I completely fell in love when I visited Laos last year. No, not with a person, with a city. Luang Prabang instantly became my favorite place in Southeast Asia. And on my second trip to the region, that hasn’t changed. I wanted to come back to Southeast Asia to explore some parts I hadn’t been (Vietnam & Cambodia), but mostly I wanted to return to Luang Prabang. I landed a gig through Workaway helping out a local guesthouse with marketing in return for free accommodation and food for two weeks. So, I got to call this beautiful city my home for two whole weeks! Aside from working, I spent most of my days the way I did last year: lounging at Utopia bar and visiting the night market. But of course, I also rounded up some new tips on things to do in Luang Prabang for you to enjoy!
1. 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.
2. 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.
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.
Luang Prabang is an important cultural and religious centre in Laos, and the locals 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 in Luang Prabang. Please respect locals custom, despite the heat, and don’t show too much skin (this goes for the men as well!).
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
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