7 Great Things to do in Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang is an idyllic town surrounded by scenic landscapes of rivers, mountains, jungles, and waterfalls. The streets are filled with ancient temples, bustling markets, the occasional French bakery, and of course friendly people with that happy Laos smile.
With a population of under half a million people, and a super laid-back Laos lifestyle, you could easily forget this is the second largest city in the entire country. Nevertheless, this UNESCO World Heritage-listed town does not fail to impress, not even for a minute.
The Nam Khan River, a tributary of the Mekong River, runs east-west through the town. On the south, you will find the ancient town centre packed with Buddhist temples, guesthouses and markets. To the north, across the small wooden walk bridge, there are small semi-rural villages which offer a view into Laos’ authentic lifestyle.
I only spent a short time exploring Luang Prabang, however, I have to say it was one of my favourite towns (or villages) in the Democratic Republic of Laos.
Planning to visit, or already there? Here are some of my favourite things to do in Luang Prabang.
- Explore the Ancient Temples
- Learn Meditation in Luang Prabang
- Attend the Alm’s Giving Ceremony
- Visit the Incredible Kuang Si Falls (Luang Prabang Waterfall)
- Visit the Lesser Known Tat Sae Falls
- Eat, Drink, and Shop at the Night Market
- Enjoy Sunset with a Cold Beerlao
- Where to Stay in Luang Prabang
- How to Get to Luang Prabang
Explore the Ancient Temples
With over 30 temples scattered throughout the town, visiting a temple or two is the most obvious thing to do in Luang Prabang. However, all too often I find myself confused with the huge range of options. Where do you start?
The most iconic temple in Luang Prabang is called Wat Xieng Thong which was built back in the 1500s. This ornate temple is located right up in the north-west corner of town where the Mekong River and Nam Khan River meet.
Wat Xieng Thong is open daily from 8am to 5pm. The entrance fee is 20,000 kip (about USD 2.50), a modest price. Remember to be considerate, dress appropriately covering shoulders and knees, and keep your volume down, as this temple is actively visited by worshippers.
Continue your exploring Luang Prabang by foot with these top 10 temples around Luang Prabang, you’ll be able to walk to most of them within one day.
Learn Meditation in Luang Prabang
If you’ve ever wanted to pick up meditation, then the time is now. As I mentioned, Luang Prabang has over 30 active temples throughout the town, which means plenty of monks. And what do monks do really well? You guessed it.
The easiest (and free) way to learn meditation is to simply ask a monk in the temple to teach you. Walk around town visiting a couple of temples until you find some practising monks inside. They are generally more than happy to advise you, perhaps in exchange for a brief English lesson with you. As a first-timer, a 15-minute meditation session will be enough!
If you want to really immerse yourself in meditation, then you could consider a meditation retreat near Luang Prabang. Most retreats run from 7 to 10 days, so plan your time accordingly. I’d suggest learning the basics of meditation before attempting a meditation retreat in Luang Prabang though, as it’s more challenging than you’d expect.
Attend the Alm’s Giving Ceremony
Five o’clock in the morning is a tough wake up call, especially when you’re on holidays, but sometimes it’s just worth it. Each day, early in the morning, Luang Prabang hosts an impressive ceremony where hundreds of monks walk the streets through town accepting food offerings. This is known as the Alm’s Giving Ceremony.
Locals and tourists are both allowed to make food offerings. Typical offerings include sticky rice or bananas which can be purchased from small stalls in town early that morning. It is not customary to offer money, so arrive a few minutes early to buy some food instead.
The only other place I have seen this is Alm’s Giving Ceremony is in Chiang Khong, northern Thailand.
Visit the Incredible Kuang Si Falls (Luang Prabang Waterfall)
Kuang Si Falls is one of the most stunning waterfalls in Southeast Asia. Right up alongside the Ban Gioc Waterfall in Vietnam and Khun Korn Waterfall in Chiang Rai. Now that’s a pretty bold claim, but once you get there you will wholeheartedly agree.
There are three levels at the Kuang Si Falls, each of which are beautiful, however, the third level is definitely the most amazing. There is another (secret) level which you can access by taking a hidden trail beyond the fence between levels 2 and 3.
Kuang Si Falls is located about 30 kilometres south-west of Luang Prabang. A songtaew costs about 40,000 kip (USD 6) which can be shared by up to 8 people. Be sure to ask the driver to wait at the waterfall for about 2-3 hours while you go explore. Entrance to the Kuang Si Falls is another 20,000 kip (USD 2.50).
Visit the Lesser Known Tat Sae Falls
The Tat Sae Waterfall is located about 18 kilometres south-east of Luang Prabang (the opposite direction to the Kuang Si Falls) along the Nam Khan River. This waterfall is far less discussed than the Kuang Si Falls, so it’s a great option if you want to feel a little more intrepid.
You can either charter a songtaew or rent a motorbike to get to the Tat Sae Falls. Once there a 5000 kip (USD 0.60) parking fee applies, followed by a 10000 kip (USD 1.20) river crossing fare, then a 15000 kip (USD 1.80) entrance fee.
Eat, Drink, and Shop at the Night Market
The Luang Prabang Night Market is located in the centre of town along Sisavongvong Road, which will be closed to cars when the market is running. You will find a wide range of goods from fresh fruit smoothies and street food dishes, to handmade local crafts, as well as the typical imported souvenirs from Vietnam and China. If you want to support the local communities, I suggest picking up a handwoven scarf or other locally made textiles as a souvenir of Laos. Please avoid buying any animal products like the snakes and scorpions in whiskey bottles, or other rare animal parts, as this just encourages the animal trade.
The Luang Prabang Night Market opens daily from 5.00pm and runs through until 10.00pm, while some stores continue as late as 11.00pm. Entry to the night market is free. This all makes it one of the easiest things to do in Luang Prabang for free!
Enjoy Sunset with a Cold Beerlao
It wouldn’t be Laos if you didn’t take a chance to step back from your chilled-out life and really slow down. One of my favourite things to do in Luang Prabang after a big day of exploring is to hang out at Utopia Bar for a sunset beer.
Get to Utopia Bar early enough and you’ll find a seat in the bamboo hut looking directly across the Nam Khan River. It’s north facing and perfectly positioned for the sunset. Arrive late and you might not even find a seat, it’s that popular!
Where to Stay in Luang Prabang
Thongbay Guesthouse (mid-range) – a small family run guesthouse located about 10 minutes’ walk from the Luang Prabang town centre. The air-conditioned bungalows are located right near the Nam Khan River. The Thongbay Guesthouse is a great spot if you want to be slightly away from the busier town centre, yet within easy walking distance.
Satri House Retreat (luxury) – this luxury Laos style hotel is located in the centre of town, just 2 kilometres from Wat Xieng Thong. You’ll love the luxurious rooms and the garden swimming pool at Satri House Retreat which offers a refreshing break from the hot Laos weather.
How to Get to Luang Prabang
Hanoi to Luang Prabang – the sleeper bus from Hanoi to Luang Prabang takes about 26 hours one way. It’s not the most comfortable journey but does well for those on a budget. The bus departs from Hanoi around 5pm (check tickets and timetable).
Chiang Rai / Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang – the popular slow boat from Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang is one of the best ways to enjoy Southeast Asia’s rural landscapes. If coming from Chiang Mai, you will first need to hop on a bus up to Chiang Khong (in Chiang Rai) then board the slow boat. Read a full review of the journey here.
Bangkok to Luang Prabang – there is no train from Bangkok to Luang Prabang, the closest you can get is Nong Khai which is across the border from Vientiane. The best way of getting from Bangkok to Luang Prabang is a flight with either Bangkok Airways or AirAsia (check tickets and timetable).
- Header – Image by Poswiecie from Pixabay
- Alms Giving Ceremony – Image by Poswiecie from Pixabay
- Wat Xieng Thong – Image by Basile Morin [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- Luang Prabang Night Market – Image by Backpacker’s Wanderlust
What did you love about Luang Prabang? Leave me a comment below!