The beautiful old capital city of Luang Prabang in northern Laos is a true gem in Asia. Having first visited in 2010, I was charmed by its peaceful, calm streets lined with cute French colonial buildings. I’ve loved every visit to this enchanting destination, so in this Luang Prabang Travel Guide I cover all of the essential things to know before visiting. I’ll cover how to get to Luang Prabang, where to stay and of course, what to do and see. So read on and get planning your own trip to Luang Prabang, Laos.
Luang Prabang Travel Guide: Practical Information
Luang Prabang is located in the moutainous north of Laos on a peninsula, where both the Mekong River and Nam Khan River meet.
The city feels like nowhere else I’ve been to in South East Asia. And despite its mesmerising charm, it is still not yet overcrowded by tourists.
In fact, one of my very favourite things about Luang Prabang is the lack of motorised vehicles and noise on the streets. Luang Prabang is such a relaxing place to visit, with both tourists and locals existing in harmony. There’s no hassle, no tacky tourists gifts and no honking of horns. Are you sold yet?
And whether you’re visiting Laos as a backpacker (check this guide to Laos backpacker travel tips here!), a family holiday, or on a romantic couples trip – you’re guaranteed to have a great time.
For a small town, there’s a surprising number of things to do in Luang Prabang, from waterfalls, to temples to exciting markets. But before I get to the best activities to do, I thought I’d include a practical guide to Luang Prabang:
When to go to Luang Prabang
The city is a great year-round destination. The best months to visit are between November and February when it’s warm and dry. In the summer months (June to September), Laos, like most of South East Asia has its rainy season. The heavy rains don’t tend to last for more than an hour but they can make the rivers dangerous and roads impassable. The temperature can also be sweltering during this time, but you may score better value deals on accommodation in town.
Getting to Luang Prabang
Back in 2010, when I first visited, there was no airport.
You had two options, the epic slow boat journey from Northern Thailand, or a long bus journey from there or from Southern Laos. Most travellers to Luang Prabang used to come from Northern Thailand (Chiang Mai or Pai), with the slow boat being the most popular option.
Today, there’s now a small international airport in Luang Prabang. Airlines such as AirAsia and Thai Airways connect Luang Prabang with other destinations in Asia, including Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Getting around the town
Luang Prabang’s centre is wonderfully compact and you can walk everywhere. However, you’ll need a tuk tun to go to some of the nearby sites outside of the town centre.
You may want to hire bikes and you can most likely do this at your hotel. Otherwise, there are bike rental shops all over town and one day hire is around 30,000 LAK (£2.50).
To organise a tuk tuk to visit some of the attractions a little further afield, you can either ask a local driver in the street or ask at your hotel.
Where to stay in Luang Prabang
There is no shortage of small, family owned guesthouses in the town. Many of them are nestled behind the main street offering beautiful views of either the Mekong or Nam Khan River.
We stayed in MyLaoHome, a locally owned guesthouse with a strong focus on giving back to the community.
I’ve stayed here twice now. The first time, I stayed in its capsule pod hostel over the lane, and the second time in a private room within the main building. Its location is perfect, down a quiet laneway leading to the Mekong and just a stones’ throw from the main street. It is also really close to two of the best coffee shops in town (Joma and the Chang Kham Bakery).
Otherwise, I’ve selected some of the best luxury hotels in Luang Prabang here:
- Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao
- Sofitel Luang Prabang
- 3 Nagas
- Maison Souvannaphoum Hotel
- Avani Luang Prabang
And some of the best value hotels here:
Best things to do in and around Luang Prabang
Go temple hopping
There are more than 30 active temples in the town. Tourists are welcome to explore many of these, as long as they are respectful and cover up inside.
One of the most opulent and largest temple complexes in the town is Wat Xieng Thong. A temple of great historic importance, the structure has characteristics of 16th-century Lao architecture, together with elaborate mosaic patterns and wall carvings. This is where royal coronations traditionally took place, and his temple offers a fascinating insight into the Buddhist religion.
Admission cost: 20,000 LAK (£1.72)
Explore the quaint streets and Mount Phousi
The French colonial architecture in Luang Prabang is colourful and quaint, and walking around the town centre is a joy. Along the main street, make sure to stop at Mount Phousi. This is the highest hill in Luang Prabang. There are 300 stairs to the top, but it is worth it for the views over the surrounding area and the Mekong River.
Enjoy the local cafe culture
One of my favourite things about Luang Prabang is the excellent coffee shops and bakeries. Waking up to the aroma of freshly baked bread is wonderful.
My favourite cafes include Joma Bakery, the Chang Kham bakery and the Ock Pop Tok Silk Road Cafe.
A little slice of Europe amid temples, monks and the Mekong river – perhaps I’m charmed by the unusual contrast. Either way I love it.
Enjoy the Kuang Si Waterfalls
The beautiful Kuang Si waterfalls are one of the most popular attractions in Laos.
Located around 30km from the centre of town, they’re one of the top things to see in Luang Prabang.
If you can, go on a weekday when it’ll be less busy, and definitely arrive early for fewer crowds. Make sure to check this guide on visiting the Kuang Si Falls here.
In the winter months, the water temperature may be a little cool. In the summer months, you can easily spend a full day jumping in and out of the water.
The water is more turquoise in winter months when the water levels are lower and the falls are more gentle. In the summer months, the water often towns brown as it churns up the mud from the bottom.
Admission cost: 20,000 LAK (£1.72)
Tuk-tuk from town: 30,000-40,000 LAK (£2.60-£3.45)
Or book your tour to Kuang Si Waterfalls by tuk tuk here in advance.
Befriend the Moon Bears
At the entrance to the waterfalls, there is an amazing bear sanctuary, the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre. Home to a fascinating group of Moon Bears, it’s definitely worth stopping by. The bears are so playful and amusing to watch.
Watch a sunset by the Mekong River
Enjoy a drink at one of the many riverside bars and cafes and catch another beautiful sunset. Alternatively, head out onto the Mekong for a sunset river cruise. Book a sunset boat trip here.
Watch the daily alms giving ceremony (Tak Bat in Laos)
Each and every day before sunrise, the town’s resident monks leave the temples and walk down Sakkaline Road in the heart of town. It’s one of the most iconic images of South East Asia.
Single file, the robed monks walk barefoot along the streets to collect food alms in their basket.
Not only is it a hugely important aspect of Lao culture and daily life in Luang Prabang, but a really interesting and unique way to participate in the town’s activity.
Any tourist is welcome to purchase sticky rice alms donations and join in at the side of the road.
Just remember to be respectful. Turn your camera flash off and don’t try to speak to the monks.
Savour the sights, smells and sounds of the night market
Every evening between 5 to 10pm, hill-tribe traders and local vendors come to the main street (Sisabvangvong Road) in Luang Prabang.
South East Asia has many night markets, but Luang Prabang’s is up there as one of the best, in my opinion.
The displays are beautiful, where you can buy everything from hand-painted art, wood carvings, jewellery, clothing and other local handicrafts.
Everything is great quality, but don’t try and haggle for a hard bargain. The Laos people are highly unconfrontational and will shy away from heavy bartering!
The night markets in Luang Prabang are a great spot to capture photos as the streets are so lively and full of colour.
Tuck into the local food
Luang Prabang has some really excellent Laos and French restaurants. You’ll be hard pushed to find many other cuisines in the town.
There’s no shortage of excellent restaurants in the centre of town. My favourite restaurant is Tamarind. This lovely local restaurant aims to educate its guests on Lao cuisine through informative menus and the staff are happy to explain each dish.
They offer a number of set platters offering an array of Laotian dishes. Make sure to try the the herbed steamed fish served in a banana leaf – incredibly delicious!
Explore along the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers
As mentioned, Luang Prabang is a small town located on a peninsula, with the tip being located at the confluence of the two rivers.
Not only can you take a dip in the rivers either side, but you can cross them by bamboo bridge and explore the villages opposite.
Spend the day with elephants at MandaLao
One of my favourite days ever was spent at Mandalao Elephant Conservation, near to Luang Prabang. A truly ethical experience, Mandalao have rescued animals from logging or the tourism trade and given them peaceful, safe homes at Mandalao.
You can join small groups for various elephant engagement activities, but absolutely no riding takes place at Mandalao. Read more about my wonderful experience at Mandalao here.
Enjoy a Lao cooking class
Why not learn to cook up some delicious Lao dishes? Cooking classes are always a great way to immerse yourself in the location culture, and Laos is no different. Learn to cook local dishes such as mok pa (steamed fish).
Ask your hotel or drop into one of the tourist stalls in town to arrange a class.
Chill out at Utopia bar
Luang Prabang offers very little in terms of nightlife, but the hip hangout at Utopia is the best the town has. Overlooking the Nam Khan river, this bar is a great spot for a daytime beer and chill. Or later in the evening, its the best drinking spot in town.
Luang Prabang Travel Guide
So there you have my Luang Prabang Travel guide to the top things to do and see in this beautiful area. I hope this guide proves useful and that maybe I’ve inspired you to visit this gorgeous island on your travels! If you’ve already been to Luang Prabang, let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear from you!
If you’re travelling around the country, read this post on backpacking Laos and make sure to check out my guide to my Mandalao Elephant experience. Vientiane is the capital and largest city in Laos, located around a 6 hour drive away. I’d recommend visiting here too – here’s a great guide on the best things to do in Vientiane to help with your planning.
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Disclaimer: This visit to Luang Prabang was entirely paid for by myself. There was no involvement from the tourism board or a hotel. This is an independent guide.
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