Luang Prabang is the former capital city of Laos and one of the oldest cities in the world, and the entire old town is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, so of course, there’s never a shortage of things to do in Luang Prabang. From gorgeous natural surroundings, incredible Buddhist temples, delicious food, and a truly fascinating culture, Luang Prabang has everything a traveller could possibly want from a travel destination.
I just spent the better part of a week exploring Luang Prabang as part of the “Oh Luang Prabang, You’re Simply Beautiful” event, and I have curated a list of some of the best activities, excursions, and tours in and around this amazing city.
Here is just some of what to do in Luang Prabang:
1. Mount Phou Si
Mount Phou Si is one of the biggest Laos tourist attractions, and rightfully so. This 355-step climb offers gorgeous views of the sunset along with the city of Luang Prabang in general. Take your time meandering up the winding steps — there are a number of temples you can visit along the way.
2. Kuang Si Waterfalls
Kuang Si is the most beautiful Luang Prabang waterfall you can find. It is a three-tiered waterfall that drops into brilliant blue pools of water. These pools are popular for swimming and cooling off in the hot sun. Just a reminder to be respectful of Lao culture and save the skinny dipping for more remote locales.
3. Buy Yourself Some Bamboo Lao Products
Something often missing from conversations in SE Asia is the sustainability aspect of tourism. Luang Prabang leads the pack when it comes to recognizing tourism’s impact on the environment.
One such example is Bamboo Lao, which fronts the battle against plastic straws in the region by promoting the use of reusable bamboo straws. I had the pleasure of meeting Bamboo Lao founder Arounothay Khoungkhakoune on a few occasions in Laos and again in Thailand, and to hear her story is absolutely fascinating. If you want to know how to get your hands on some of these great reusable bamboo products, here is a list of Bamboo Lao dealers in Luang Prabang that carry Bamboo Lao products.
4. Pak Ou Caves
The Pak Ou Caves is considered one of the holiest sites in Laos. This system of caves contains hundreds of Buddha statues in a number of different positions. Many people go on a pilgrimage to these caves every year, and they are certainly one of the major Laos points of interest.
5. Dinner (or lunch) at the Mekong Riverview Viewpoint Restaurant
Even if you’re not staying at the Mekong Riverview Hotel, it’s worth a trip to their Viewpoint Restaurant for a casual meal and to take in the stunning views where the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers meet. Take a look at their website to see what I’m talking about.
6. Wat Xieng Thong
The Luang Prabang temples are one of the city’s main attractions, and Wat Xieng Thong is its foremost example. At one time, it was the coronation site for Laotian kings. The temple itself is filled with brilliant mosaics and Buddha statues.
7. Wat Hosiang Voravihane
This is another beautiful Laotian temple located in the city’s old town. It features a very intense mural painted along one side. This is where you want to go if you want to see what an active Buddhist temple looks like today.
8. Tat Bak Alms Giving Ceremony
The alms-giving ceremony known as Tat Bak is another Laos must see. Every morning hundreds of Buddhist monks exit their temples to collect their food for the day. You can participate in the alms-giving yourself as long as you’re respectful of the ceremony. That means leave your drone at home (seriously, there was one guy following a group of monks with a drone the day I was there), always give your offering with head bowed, and you should be kneeling or sitting below the monk’s level at all times.
9. Drink Beer Lao
If you like to drink, you should definitely try a Beer Lao during your trip. It’s considered to be one of the finest beers in the region of Southeast Asia. Beer Lao is a cultural institution and drinking it is one of the best things to do in Luang Prabang.
10. All You Can Eat Buffet for 10,000 Kip
Better yet, pair that Beer Lao with an all-you-can-eat buffet for 10,000 kip. (10,000 KIP = $1.17 USD). You can’t miss the signs just off a side-street as you make your way through Luang Prabang’s famous night market.
11. Drink Snake Whiskey
You cannot come to Luang Prabang and not try snake whiskey! It would simply be inexcusable not to. Plus at only 5,000 KIP a shot (that’s about 60 cents US), you’d be foolish to drink only one.
12. UXO Laos Visitors Centre
If you’re looking for some background on why Laos holds the unfortunate distinction of being the most bombed country in the world, then head to the UXO Laos Visitor Centre. The museum details the destruction levelled upon the country during the Vietnam War, and the dangers that still lay with UXO (unexploded ordnance). Every year, numerous Laotian children, as well as adults, are crippled or killed due to the unexploded bombs left dotting the countryside.
13. The Living Land Company Rice Farm
This is the place to go if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a rice farmer. The Living Land Company Rice Farm gives you a full, hands-on experience. You’ll spend a day understanding traditional farming methods, learning about community based tourism, and you’ll even get to plough a field with a water buffalo.
14. Lao Lao Garden
Lao Lao Garden is another one of Luang Prabang’s best restaurants. Unlike many restaurants which mostly cater to tourists, Lao Lao Garden is one hundred percent authentic and very gay-friendly. Their traditional Lao barbecue is especially delicious and so worth it for a fancy yet traditional evening out.
15. Luang Prabang Night Market
You can do some serious shopping at the night market. It’s a good spot to pick up souvenirs, shirts, colored umbrellas, and much more. It’s also considered an easy place for first time hagglers. which means you can get some great deals while you’re there.
I stayed at the lovely AVANI+ boutique hotel in Luang Prabang — it’s situated conveniently next to the Night Market and Mount Phou Si, and the pool or just relaxing on the spacious balcony are both equally inviting after a full day out exploring the city.
16. Bamboo Bridge
This is something you have to check out if you’re wondering what to do in Luang Prabang. Walking across the Bamboo Bridge is the best way to cross the Nam Khan River. Don’t worry, the bridge itself is completely safe. Until rainy season hits that is, when it gets washed away. Locals rebuild it every year when the rains subside.
17. Visit with the Monks
Laos is primarily a Buddhist country, and most men are monks at some point in their lives. This gives you plenty of opportunities to hang out with the monks while you see the temples. This will give you greater insight into Laotian culture, and many monks themselves enjoy speaking with tourists.
18. Ban Phanom
The village of Ban Phanom is considered one of the major Laos attractions as it gives you an in depth look at the ancient art of Laotian textile making. Those who are interested in Laotian culture should definitely give it a visit. The area itself is also quite beautiful and is a good place to go biking.
19. Elephant Conservation Centre
The lovely Elephant Conservation Centre is a sanctuary dedicated to providing a safe place for rescued elephants. It’s a great opportunity to have fun while supporting a good cause. It’s worth spending a couple of nights here to see the elephants up close and get an idea of the odds that some of these fellas were up against. If you get a moment, read all about how the centre recently rescued 13 elephants destined for a zoo in the Middle East. ECC is such a great spot to support if you are in the area.
20. Luang Prabang Library
The Luang Prabang Library is another wonderful place that supports a good cause. When you buy a book from this library, your donation goes to the Lao Children’s Library Boats. These boats deliver books to poor Laotian children and are a great way to give back to the community. Check out the One for One plus 20,000 kip for the Children” Book Exchange as well while you’re at the library.
The “One for One plus 20,000 kip for the Children” Book Exchange is based at the Luang Prabang Library. It is open whenever the library is open. If you are planning on visiting Luang Prabang take a few moments to visit the Book Exchange and exchange/buy a book, or just leave a donation. Just ask the staff at the front desk to help you.
21. Arts and Ethnology Center
The Arts and Ethnology Center is a museum dedicated to preserving the cultures of the many ethnic groups of Laos. Some of its pieces include clothes, jewelry, ancient tools, and religious artifacts. It’s perfect for those who want to learn more about Laotian culture.
22. Wat Long Khoun
Known as “the Monastery of the Happy” Wat Long Khoun is significant for being typical of 19th century temples. It was also a place of meditation for kings before their coronation. Make sure you check out the murals depicting the 547 lives of Buddha while you’re there.
23. Wat Wisunarat
Wat Wisunarat is Luang Prabang’s oldest temple. It dates all the way back to 1513 and also doubles as a museum for religious artifacts. The temple has a very long history, and part of its architecture has some European influence.
24. Nong Khiaw
Nong Khiaw is a charming little village just a few hours away and makes for a great day or overnight trip from Luang Prabang It’s well-known for its limestone caves and mountains. While there, be sure to take one of the longboat tours to make your way to some of the remote villages dotting the river. This is a part of Laos that few visitors get to see. It’s also a great place to go biking or simply to get lost and wander around.
25: Get a Massage at Lao Red Cross
If you really want to relax while you’re on your trip, head to Lao Red Cross. This is a spa where you can get a massage, spend some time in a sauna, and just chill out in general. Also, your support goes to help some of the poorest neighbourhoods in the region.
26: Royal Ballet Theatre
If you’re up for a evening where you get to dress up fancy, then perhaps a night at the ballet is order. Check out the Phralak Phralam Royal Ballet Theatre website for showtimes and further details.
27. Luang Prabang Bowling Alley
Along with being the only bowling alley in the city, the Luang Prabang Bowling Alley is also a great place to hang out and socialize. It’s also the only place where you can drink after the 23:30 curfew, so there is a heavy backpacker contingent present most every night This is a good time to pick up a Beer Lao if you haven’t already.
28. Free the Bears Laos Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre
On your way up to Kuang Si Falls, it’s worth a stop to see the rescued bears at the Free the Bears Laos Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre. The centre has rescued over 30 bears from the despicable bear bile trade since starting its mission. It’s also worth noting that not a penny from the admission price to Kuang Si Falls goes towards the Bear Rescue Centre. So come with some extra Laotian kip to support the program by buying a t-shirt, hat, or other souvenirs. The bears (and the volunteers) will be eternally grateful.
29. Luang Prabang National Musuem
The National Museum is the go-to place if you want to learn more about Laotian history and culture. Some of the exhibits here are several centuries old, and they encompass the country’s entire history. The building itself is also quite impressive as it was once a former palace.
30. Wat Pa Houak
This is just a wee little temple you’ll encounter on your way on to Mount Phou Si. It gets overlooked by many tourists who sprint to the top to check the Mount off their Luang Prabang bucket list, but a stunning and ancient mural greets those who are willing to spend a moment or two venturing inside.
31. Wat Chomphet
The final temple on this list is small and not very well-maintained. However, it’s worth the trip because of the spectacular view you’ll see at the top of the 123 step climb. The city below and the Mekong River are an absolutely incredible sight.
32. Old Quarter
Simply taking a stroll through Luang Prabang’s Old Quarter is an experience in itself. This provides a central hub to many of the temples and attractions in the area. You’ll also get a feel for what daily life is like in one of the greatest cities in Southeast Asia.
33. Sunset on the Mekong River
Finally, no trip to the former capital is complete without watching the sunset over the Mekong River. It’s widely considered one of the most beautiful sunsets you’ll see anywhere in the world. It’s the perfect way to end your vacation in this beautiful Laotian city.
These are a few of the things to see in Luang Prabang, Laos. As you can tell, it’s a truly incredible place with many things to experience. It’s the place to go if you’ve ever wanted to visit Southeast Asia.
NOTE: I was a guest of Tourism Luang Prabang during my stay in Luang Prabang. All opinions and accolades are my own though. I bet you a shot of snake whiskey on it. 😉
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