When thinking back to Luang Prabang our hearts fill with joy: the friendly locals, the beautiful temples and the many plants which grow among the buildings. There is so much beauty all around! Luang Prabang means “the place of the Buddha” and is a sacred place for Lao people. Due to this and its heritage the city is UNESCO protected. With this Guide to Luang Prabang you’ll have the most of this amazing city and its closest surroundings covered.
The city of Luang Prabang is not very big and you would be able to pack it all in 2-3 days, but if time allows it, we recommend spending more days here. Luang Prabang invites you to slow down, just wander around and take in the little things surrounding you. It is the first city we visited on our trip to Laos and made us instantly fall in love with this country.
BASIC RULES WHEN VISITING
We want to start off this Guide to Luang Prabang by mentioning a few rules we came across which we find important to share:
- Lao people speak quietly. Please keep your voice down
- Monks are highly respected. Please don’t touch them (especially not as a woman)
- Please don’t touch sacred items and don’t enter sacred places without permission
- “Head high- feet low”. It is polite to slightly crouch down when passing a sitting person
- Please ask before you take a picture of someone
- Lao people dress conservatively. Please keep this in mind when choosing your outfit
WHAT TO SEE
Wandering through the streets of Luang Prabang you will come across many beautifully decorated buddhist temples. One of the most famous ones in Laos, is the Haw Pha Bang temple. It is located on the Royal Palace Museum’s ground on the foot of Mount Phou Si (continue reading for more information on the mountain). Other temples you shouldn’t miss out on are Wat Mahathat, Vat Nong Sikhounmuang and Wat Xieng Thong. Wat Xieng Thong was built in the 16th century and stands on a buddhist temple complex with several ornately detailed shrines and prayer halls. To enter this site there is a entrance fee of 20.000Kip*.
Bamboo Bridges over the Nam Khan River
To be able to cross the Nam Khan River without having to walk all the way to the main bridge, a local family builds bamboo bridges. These bridges have to be taken down each rainy season as the water gets too high and the current too strong. Once the rainy season comes to an end the family rebuilds these bridges.
If you want to cross the bridge, be prepared to pay a small return fee of 7.000Kip* or 10.000Kip* depending on which bridge you’re looking to walk across. The locals charge this fee to help maintain the bridge and reward the family for their work. We enjoyed walking over the bridge and feeling the bamboo beneath our feet. It can feel a bit unsafe but we haven’t heard of any people falling through 😉
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Kuang Si Waterfalls
If you’ve looked at pictures of Laos you most likely came across this stunning waterfall:
The Kuang Si Falls are located about 30kms outside of the city center. To get there it is best to hire a scooter** or get a seat on one of the many shuttle busses you’ll see on the streets in Luang Prabang. There is a small entry fee of 20.000Kip*. As the falls are a popular tourist destination and are mentioned in any Guide to Luang Prabang it gets quite busy. Therefore, we recommend getting there as soon as the gates open which is 8am. You can swim in some parts of the falls so pack your swimmers!
We hired a scooter** through our accommodation Chitlatda Guesthouse for 70.000Kip*. This was the best deal we could find! Please keep in mind that there is a fee of 2.000Kip* for parking in the parking lot of Kuang Si Falls. For lunch we stopped at the Na Khoun Café which is located on the way. Here we enjoyed a fresh and very delicious Lao style vegetable soup while looking out onto rice fields.
Pak Ou Caves
In the opposite direction of the Kuang Si Falls, about 40kms from Luang Prabang, you’ll find the Pak Ou Caves. While caves are plentiful in Asia, we are happy we didn’t miss out on these ones!
The upper cave is pitch black inside so you’ll have to explore it with a torch (the backlight of your phone does the job just fine). You will find hundreds of little buddha statues inside. However, the second cave has enough daylight shining in and therefore a totally different atmosphere. To enter these caves there is an entry fee of 20.000Kip*. Unfortunately, there are many people begging and trying to sell their goods on the way up to the caves. This can be at the same time heartbreaking and annoying.
We visited these caves by scooter**. To save having to pay another day for the scooter hire, we explored both sights on the same day. If you are used to riding a scooter through Asia this is the best option: you are not bound to a schedule, you explore the area the local way and you save some money compared to the other transport options. Once in Pak Ou Village, you will have to park your bike ( 3.000Kip* at parking area 3) and take a Lao style taxi boat across the Mekong to the caves ( 20.000Kip* return). What a nice change to ride on smooth water rather than the bumpy roads!
WHAT TO DO
Hike up Mount Phou Si
In the middle of the old town you will find Mount Phou Si a sacred mountain with shrines along the way and a small temple sitting on its top. From here you get a wonderful view of Luang Prabang and the surrounding landscape. Mount Phou Si is a popular spot to watch the sunset but as it can get very busy during that time, we recommend walking up for sunrise instead.
There are two staircases leading up the mountain. We started hiking up Mount Phou Si from Kingkitsarath Rd – next to the Nam Khan River (simply copy and paste these coordinates of the starting point 19°53’28.8″N 102°08’20.1″E). Usually, a small entry fee is charged but nobody was waiting to collect money when we hiked up this early in the morning.
Please keep in mind that Mount Phou Si is very sacred to Lao people which should be respected. As mentioned at the start of this Guide to Luang Prabang, please wear clothing which covers your shoulders and knees, speak quietly and don’t drink alcohol when going up to watch the sunset.
Watch the sunset over the Mekong
A great place to watch the sun go down in Luang Prabang is at the Mekong. You can either sit down on one of the many stairs leading to the water or enjoy it from one of the many restaurants near the river with a chill Lao beer in your hand.
After looking at several restaurants, we found Riverside Sunset to be the best one for great views. We recommend walking past in the afternoon and reserving table number 1 to get an amazing view of the sun setting in the Mekong.
Shop some souvenirs at the night market
Every evening from sunset onwards the road in front of the Indigo House transforms into a big market where you can find locally handmade items such as scarfs, paintings (also in pocket size) and lanterns decorated with pressed flowers.You won’t find anything like that in other parts of Laos so make sure to do your main souvenir/ gift shopping here! The vendors are very friendly and open to bargain if you offer them a smile 🙂
Tip: If you like to see how locals produce these items, you can for example visit the Nalongkone Shop (19°54’06.0″N 102°09’07.7″E). You can easily walk there. Just cross the Nam Khan River over the seasonal bamboo bridge (not possible in the rainy season) near the Riverview Park on the northern part of the old town and let Google maps guide you to the above mentioned coordinates. There are many other crafting shops in the area.
Treat yourself to a Spa visit
Walking through the streets of Luang Prabang you will come across various places which offer massages, nail treatments and many other body treatments. Compared to back home in Australia or Germany the costs for these are significantly lower! Take some time out of your day, do something good for your body and fully relax.
We went to the Khmu Spa House and were absolutely content with our experience there. The atmosphere was calming, everything is very clean, the staff is super lovely and you’ll get a complementary cup of Lao Tea to finish your session. For 85.000Kip* we got a Lao massage, foot scrub and pedicure.
Join a yoga class with river view
What better place is there for yoga than outdoors with beautiful views? Daily morning classes are offered at the Utopia Bar & Restaurant. Stretch your body and clear your mind while looking out onto the Nam Khan River. Yoga instructors from around the world hold the classes at 7.30am for about an hour. The cost is only about 40.000Kip*. Click here for more information: https://www.luangprabangyoga.org/class-schedule.html
Help students to learn English
Are you looking for a one-on-one experience with the locals and help students to learn English? Then we have good news for you! The Luang Prabang based organization Big Brother Mouse invites English speaking travellers to volunteer for a day. If you can’t spare a whole day, it is possible to help local children and young adults practice English conversation for about 2 hours. The Big Brother Mouse offers these English conversations twice a day starting at 9am and 5pm. For more information please visit their website: http://www.bigbrothermouse.com/volunteer.html
We helped out for two hours starting at 5pm and practiced speaking English with children from as young as 5 years to 20 year old adults. As there are several volunteers every day, the students split up into small groups. The size of the groups depend on the number of people participating. We were practicing with 2-6 students at a time. It was a very enriching experience as we not only told them about us but got to learn about their perceptions and culture too.
Try some locally made rice wine or whiskey
If you decide to hire a scooter** to visit the Pak Ou Caves which we mentioned in this Guide to Luang Prabang under Things to SEE you should stop on the way at the so called Whisky Village Ban Yang Hai. Here you can taste locally made whiskey and rice wine made out of white or black rice for free. We skipped the stalls along the road, went through the village and found a woman selling these beverages right next to the Mekong (google map coordinates: 20°00’13.0″N 102°13’50.6″E). Our favorite out of the three options was the red rice wine which we bought for 15.000Kip*.
WHERE TO EAT – quick Food Guide to Luang Prabang
- Night market: for local food the night market is your best bet! We found a buffet full of vegetarian/vegan options for only 20.000Kip* per plate. The food was amazing and we returned every night. You will find this buffet in the little alley way past the Indigo House
- Indigo House: this is a great place for western food cravings. We had a veggie burger which tasted absolutely amazing!
- Utopia Bar and Restaurant: Located by the river with comfortable seating it is the perfect place to hang out! No matter which time of the day, you will get delicious food with amazing vegan options. At night it is a great spot to meet people and have a drink!
WHERE TO SLEEP
We recommend reserving one night in advance and booking the others while in Luang Prabang. Booking on the spot is generally cheaper as you pay in the local currency and the owners of the accommodation don’t have to pay commission to the booking portals. When we were traveling (which was in November) there was heaps of availability and we didn’t have any troubles securing our room on the spot.
Walking through the streets of Luang Prabang and comparing the prices and rooms of several accommodations we found Chitlatda Guesthouse to be the best one. For 90.000Kip* we got a private double room including breakfast for two. This was the best value for money we could find. Also the owners were very helpful with booking a scooter and a bus to Vang Vieng for us.
If you are solo traveling and looking to stay in a hostel we found 25.000Kip* to be the best deal. We recommend the Chill Riverside Hostel and Aham Backpackers Hostel.
HOW TO GET THERE
- by plane: Luang Prabang has an international airport. To get from the airport to town you can catch a shuttle bus. These are waiting outside the airport for you and don’t have to be booked in advance. A shuttle to town costs 50.000Kip* per 3 people and drops you off at your accommodation. We entered Asia through Bangkok and flew to Luang Prabang from there
- by bus: if you are already in Laos you can take a bus from Vientiane or Vang Vieng. Many companies offer this service and you can often book it through your accommodation.
- by boat from Northern Thailand: an adventurous way to enter Laos is from Chai Mai in Thailand. You’ll have to take a bus to get to the border and will continue on the Mekong by boat after. Visit the website of Tripzilla to learn more. https://www.tripzilla.ph/chiang-mai-to-luang-prabang-slow-boat/13377
We hope this Guide to Luang Prabang is helpful for your travel planning. Please let us know if you have any questions!
*prices according to what we experienced in November 2019
**riding a scooter in Laos can be dangerous. We saw two accidents during our time here. Please only hire one if you have experience riding a scooter and feel comfortable with it