Sebastien of Nomadic Boys. Check out their gay guide to Luang Prabang.
16. Cross the Bamboo Bridge (dry season only!)
A long bamboo bridge runs across the turbid waters of the Nam Khan River, near its point of convergence with the Mekong. You can access the bridge via a flight of stairs at the intersection of Khem Khong and Sakkaline Roads.
There’s a fee of 7,000 kip to cross the 100-metre-long bridge. The fee goes to a certain Mr. Bounmee and his family who rebuild the bridge every dry season when the water level of the Nam Khan River recedes and becomes too shallow for a boat to navigate.
During rainy season, the current becomes too strong for the bridge to survive. Without the bridge, people cross to the other side by boat.
So, what’s special about this bamboo bridge and what’s on the other side? A walk over the seemingly rickety but human-enduring footbridge is a unique experience. Like the bamboo bridge in Kampong Cham, Cambodia, it’s a bridge that’s been crafted by a local using locally available materials.
Crossing the bridge will take you to a less touristy side of Luang Prabang. Walk a little further on from the end of the bridge and you’ll find Wat Xiengleck. Follow the road along the Mekong River and you will find local workshops where you can watch villagers weaving, wood carving and making handmade paper.
Recommended by Jing of Finding Jing
17. Hire a bicycle and explore the countryside
Laos is not really known for cycling compared to its neighbours Thailand and Vietnam. But that is about to change. The real draw for starting a cycling journey in Luang Prabang are the scenic landscapes, laid-back lifestyle, interesting hill tribes and minimal traffic.
Start off by renting bikes from Tiger Trails in Luang Prabang, which costs $10 per day. Then head off to explore the surrounding villages and towns. These towns wake up slowly to the noise of chickens pecking at corn husks and corn boiling over an open fire. Vegetables are often seen being laid out in the open to dry on woven baskets.
Simple wooden houses can be seen along the way, with scores of children usually playing in a nearby field. Passing by on two wheels, you will be thrilled to hear the constant greeting of sabaidee (hello), coupled with waves, claps and cheers from the kids.
Throughout our cycling in Laos journey, it was a treat to see jagged karst peaks and rice fields, similar to the famous towering limestones of Halong Bay in Vietnam. One of the highlights at the start of our journey was the Kuang Si Falls and Phou Khoun, a tiny town that has a beautiful strawberry farm and good camping grounds.
Recommended by Pashmina of The Gone Goat
18. Take a slow boat up the Mekong River
The best way to either arrive or depart from Luang Prabang is on the mighty Mekong River. Taking the Mekong slow boat up river from Luang Prabang to the Laos border town of Huay Xai to cross in to Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai in Thailand is a traveller’s rite of passage.
The slow boat takes two full days to traverse the Mekong, with an overnight stop at Pakbeng mid-way. It’s a lazy way to see the country and explore the river, with varying degrees of comfort available. Locals use the boat too, hopping off at what seem like just rocks by the side of the river and disappearing into the undergrowth with weeks’ worth of shopping.
Shorter day trips on the river from Luang Prabang can be organised through your accommodation or at the docks.
On the budget boats you’ll sit on old car seats, and drift off to sleep with the drone of the engine and the heat of the midday sun. There’s a scramble for accommodation at Pakbeng, although the savvy book ahead.
Booking seats is easy: find an agency in Luang Prabang (there’s no online booking for the Mekong slow boat); be sure to have a transfer to the slow boat pier included in your ticket. Take food also, as there are no good food options at the pier and the boat doesn’t include any lunch stops. And then sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.
Recommended by Sarah of A Social Nomad
Book your boat ride: This full-day slow boat trip visits Kuang Si Falls and Pak Ou caves, plus it includes lunch.
19. Pop into the Pak Ou Caves
A scenic boat cruise down the Mekong River from Luang Prabang, you’ll find the Pak Ou Caves. These famous caves are a historic religious site for locals and are filled with beautiful Buddha statues.
The caves have become quite touristy, and if you visit during high season, especially in the mornings when a lot of tour groups visit, it can be crowded with travellers taking selfies. But despite their popularity, visiting the Pak Ou caves is still a fascinating experience.
The bigger cave has incredible river views and Buddha statues in every corner. There’s also a second, smaller cave a brisk 5-10 minute walk up stone steps. It’s pitch dark, so you need to wear comfortable shoes and bring a torch to explore it.
To visit the Pak Ou Caves, you can book an organised half-day boat trip from one of the tour companies along Luang Prabang’s main street, or charter your own boat, or even bike there! The river cruise along the Mekong to get there is an experience in itself, and takes an hour or two depending on the river currents.
Recommended by Maire of Temples and Treehouses
Best things to do in Luang Prabang at night
Here’s what to do in Luang Prabang when evening falls.
20. Watch the sunset on the Mekong
Sunsets over the Mekong River are truly breath-taking, and the best place to see it in Luang Prabang doesn’t have an entrance fee. If you wander down to the riverside, you can enjoy this spectacular sight without the crowds or the cost.
While backpacking Laos, we were always seeking lesser-known local spots as well as ways to keep our expenses low. So we skipped the usual attraction, and took a few bottles of beer down to the Mekong to enjoy the sunset.
Khem Khong Road runs parallel to the Mekong River, dotted with small piers and restaurants. We found a secluded spot near the Nam Pho Street which is only 5 streets south from the bottom of Sisavangvong Road where the night market is held.
There are picnic tables where you can rest your beers and get your camera ready for the sunset. Just make sure you wear plenty of mosquito spray!
Recommended by Chantell of Budget Travel Babes
21. Wander the Luang Prabang Night Market
After visiting Vang Vieng, we decided to head up to the charming riverside city of Luang Prabang. If you find yourself here and looking for things to do in Luang Prabang in the evening, then the night market is a great place to start.
The market takes place on the main street adjacent to the Royal Palace. Every afternoon at around 4.30pm, vendors start rolling out their mats and tents like clockwork. By 5pm they’re ready to start selling and continue until late, around 11pm.
As well as the normal small souvenirs and trinkets such as fridge magnets, shot glasses and bracelets, you’ll also find plenty of clothing, textiles and paintings. While this isn’t necessarily the best place to shop, it’s wonderful to just wander the market and soak up the atmosphere.
For an easy dinner, street food is also available in abundance.
Recommended by Bradley of Dream Big, Travel Far
22. Eat dinner on ‘Buffet Street’
For a smorgasbord of Lao food at bargain prices, head to the Night Food Market, AKA ‘Buffet Street’ or Veggie Buffet. Separate from the main handicraft night market, you can find it down a narrow alleyway off Sisavangvong Road.
As the name suggests, this is a huge fresh food market where vendors serve up plates of noodles, rice and traditional dishes. There is a wide array of vegetarian and vegan-friendly meals available, making this a great choice for travellers.
Everything is presented buffet-style. For 20,000 kip, you fill up a plate or bowl with whatever takes your fancy then staff will then heat it up for you. There are picnic tables where you can then sit down to eat.
23. Catch a performance at the Garavek Theatre
If you’re interested in history and tradition, then head to the Garavek Traditional Lao Storytelling and Music theatre at 6.30pm for a captivating performance.
Over 90 minutes, an elderly gentleman plays traditional tunes on a pipe while the storyteller shares Lao folk tales and riddles in fluent English. The tales explain the mythical origins of some of the natural landmarks around Luang Prabang, such as the Nam Khan river, Kuang Si Falls and Mount Phousi. It’s wonderful to see this art form surviving in the 21st century despite the plethora of entertainment options we have now.
The theatre is in the same block as Wat Sene, near the Scandinavian Bakery and Big Brother Mouse. Tickets are 50,000 kip and sales start an hour before the show.
The theatre is small (just a room with a stage and 30 chairs) but the environment is comfortable, thanks to the powerful air-conditioning. When it’s sold out for the evening during the peak tourist season, you can get tickets for the next day. During low season, you can turn up just before showtime, but it will be cancelled if there are fewer than five people in the audience.
Recommended by Nicholas of Rambling Feet
24. Go tenpin bowling with the locals
There’s no doubt that there are so many great things to do in Luang Prabang, but above all, what stands out for me is bowling. Yep… tenpin bowling. That may strike you as a bit strange, but stick with me here.
One of the wonderful things about Luang Prabang is its small-town atmosphere. I believe this is in part due to the number of people who arrive after some kind of arduous journey. Whether spending two days on a boat from Thailand or 18 hours on a bus from Vietnam, Luang Prabang isn’t the most convenient place to get to. What this means is as you walk around you recognise so many people and you all have something in common.
One evening a few of us went to a locally famous bar called Utopia. I had first heard of this place while in Phnom Penh, the guy couldn’t remember its name, but he just said, ‘Find the bar with the volleyball court’.
As I entered I had to remove my shoes and was instantly taken in by the calm relaxed feeling. There’s a chill out area with loads of scatter cushions, the famous volleyball court (as mad as it sounds) and a wonderful riverside terrace. However, due to the local curfew, all the local bars must be empty by midnight. Well, all of them except for the bowling alley, apparently.
As closing time arrived at Utopia, so did many tuk-tuks with driver offering rides to the bowling alley. We were unsure what to expect, but felt we had to investigate. I think we were all expecting it to be a club or late-night bar in the middle of nowhere, but no, it was a well-lit, fully functional bowling alley.
We bowled a couple of frames (with no shoes on which was strange), lots of people making friends and having a good time. While it may not be your traditional Lao experience, it’s a great chance to unwind, meet great people and enjoy the wonderful atmosphere of Luang Prabang.
Recommended by Matt of The Travel Blogs
25. Volunteer your time at Big Brother Mouse
If you have some time to spare in Luang Prabang, consider spending an hour volunteering at Big Brother Mouse. This is a wonderful NGO that promotes literacy in Laos by creating children’s books in local languages (including ethnic minority dialects) and offering free language immersion sessions.
English-speaking tourists and visitors are welcome to drop in for a one-off language exchange at their office behind the 3 Nagas Hotel. The sessions are open to adults only, are are mostly attended by university students and professionals from around Luang Prabang.
This is an easy way to give something back during your stay in Luang Prabang – and a unique chance to meet and interact with a local.
Where to stay in Luang Prabang
There is no shortage of hotels and guesthouses in Luang Prabang, ranging from luxury hotels in the city centre through to boutique guesthouses and riverside eco lodges. Here are my personal recommendations for where to stay in Luang Prabang based on price, location and atmosphere.
The superior suites at Mekong Riverview Hotel are some of the finest rooms in Luang Prabang. The riverside location is walking distance from everything, and the all-included breakfast is also one of the best in the city.
Burasari Heritage, also in the heart of the UNESCO Old Town, is another solid choice.
Ock Pop Tok Mekong Villa is located inside the Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Center right on the Mekong. It’s one of the most peaceful spots in the entire city, and as you can imagine, every room is decked out from head to toe in the most beautiful textiles and decor you could imagine!
It’s a bit of a distance from the main part of the city, but guests can take advantage of the free tuk-tuk transfers that run throughout the day (or you can hire a bicycle). Being able to eat at the onsite restaurant is another bonus.
Museum Inn is another great choice of boutique hotel – every room has a beautiful private balcony.
There are dozens of accommodations in this category – Golden Lotus Place stands out for its friendly service and unbeatable location. Rooms are simple, but the excellent reviews from previous guests are a testament to the owners’ hospitality.
For somewhere tranquil to escape to each evening, the NamKhan Ecolodge – Luang Prabang’s finest ecolodge – is nestled in a bend in the river 6km from the Royal Palace.
Rooms are beautifully decorated and the property has everything you need, including a wooden deck overlooking the water where morning yoga classes are held, and a generous outdoor pool. This is a great choice for families in particular.
Best Airbnb in Luang Prabang
How about your own private Lao villa to come home to each evening? Sabai Sabai Estate No. 1 is a traditional wooden house located at the top of the peninsula.
It features a beautiful open-plan floorspace with room for three guests, a modern bathroom (with bathtub) and kitchen, and a hardwood balcony that’s made for watching the sunset over the Nam Khan.
Budget-friendly guesthouse in Luang Prabang
If you’re on a tight budget, a guesthouse can be just as affordable (and much more atmospheric) than a hostel. Vanvisa Guesthouse is set in a multi-generational wooden home down a quiet alleyway in the heart of the city. Rooms are small but comfortably furnished (with en suites), and there are plenty of common spaces, including decks.
I ‘lived’ here for 2 months and got to know the family very well – they are wonderful hosts. They also have a guesthouse at Kuang Si Falls.
Hostel in Luang Prabang
If you prefer a hostel vibe, Sunrise Riverside Pool Hostel is consistently rated the best budget dorm accommodation in Luang Prabang. As the name suggests, the property features an outdoor swimming pool plus a garden bar.
If you’re a solo traveller out to meet other people, this is a great place to mix and mingle.
How to get to Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is 300km (roughly 7-8 hours by road) from the capital, Vientiane. The only way to travel between the two cities is by minivan or coach. Minivans are generally more comfortable and slightly faster. It’s a very long and tiring trip, but the route is very scenic.
Flying from Vientiane to Luang Prabang takes just 50 minutes. Daily direct flights are offered by local carrier Lao Airlines. Check prices here.
From Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng is roughly halfway between Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Travelling by road takes around 3-4 hours and again, minivan or coach are the best options. Pre-book a transfer from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang on Get Your Guide, or use 12GoAsia to check bus times and other options.
What to pack for Luang Prabang
- An anti-theft backpack. Luang Prabang is pretty safe, but petty crime is unfortunately something you still have to wary of in Laos. Invest in an anti-theft day pack and remember to be careful with your belongings whenever you’re in a tuk-tuk or walking.
- A reusable water bottle. Don’t contribute to Laos’ plastic waste problem! A reusable water bottle is absolutely essential – I love my S’Well water bottle for warm climates because it doesn’t sweat.
- Sunscreen. Most face creams sold locally in Laos contain skin whiteners, while international suncare brands such as Banana Boat can be very expensive. I highly recommend bringing a tube (or two) of your favourite sunscreen from home. I recently started using this brand and I absolutely love it. I use this one on my face.
- Entertainment for long minivan journeys. If you don’t suffer motion sickness, an e-reader is great for passing the time. If you have a travel buddy, pick up a headphone splitter – probably my favourite travel gadget of all time – so you can share a screen or a podcast.
- A lightweight cotton scarf. This is my number one travel item for Southeast Asia. A light cotton scarf has a thousand uses: Use it to cover your shoulders when you go inside a pagoda, or cover your mouth when you’re tuk-tuking down a dusty road. I recommend this travel scarf.
- A pumice stone. After a few hours taking your shoes on and off continuously to go in and out of temples, your tootsies are going to get filthy (trust me!). A pumice stone comes in handy for cleansing your feet at the end of the day.
- A copy of the latest Lonely Planet. Published in July 2020, this guidebook for Laos is full of helpful tips.