Day 1 – Peaceful Luang Prabang
Start the trip at a slow pace. Luang Prabang is a UNESCO world heritage site and, as a result, all trucks and buses are banned from the city center. Enjoy the peacefulness, and serenity, on day 1!
1. Watch the Monks Almsgiving ceremony
Every morning, at sunrise, hundreds of barefooted Buddhist monks leave their temple. Lined-up, they walk down the streets in their saffron-colored garments, collecting sticky rice donations from the local people. Alms-giving, or Tak Bat, is an important and meaningful part of Laos’ culture and is an essential thing to do, while in Luang Prabang.
Observing and participating is allowed, but it is important to act respectfully. Therefore, follow these following guidelines:
- Dress appropriately- shoulders, chest, and legs should be covered.
- Observe from a distance- don’t walk into the way of the monks, and make sure flash is turned off on your camera.
- Make sure to stay absolutely silent- enjoy the serenity!
Time & Location of almsgiving: Every day around 6 AM at Sakkaline Street. Ask your hotel for the exact timing for that day.
2. The Luang Prabang Morning Market
Directly after almsgiving, make your way to the morning market, located next to the Royal Palace. Here you will find three streets filled with fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs and so on.
In Luang Prabang, the early morning is the prime time of the day for locals, to watch the almsgiving and to shop for fresh produce for the day ahead. Because of this, by visiting the market in the morning, you’ll get a real flavor of the local culture and a relaxed way of living.
Next up is finding a delicious breakfast. As a former French colony, it’s not only the architecture that they influenced, the coffee and bakery culture is very much alive in Luang Prabang. Enjoy this surprising element of Laos life by grabbing a delicious croissant and coffee at Novelty or Saffron Espresso.
4. Wat Xieng Thong
Wat Xieng Thong is the oldest temple (Wat) in Luang Prabang. There are over 30 temples spread throughout the city but this is the most popular one.
During the morning, you’ll have the chance to spot the young monks cleaning the streets around their temple and secretly playing around when their teacher isn’t paying attention.
Inside the courtyard, you’ll find stunning architecture, covered in gold and detailed decorations, that shimmer in the sunlight. Look out for the intricate mosaic wall art that covers the temple, and guess what the stories behind the pictures might be.
Any time of day is beautiful to see the temple. However, at sunset, the orange colors illuminate the gold even more. Whether it be in the morning, day, or night, there is always a real sense of serenity and peace here.
5. Wat Pa Phai
Wat Pa Phai is a smaller, lesser-known, temple in the center of Luang Prabang. It is a beautifully peaceful place to spend a few moments, due to its quiet location, tucked away down a side street.
It isn’t as admired or famous as the other temples in the area, which can be found on the pages of many guidebooks. However, this almost makes it more special, for its secrecy and anonymity.
Wander around the temple, admiring the impressively detailed artwork, symmetrical gold decoration and surrounding pink flowers. Even better, there is no entrance fee!
Day 2 – The Nature of Luang Prabang
Time to explore Luang Prabang’s outskirts. Have another delicious breakfast, sort a motorbike for the day, and get ready for some adventures. First-up: waterfalls!
6. Kuang Si Falls – Luang Prabang Waterfalls
There is no doubt that the absolute top thing to do in Luang Prabang, is taking a dip in the turquoise waters of the Kuang Si Falls. The 50-meter high fall has multiple tiers, allowing you to swim in various different creamy blue pools. Therefore, consider the following options:
- Hike up for a swim at the top. The climb takes about 15 minutes. (Advised to wear proper shoes)
- Swim at the rock pools opposite the big waterfall. We would say the top hike wasn’t worth it, but that might have been because we visited in the dry season.
- Try out the rope swing, located at the pool nearest the entrance.
How to get to Kuang Si Falls
Plan to spend an entire morning at the waterfall. This is because, it’s roughly a 40-minute drive by motorbike, tuk-tuk, or shared van, so it’s good to make the trip worthwhile.
Additionally, it’s a large area, with plenty to do, so you won’t want to rush. The trees shadow the pools, so this natural spa is an incredible place to spend a few hours.
Bear Rescue Center
At the exit of the waterfalls is the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center, which helps to rescue bears from the threat of poaching. However, the way they choose to treat, and display, the bears is not something that we support.
One example of this is witnessing employees and tourists shouting at them to make them look into the cameras, or simply to get their attention. We understand a place like this supports the park financially, however, we can’t support it.
7. Luang Prabang Night Market
After a day of exploring, the Luang Prabang Night Market is a great place to slow down. At sunset, Sisavangvong Road transforms into a charmingly lit, colorful street, filled with tents, selling different items. For example, clothing, wood carvings, jewelry, textiles, and various other knick-knacks. Because of the French influence, there are also numerous stands that sell delicious baked goods, and crepes!
The markets in South East Asia are some of the best in the world and Luang Prabang’s Night Market definitely lives up to these expectations. Additionally, as in every market, bargaining is common practice, which is always a fun thing to have a go at whilst in Asia!
Opening Times: The market takes place daily in the city center, from 5 PM – 11 PM.
8. Street food market
On a side road, leading off from the main night market is an enormous street food market that you cannot miss. Countless stalls set up their seating in the narrow alley, selling coconut pancakes, rice/meat/fish skewers, fresh fruit shakes and so much more.
There is a vegetarian buffet halfway along the street, that only costs 20.000 Kip (2.5 USD) for all you can eat! We were very grateful to be told about this by a Salt in our Hair reader (thanks again), as otherwise, we probably would have missed out on this fantastic thing to do in Luang Prabang!
Day 3 – Rivers and Mountain tops
9. Royal Palace, Luang Prabang
The Royal Palace in the center of town is absolutely beautiful. The open courtyard is free to enter, however, you will have to buy a ticket to enter one of the buildings. If you are interested in learning about Lao history, and culture, then check out the National Museum of Luang Prabang here.
Also featured within the courtyard, is the impressive Haw Pha Bang Temple. The temple is widely accepted as the most beautiful, and iconic, of all the temples in Luang Prabang.
10. Bamboo Bridge
Only a few months a year, you are able to cross the bamboo bridge over the Nam Khan river. In the rainy season, the strong current, and high water levels of the river, wash away the bridge. In the dry months, it’s worth seeing to catch a glimpse of the monks crossing the rickety bridge- a scene that makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time!
Cross the bamboo bridge, where you’ll find a craft shop named ‘Garden of Eden’ and a lovely restaurant that overlooks the river.
11. Sunset at Mount Phousi
Close off your time in Luang Prabang, with an incredible sunset on top of Mount Phousi. Mount Phousi is located right in the middle of town, opposite the Royal Palace entrance.
The short 10-min walk to the top is relatively easy and brings you up to the temple. The hike will reward you with a 360-degree view of Luang Prabang and a sunset view of the Mekong River.
At the start of the stairs, you will need to pay a small entrance fee. We advise against buying the birds that are being sold for good luck – this is complete superstition and animal abuse.
Restaurants in Luang Prabang
Typical Asian classics, blended with French Colonial influence, makes for an awesome fusion of foods in Luang Prabang. Beautiful restaurants line the streets, with mouth-watering street food stalls only a stone’s throw away. Because of this, there are plenty of options for travelers to choose from. These were some of our favorites:
- BOUANG Asian Eatery (Fusion)
- Two Little Birds Cafe (International Breakfast)
- Popolo Restaurant (Italian)
- Saffron Coffee (Delicious coffee & cake)
Where to stay in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang has lots of affordable accommodations throughout the city for any kind of budget.
Getting to & getting around
Slow Boat – Taking a slow boat from Thailand to Luang Prabang is a great way to see local life and beautiful wildlife from the Mekong river. Travel to Chiang Khong (north Thailand) and cross over the river to Huay Xai on the Laos border. Apply for a visa here, before later boarding the boat. The slow boat is true to its name and will take 2 days of traveling down the Mekong river, with an overnight stop in Pak Beng.
The boat is very basic, and although food is sold onboard it can be expensive. For this reason, it’s best to bring your own food with you. You can arrange travel to the slow boat yourself, but for ease, it’s best to book through a travel agency, who will be able to include transfers to the border.
Flights – Luang Prabang has an international airport just 10 minutes away from the city center. Check for flights here. Once you arrive at the airport, a shared taxi to the city center costs 50.000 Kip (5.5 USD) per stop. This means that if all of you are able to get out of the taxi at the same location, you’ll be able to split the costs.
Getting around Luang Prabang
The center of Luang Prabang is very walkable. Buses and trucks are not allowed, which makes the streets quiet and accessible. The only need for transportation, is when travelling outside of town.
Bicycle – Rent a bicycle to get around town. Most hostels offer them but there are many rental shops in town as well. A good bicycle costs around 25.000 Kip (3 USD) per day.
Motorbike – Rent a motorbike if you need to cover more distance. The roads around Luang Prabang and towards Kuang Si Waterfall are safe to drive. Expect to pay 80.000 Kip (9 USD) per day.
Tuk-Tuk / Taxi – Alternatively, pick a taxi or tuk-tuk if you want to reach areas that are further away.
Best time to visit Luang Prabang
November to March is the best time to visit Luang Prabang. It is dry, and the temperature is cooler (27°C) than the rest of the year. From March to May, there’s no rain, but the humidity is high, and temperatures rise to 40°C.
Between June and September, it can rain a lot, and floodings have been known to occur occasionally.
Is Luang Prabang Safe?
There is no need to be concerned about your safety, as Luang Prabang is a very safe city. Many backpackers and travelers have visited the city without any problems. Use your common sense, leave valuables at your hotel, keep an eye on your wallet & phone. The biggest scam you might face is paying too much for a tuk-tuk. Ask your hotel what a normal price should be, so you know what to bargain with.