10 awesome things to do in Luang Prabang, Laos
From the 33 active golden temples to the turquoise waters of Kuang Si Falls, and the vibrant Luang Prabang night market to the sunset views from Mount Phousi, there are so many awesome things to do in Luang Prabang. Our guide gives you the lowdown on them all!
Crossing the border into Laos, you can actually feel your pulse begin to drop as your body relaxes into a new level of chill.
We’re still not sure what causes this slightly sedative effect - the pockets of pristine nature, the many towns that have a languid riverfront vibe, the calming presence of monks, or the genuine smiles of relaxed locals - all we know is that it’s almost impossible to travel here and not feel like you’re spending your days in a dreamy haze.
While all the areas we saw in Laos (Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Don Det) stayed true to this vibe in varying degrees, if you head north to Luang Prabang you’ll find that the real zen master has stood up - and is a dang good-looking one at that.
This magical ancient former royal city was built on the confluence of two major rivers, the Mekong and the Nam Khan. This is kind of ironic really, when you think about the fact that it’s also a complete melting pot of Lao and French culture; the latter’s influence found in the crumbling French colonial architecture, baguettes, and restaurants throughout the town. UNESCO Heritage status also protects from the rumble of a thousand trucks and buses (they’re banned) rolling through the city - a welcome relief in SE Asia.
It’s hard to describe Luang Prabang, mostly because it’s one of those places that you need to feel for yourself to really understand. Words like ‘serene’ and ‘restful’ flit in between our memories from there - filling the gaps around images of a lush green riverside town, orange-clad monks, and the warmth of locals.
We definitely expected to find a pretty city having seen it described as the ‘jewel of Indochina’ - but did we expect to find such a haven of tranquility? Definitely not, but we’re so glad to have stumbled upon it. Here's our favourite things to do in Luang Prabang, the city of ultimate zen.
OUR FAVOURITE THINGS TO DO IN LUANG PRABANG, LAOS
#1 EXPLORE THE GLORIOUS TEMPLES of Luang Prabang
Yeah ok, temples really shouldn’t be too foreign to a list like this. But what makes Luang Prabang's so special is the general feeling of mysticism that floats through the town thanks to the 34 active (and beautifully gilded) temples in Luang Prabang (called Wats). That is a lotta temple for a little town.
Whatever your spiritual interests are (or aren’t - whatever, we’re not here to judge), weaving your way through the quiet grounds and intricate deep burgundy and golds of the monasteries really is soothing for the soul.
Luang Prabang’s best-known temple, Wat Xieng Thong, was built in the 1500s and is the perfect spot to park yourself in some shade and monk-watch, contemplate Nirvana and soak up the serenity. If you’re lucky, you might also stumble upon a wedding photoshoot (we did!) and get the chance to witness some beautiful traditional costumes.
There’s also an incredible mosaic of life on the western wall which really can’t be missed.
Opening hours | Access to temples varies for each, as many are still active institutions
For Wat Xieng Thong, the public opening hours are 8:00am - 17:00pm every day
Cost | you'll be required to pay an entrance fee at some temples in Luang Prabang.
Wat Xiengthong's entrance fee is 20,000kip (~USD$2.50)
Dress | These are religiously significant sites and should be treated as such - both males and females, please be respectful and cover your bare arms and legs.
Reviews | Check out Tripadvisor reviews of Wat Xiengthong here
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#2 ENJOY THE COLOURS OF THE LUANG PRABANG NIGHT MARKET
South East Asia is a haven for markets, and Luang Prabang has one of the best - the colourful and lively night Evening Markets, which take place from 17:00 - 23:00 in the centre of town. Hill-tribe traders and local vendors emerge selling all the usual products, including incredible wood carvings, handicrafts, jewellery (it's the perfect place to load up of traveller wristbands), lighting, clothing, and other knick knacks. As is the case with most markets in the region, bartering is normal - play hard but fair and haggle politely.
The Luang Prabang night market is a wonderful place to photograph as the streets are alive with colour and people, however remember to be respectful and always ask before you take a portrait.
Opening hours | 17:00 pm - 23:00 pm every night
Location | Luang Prabang night market is on Sisavangvong Road, right in the center of town
Cost | Free to wander, food is very inexpensive too
Pro tip | You can avoid the crowds by getting there early (around 17:00), but the best time to visit is 8pm when the vibe makes it a fun night out.
Be careful of pickpockets and barter hard, but fairly, for the best prices.
Reviews | Read Tripadvisor reviews of the Luang Prabang night market here
#3 EAT TO YOUR HEART'S CONTENT IN BUFFET STREET
Buffet street, just off the main Luang Prabang night market, is a backpackers dream - a narrow laneway just off the night market filled with a market style buffet, with tasty local dishes ranging from fish and meat dishes, to vegetarian.
You pay for a bowl, and then pick what you want - couple it with a beer and you're all set. The seating is communal, which is perfect to meet fellow travellers and exchange stories over a decent meal.
Opening hours | Same as the food market
Location | The buffet laneway is just off the main night market on Sisavangvong road
Cost | All you can eat for 10,000 - 20,000 kip (~USD$1 - $2.50)
Pro tip | Steer clear of the meats - we were struck down with food poisoning as a result of eating some dodgy sausage. Fish is okay though!
#4 WATCH THE Luang Prabang ALMS GIVING CEREMONY
Monks and zen go together like temples and incense, and probably the most iconic image of Luang Prabang is that of the saffron-robed barefoot monk on the daily morning alms collection rounds.
Before dawn, hundreds of barefoot Buddhist monks walk single file through the city collecting sticky rice donations from the local lay people. It’s a hugely important aspect of Laos' culture, and it’s truly magical to witness - as long as you do it right. If you’re thinking of going to watch, check out our guide on participating in the alms giving ceremony without being disrespectful.
Times | Sunrise, every day
Location | The alms procession begins in the main street of Luang Prabang before fanning into side streets
Cost | Free to watch, offerings can be purchased for a small fee
Dress | If you decide that you're going to participate in the ceremony, your shoulders, legs, and chest need to be covered
Pro tip | We cannot stress enough the need to be respectful during this ceremony. Please don't take bus tours, or accompany groups with megaphones that disrupt the service, or dress inappropriately.
Reviews | Read other travellers' reviews of the morning alms ceremony on Tripadvisor now
#5 WATCH SUNSET FROM MOUNT PHOU SI
100 metres above the centre of the old town, Mount Phousi (also known as Mount Phu Si) is the boss when it comes to the Luang Prabang skyline. Right on the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, the hill offers up 360-degree views of the town, golden pagodas, and the fog rolling in across the layers of distant mountains.
We gotta tell you, despite the seemingly endless amount of stairs (over 300!) to the top, it's pretty bloody enchanting.
Mount Phousi also serves as a sacred religious site for Buddhists (in fact, Phou Si means 'sacred hill'); halfway up the hill (on the Nam Khan side) is Wat Tham Phou Si, and at the summit is Wat Chom Si, a buddhist stupa where many go to watch the sunset each day.
Speaking of sunsets, Mount Phousi is probably the most popular spot to watch sunset from each day in Luang Prabang - so be sure to climb those stairs early to avoid having to jostle with hundreds of other tourists trying to get 'the shot' from the top. Read our comprehensive guide to Mount Phousi here
Opening hours | 5:30am - 6:00 pm every day
Accessibility | Unfortunately, the only way to the top of the mountain is via two stairways on either side of the hill (each with over 300 stairs).
If you have mobility and access issues, you may not be able to participate in this one.
Cost | Entrance to Mount Phousi is 20,000 kip (~ USD$2.50)
Pro tip | It’s also extremely popular with the sunrise/sunset worshippers, so if you’re there in the late afternoon unfortunately you’ll have to be prepared to watch part of your sunset through the screen of someone else’s phone or camera
Reviews | Check out what other travellers' thought of Mount Phousi on Tripadvisor here
Luang Prabang's sacred mountain: our comprehensive guide to Mount Phousi
#6 ADMIRE THE BEAUTY OF KUANG SI WATERFALL
For a landlocked country, a surprising proportion of what’s awesome about Laos revolves around water, with Kuang Si waterfall no exception.
After all, how many waterfalls have you seen that boast a 50-metre cascading drop into three-tiered azure swimming holes? Probably not many, if any.
When we say the water at Kuang Si waterfall has to be seen to be believed, we’re not exaggerating. Turquoise, azure, whatever you want to call it, Kuang Si is like swimming in the sky. Hike up to the top (appropriate footwear is key to success here), and you can actually stand in the waterfall, about a metre back from the lip (PSA for the mums out there - there is a barrier keeping all safe and sound!). We've put together this ultimate guide to Kuang Si falls, with all the tips to help you plan your own visit!
There is also a small market at the entrance to the falls, stocking food and souvenirs. The Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center is also based here, and you'll walk through the grounds to get up to the falls themselves
Plan your trip to Luang Prabang's #1 attraction: the ultimate guide to Kuang Si Falls
Opening hours | 8:00am - 17:30pm every day
Transport | 45 minutes by Tuk Tuk from Luang Prabang to get to Kuang Si waterfall.
You can go by shared tuk tuk (around 50,000kip), hire a bike or scooter, or jump aboard a minivan tour
Cost | 20,000 kip (~$2.50) entrance fee.
Pro tip | We definitely recommend visiting Kuang Si waterfall early (8am), before the hoards of tourists arrive.
After 11am, it becomes extremely busy. For those wanting to swim, there are changing facilities.
Reviews | we've never met anyone who disliked Kuang Si, but check out Tripadvisor for other travellers reviews too
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#7 YOGA, CYCLE, OR WANDER THROUGH THE CITY
Given the lack of major traffic on the roads, this is the perfect place to hire a bicycle or lace up the walking shoes and really spend some time exploring the surrounds. There’s something to discover down every almost-french laneway, and a cycle to the hills around the town will leave you in utter awe.
Of course, Luang Prabang wouldn’t be complete without some meditation and a little ‘om’ - so check out the cooperative of independent yoga teachers and get your yoga on in some of the city’s most beautiful spots.
Cost | Walking is free, unsurprisingly, while you can hire a bike for around 15,000 - 40,000 kip (~$2-5) per day from town
Yoga is around 40,000 kip (~$5) per hour long session.
Safety | While cycling in Luang Prabang is generally pretty safe, always wear a helmet and keep your wits about you.
Always travel with adequate travel insurance too - we recommend World Nomads.
#8 cook + EAT all the food in luang prabang (and the drinks too!)
On the whole, we found the food in Luang Prabang to be pretty dang delicious (although, we did end up picking up a parasite towards the end of our stay which was less than ideal...!). We're also firm believers that the best way to inhale the atmosphere of a place is to inhale its delicious food - and a step up from there is to learn how to cook said delicious food too.
If you’re going to take a cooking class in SE Asia, Luang Prabang is the place to do it. French/asian fusion flavours abound, and you’ll want to be taking some recipes home to re-live food nirvana in your very own kitchen.
We recommend Tamarind, and restaurant and cooking school in Luang Prabang that operate (almost) daily classes and are renowned for their quality.
Tamarind Restaurant opening hours | 11:00am - 21:00pm Monday to Saturday
Tamarind Restaurant Location | Kingkitsarath Rd, Luang Prabang
Cost | 285,000 kip (~USD$35) for a full day class incl. market tour (9:00 am - 15:00pm Monday to Saturday)
215,000 kip (~USD$25) for an evening class without a market tour (4:30 pm - 8:30 pm Monday to Saturday)
Reviews | Read Tripadvisor reviews of Tamarind Cooking Class here
#9 SIP A COCONUT MILKSHAKE AND READ BOOKS AT L'ETRANGER
There's no shortage of cute/cool cafes in Luang Prabang, and our favourite was L'Etranger Books and Tea on Kingkitsarath Rd. Beautiful designed with French and Asian influences, it's the perfect place to relax and enjoy a tea, or our favourite - the coconut milkshake.
It's also a book store where you can buy new, or exchange old books - which is great for backpackers looking for a new read.
Opening hours | 7:00 am - 10:00 pm Monday to Saturday, 10:00am - 10:00pm Sunday
Cost | Slightly more than the rest of Luang Prabang, but still affordable for any budget!
Shakes ~20,000Kip, meals between 30,000-50,000Kip
Reviews | See what other travellers thought of L'Etranger on Tripadvisor now
Pro tip | L'Etranger also do movie nights, so if you're after a relaxing night out with a side of Hollywood blockbuster, this is your place.
#10 UTOPIAN NIGHTS BY THE RIVER AT UTOPIA BAR
Admittedly, the Luang Prabang's Utopia Bar is a very tourist-centric hangout (and alcohol is probably not overly close to the original definition of ‘zen’), but once you’ve melted into the cushions and pillows scattered about on the floor and outdoor areas of this popular bar, ordered a nice cold Beerlao, and caught up on the day’s happenings, you’ll see exactly why it’s on this list.
Opening hours | 8:00am - 12:00am every day
Location | Kingkitsarath Rd, Luang Prabang
Cost | Beers from 15,000 kip (~$1.50)
Pro tip | Due to the nightly curfew that extends through Luang Prabang, Utopia closes at midnight.
Don't fret, the party kicks on at the infamous 'Bowling Alley' - we promise it'll make more sense when you're there!
how to get to luang prabang
Luang Prabang has an International Airport with regular services operated by major airlines. Check Skyscanner now for the best Luang Prabang flight deals to get you there.
It's really easy to get around Laos via the bus network - though we recommend only travelling during the day due to road safety concerns. The main route through the country is Route #13, travelling from Luang Prabang through Vientiane, Savannakhet and Pakse to the Cambodian border. The travel times between major stopping points are as follows:
- To Vientiane - 10 hours
- Vang Vieng - 6 hours
- Xieng Khouang - 8 hours
- Luang Namtha - 8 hours
- Nong Khiaw - 3 hours
- Pakmong - 2.5 hours
- Vieng Kham - 5 hours
Need to book accommodation in Luang Prabang?
Accommodation to suit any budget can be found in Luang Prabang, from luxury hotels right through to dorms in budget backpackers.
Luang Prabang is a firm favourite on the backpacker trail through Laos, and for that reason, great hostel accommodation can be found throughout the city. Check Hostelworld for available hostels in Luang Prabang now.
Airbnb is definitely growing in popularity in Luang Prabang. Use our Airbnb code to get £25 off your next booking!
Luang Prabang travel guides
We never travel without our trusty, dogeared second-hand copies of a Lonely Planet guide. They make for great bus reading, and while some information can change rapidly in this online world, ours really haven't let us down yet. Pick up your Laos Lonely Planet guide now
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