Luang Prabang is one of those cities that deserves every bit of its reputation. I instantly fell in love with the charming, relaxing and hospitable former colonial town. The city is beautiful, with wellmaintained French Colonial architecture and traditional Lao temples.
The vibe in Luang Prabang is laid-back and indulgent. It is clean, calm and sure, increasingly gentrified, but I’ve never met anyone who didn’t love it. Luang Prabang is a haven for weary backpackers and luxury vacationers alike, who want to unwind and recharge for a few days. Here, you can leasurely explore the countryside, lounge in the waterfront cafes, and enjoy delicious food.
I loved Luang Prabang so much that after my first visit, I decided to come back the next year and stayed for two weeks. The town just has such a warm and welcoming atmosphere and a unique charm. It is easily my favorite city in Southeast Asia and despite the calm vibes, there is plenty to see and experience. Here are my favorite things to do in Luang Prabang:
Check out some of the temples
Luang Prabang is something of a spiritual center in Laos. Buddhism is widely practiced in the country and many families send their sons to temples to receive an education as a monk. As a result, Luang Prabang is home to many beautiful temples, 38 to be exact!
Some of the most impressive are Vat Xieng Thong, Wat Aham, and Vat Chom Si on the summit of Mount Phou Si.
The locals in Luang Prabang (and Laos in general) are quite conservative and modest. I’ve seen a lot of tourists walk around in tiny shorts and crop tops, which just isn’t appropriate here. Please respect locals custom, despite the heat, and don’t show too much skin (this goes for the men as well!).
If you want to know about Buddhism in Laos you can book a tour of Luang Prabang with a monk or a novice through Orange Robe Tours.
Watch the sunset
The most impressive sunset view in Luang Prabang is from the top of Mount Phou Si. But only if you don’t mind sharing it with tons of tourists.
For an equally stunning but more chill experience, head to the banks of the Mekong river for sunset. It’s the same view as you would have from one of the boats, but free. Simply bring a beer and bug spray and enjoy.
Observe the traditional alms ceremony
Every morning the monks living and studying in the 38 temples of Luang Prabang are given alms by the local people. They line up on the main street as the monks walk by and offer them their sticky rice as food for the day.
As a tourist you are welcome to observe and participate this tradition, but please be respectful! You are expected to sit quietly, dress modestly, and it is considered very offensive to touch the monks or be intrusive in any way. Observe the locals to see what is and isn’t appropriate.
Although you can buy food from a vendor to offer to the monks, I do not recommend it. Alms is an important Buddhist ritual and any food offered should traditionally be homemade by the giver. Unfortunately with so many tourists participating, it is losing a lot of authenticity.
The alms giving takes place around 6 am, so be prepared to get up early. You will see seats lined up on the main street for tourists and their guides, but towards the east end of the street it will be mostly locals offering food. You can take pictures, but please keep your distance and do not use flash.
Play in the Kuang Si waterfalls
About an hour (25 km) from Luang Prabang lies the biggest waterfall in Laos. A collection of bright turquoise pools lead up to a 50 meter stunning waterfall. It’s one of the main sights in Luang Prabang so it gets pretty busy, but it definitely worth a visit. It is one of the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever seen and the pools are perfect for a refreshing dip on hot days.
Big groups are best off renting a private van and small groups can hire a tuk tuk. Couples and singles are cheapest off renting a motorbike, but only do this if you are an experienced driver as the roads around Luang Prabang are notoriously tricky and riddled with potholes.
Vist the UXO information centre
Due to the Vietnam war, Laos is the most bombed country in the world. During the war, American troups tried to cut off Vietnamese supply lines by dropping cluster bombs along the Lao – Vietnam border. To this day 80 million unexploded bombs and mines remain. These bombs cause a lot of pain and suffering as people die or get injured when they find them. Lao is a poor country and removing the the bombs and educating locals is expensive. UXO Laos strives to clean these up and educate locals about the dangers. The UXO information centre is well worth a visit. They explain everything about the bombs and how they try to improve the situation. The museum is free, but a donation is greatly appreciated.
Shop at the night market
The Luang Prabang night market is an evening filling experience. It might just be my favorite night market in Southeast Asia, with Pai as a close second. Unlike many night markets in big cities in Southeast Asia, this one isn’t filled with plastic tourist crap. Instead you can find beautiful traditional artisan and handicraft items.
From gorgeous Indigo dyed cloth to jewelry made from bomb fragments and from rice whiskey to reusable bamboo straws, this is where you get souvenirs that your family will actually appreciate. Of course, there are also plenty of key chains and fridge magnets. Be prepared for some serious haggling as vendors tend to overcharge by 50-80%. If you’re willing to negotiate you can get some great deals.
Eat some delicious Laotian food
But don’t just go for the market itself, go there for the amazing street food. The Luang Prabang night market is filled with stalls selling cheap eats. There’s a vegetarian buffet, barbeque, and noodle shops, but my favourite place to eat on the night market (and all of Luang Prabang) is the little noodle stall at the west end of the market. They sell the best Khao Soy in all of Laos in my humble opinion. I’ll be honest, it’s so good that it was one of the reasons I came back to Laos for a second time.
During the day, you’ll see stalls selling sandwiches and fresh fruit shakes. Luang Prabang also has several French style bakeries that sell delicious pastries, like Indigo House.
For more upscale dining, try some of the restaurants along the riverbanks or Sakkaline Road. I personally recommend the fusion dishes at BOUANG. Some restaurants even offer cooking classes so you can learn to make delicious Laotian food yourself.
Check out the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre
Learn about traditional Lao art and culture at the Traditional Arts and Etnology Centre. The museum offers exhibitions on different ethnic communities in Laos: the Khmhu, the Tai Dam, the Hmong and the Akha. The exhibitions showcase traditional crafts and art as well as insight into the culture. A visit to the TAEC museum is a great way to understand the diversity of Lao culture a bit better. It is also a good way to escape the heat in a more meaningful way than shopping 😉
Entrance to the museum costs 25.000 kip but they offer free tours at 3 pm every Tuesday and Friday.
Go out and party
Luang Prabang’s chill vibe caries from day into night at Utopia Bar. Beloved by locals and backpackers this cool bar is the place to be. It is the perfect place to lounge and work during the day (great wifi!), chill at the end of the afternoon and drink in the evening when it really fills up.
Another chill place with a great ambiance (my perfect romantic date spot) is the backyard of Lao Lao Garden with its twinkling lights and candles. The cocktails are cheap, but truly terrible. Or grab a drink flyer at the night market and go to Sakura if you want to get drunk on a budget.
Nightlife in Luang Prabang is on a midnight curfew and all the bars close at 11.30. If you still want to party after this, take a tuk tuk (around 10.000 kip/1 USD per person) to the bowling alley. Yes, a literal bowling alley is the highlight of Luang Prabang nightlife where backpacker go to play bowling (20.000 kip per person per game) and drink until 2 am.
Take a refreshing dip in the swimming pool
The weather in Luang Prabang is generally pleasant but in March, April and May it can get uncomfortably hot. You can always go for a swim in the Nam Khan river, but it isn’t the cleanest or most comfortable swim.
If you feel like lounging poolside for a day, you can go to the public pool La Pistoche. A tourist ticket is 30.000 kip and you can stay as long as you like. The pools are great, they have comfy lounge beds and WiFi. There is also an onsite restaurant if you get hungry (you can’t bring your own food). But the best thing about La Pistoche is the swim up bar with 2 for 1 cocktails from noon to 7 pm! The perfect place to relax and hang out.
Cuddle the animals at the Buffalo Dairy Farm
As you’ll quickly realise, dairy is not part of a traditional Lao diet. There are plenty of cows and water buffaloes in Laos, but they are kept for meat and labor rather than milk. The Laos Buffalo Dairy is trying to change that.
They rent female buffaloes from villages around Luang Prabang and feed, milk and care for them. From the milk they create socially responsible, sustainable and delicious dairy products such as yoghurt, cheese and mozzarella.
You can visit the farm for a tour, to see what they do, meet the buffalo’s and other animals around the farm. There are three tour options available at different price points. Their location is just outside the city, close to the Kuang Si Waterfall, so it can be perfectly combined into one trip.
Help out at Big Brother Mouse
Big Brother Mouse is a bookstore in Luang Prabang that aim to improve literacy and help young locals to learn English and other skills. Between 9 and 11 am and 5 and 7 pm, you are more than welcome to stop by and help them practice. You can stay as long as you like, be it 15 min or two hours. A great way to give back to this amazing city.
If you want to do more, there is an option to volunteer for a day or long term at Big Sister Mouse in the countryside just outside of Luang Prabang.
Have you ever been to Luang Prabang? Did I convince you to put it on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments and if you liked this post, please share it on social media.