Luang Prabang is located in northern Laos and is built on a peninsula formed by the Mekong River and the Nam Kham River. The city is encircled by mountain ranges and has a small, hippie town vibe. The entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and due to that, there are laws around giant tour buses being able to enter the town—which although touristy, makes the town feel a bit less touristy.
I spent about 3 nights, 2 days in Luang Prabang back in December with my sister on our whirlwind trip around Southeast Asia and fell in love with this place. I loved that it had a laidback atmosphere, but was still filled with lots of things to do. Although I was there with a limited amount of time, I felt like it was a reasonable time to see a good chunk of this town. Here is what I’d recommend you do if you’re short on time, but want to see as much as possible…
Wake up and get ready for a day of adventure in Luang Prabang. When we were in Luang Prabang, we stayed at the Liberty Guesthouse. This hotel was centrally located, inexpensive (starting at $30 USD/night), and you can order breakfast for free every morning off their menu.
After breakfast we headed out with Banana Boat Tours to visit Wat Chomphet off the Mekong River & Kuang Si Waterfalls. Our tour cost us around $55 USD each (cheaper prices available for larger groups). After we had done the tour, we realized that we could have probably done this day trip for cheaper ourselves by just heading to the pier and renting a longboat, but it was nice having a local as a guide and not having to figure things out on our own.
Wat Chomphet is built on top of a hill and offers amazing views of Luang Prabang and the Mekong River. This temple was built in 1888, and although it seemed a bit abandoned looking when we were there, we were the only ones there and it was a very peaceful place. The temple is open daily from 8am-5pm, and be prepared, like many temples in Southeast Asia, to go on a trek to get to the top. Most of the footpath is rocky and then there are about 120+ steps… no good view comes without a challenge.
After your visit here, head back to your boat to go to Kuang Si Falls. These falls can be reached by tuk tuk as well, but it was nice to come in from the river, as it gave it a bit of a more unique feel. We rode our longboat to shore, and then walked with our guide to hop on a traditional mode of transportation—a flatbed truck. They piled my sister and me in the back and we drove through the small villages on the dirt roads to the falls.
When you arrive at the falls you’ll realize its hustling and bustling considering you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. There are places to grab some lunch, or you can head on in to visit the bear rescue centre that they have on the path going into the falls. The falls themselves are a huge tourist destination and many buses will file in with loads of tourists, so try and arrive as early as possible to have the best experience. There are several levels of the falls, so make sure to not only explore the bottom, but keep walking up the path to see more and more of the falls. There’s even a dirt trail that you can climb up to the very top of the falls – but beware that this is a bit more of a hike, I only wore flip flops so I opted out of it.
The falls themselves are beautiful. Take some time to swim, take photos, and just appreciate the peacefulness.
Note: Bring a lunch with you so you can enjoy it at the falls, or if you opt to do this tour, lunch will be provided.
After spending as much time as you can at the waterfalls, head back into town and get ready for an evening of markets and food. Luang Prabang has an awesome night market that runs every single night from 5pm-10pm. It is located along the main road—Sisavangvong Road, and was probably one of the better markets we went to in Southeast Asia. The market has over 300 vendors selling all sorts of goodies.
For dinner, head to the street buffet that is located on a side alleyway off of the main market road. This buffet is $1 USD and is filled with delicious noodles, meats, and everything you can imagine. Definitely take some time to try the delicious foods—I mean, even if you’re not hungry, $1 USD is a pretty good deal for a buffet meal.
Read about this day in Luang Prabang here.
Rise and shine—wake up before the sun and head out to witness an Almsgiving ceremony. Luang Prabang is known to be one of the best places to witness an Almsgiving ceremony due to it being a condensed area with around 34 temples and hundreds of Buddhist monks. The ceremony starts bright and early at around 5:30am. Line up along the main street or outside one of the temples to catch a glimpse of the monks leaving the temples to file out on the streets and collect the offerings from locals. Remember to be respectful of this religious tradition—here are some tips.
After the almsgiving ceremony, grab some breakfast at a local fruit shake and/or crepe vendor and head out for a day of activities… I mean there’s no point in going back to bed now! Walk down to the pier and find a longboat driver who can take you to Pak Ou Caves and a few of the small villages like the Whiskey Village that are on route. Ask your hotel what the typical rate is to pay for a day trip of this kind—we arranged our boat trip with the guy who brought us out on day 1, so he gave us a great price.
The Pak Ou Caves overlook the Mekong River, and are about 25km north of Luang Prabang. They are a group of two caves; one upper and one lower, and are noted as a tourist destination due to the hundreds of small Buddha sculptures that line the caves. Try and arrange to get here early, as eventually boats filled with tourist groups will come. We planned to go right after we had breakfast and ended up being one of the firsts at the caves for the day.
Note: You may want to bring a flashlight or phone to use as light, as the upper cave has no light.
After the Pak Ou Caves, get your driver to hit up some of the villages along the Mekong River on your way back to Luang Prabang’s centre. You can ask the driver which ones he/she thinks are best. Our driver brought us to a tiny village that you could witness many locals making things like scarves and table cloths, and we also stopped in what is known as the “Whiskey Village” as it’s the place where the famous Lao Lao Whiskey is made. You’ll even be greeted by a lady who lets you try some!
Once you’re back in Luang Prabang, you may want to stop for lunch at one of the many restaurants along the Mekong River then take the afternoon to walk around and explore some of the temples and the Royal Palace Museum. Make sure you climb Mount Phou Si, a 100m high hill in the centre of Luang Prabang. There are about 400+ stairs, so prepare yourself, but once you get to the top it’s worth the view of the panoramic Luang Prabang. The hill is a religious site and houses several Buddhist shrines which you can walk around and explore. There are two entrances to climb this hill, so make sure you go up one way and down the other to see everything.
After your day of exploring, head out for dinner at Tamarind. This was a restaurant recommended to us in a Lonely Planet book. I’m not one to really go to the places in these books, just because they’re never really budget friendly, but this restaurant was worth the extra money. Grab some sampling platters and try a bunch of local Laotian foods. The staff in this restaurant will do a great job at explaining what everything is and how to eat each thing the traditional way.
Read about this day on my Luang Prabang trip here.
Have you been to Luang Prabang? What was your highlight?