Luang Prabang is a town in the North of Laos located in a valley where the Mekong river and the Nam Khan River meet. I ended up spending a full week here soaking up its peaceful charm and enjoying the French Croissants. Besides the croissants you can also find the influence of the French colonial period in the architecture. Luang Prabang was the royal capital until 1970 and has a rich cultural history. The many buddhist temples are worth a visit, but if you’re more into nature you also won’t be disappointed. Take at least 3 days to explore the town and it’s surroundings.
1. Almsgiving of the monks in the morning
Start your day early to see the almsgiving of the monks. Before the sun is up the barefooted monks walk down the streets to receive donations from the people. Sakkaline road is the Main Street were tourist go to view this tradition, but it’s worth venturing elsewhere for a more peaceful experience. Tourist swarm around the monks to take their photos and in other streets you’ll be able to observe from a respectful distance. Almsgiving or Tak Bat is an important part of Laos’ culture and it’s worth seeing it, if you enjoy learning about other cultures.
It starts every morning around 6 am, but ask your hotel/hostel to be sure. To respect the tradition it’s important to stay silent, dress appropriately and don’t get in the way of the monks.
2. Climb Phousi hill for sunrise
Since you got up early to see the monks, you might as well make the most of it. Phousi hill is a steep but short climb to the top. The 10 min hike will give you a beautiful 360 view of the city and sunrise over the Nam Khan river. Phousi hill gets extremely busy around sunset, so sunrise will give you a better opportunity to enjoy the views. The top can still be very busy, but if you walk down a bit on the side of the Nam Khan river, you’ll be rewarded with views just as good if not better then the one from the top. You can find the entrance opposite the royal palace, but when we wanted to go up for sunrise it was still closed. You can find an alternative entree point on the side.
3. Stop at a bakery for a croissant
I enjoy trying local dishes, but sometimes you can’t help, but crave something familiar. There’s a few places where you can get a good croissant, but my favorite was the almond croissant from ‘Le Banneton Café French Bakery’.
4. Kuang Si Waterfall
About a 40 min scooter ride away from town you’ll find the breathtaking Kuang Si Waterfall. It’s one of the most popular things to do in Luang Prabang and when you see it’s turquoise pools you’ll understand why. Take a dip in the different blue pools of this 50 meter multi leveled waterfall. I’d advice going early in the morning to get the Kuang Si falls to yourself, before the crowds start trickling in. I ended up going twice, because the first time I went in the afternoon and wanted to enjoy it with less people there. There’s a 10 minute hike to the top of the fall, but the views are more impressive from the bottom.
5. Stop at a restaurant overlooking the rice fields
If you are driving a scooter you’ll see a restaurant overlooking the rice fields on your way to the waterfalls. The perfect spot to take a little break and get a drink or some lunch after your visit to the Kuang Si waterfall
6. Visit Wat Xieng Thong
This temple dating back to the 1560 is one of the most important monasteries in Lao. Wat Xieng Thong is worth a visit, because of its religious and cultural significance, but also for It’s intricate details. The temples are covered in gold and interesting mosaics depicting stories. It’s beautiful at any time of day, but as usual mornings are best. Although I went there in the afternoon and it wasn’t overly busy.
The entrance fee is 20.000 kip.
7. Visit the royal palace and museum
When exploring Luang Prabang, you’ll very likely walk past the royal palace several times. Conveniently located in the center of town, right next to the night market you have to pay it a visit.
In the courtyard you’ll find the former royal palace that is now the national museum of Luang Prabang and the famous Haw Pha Bang temple. The royal palace was the home of King Sisavang Vong and his family during the French colonial era. A visit will give you a glimpse into the life of the king. You’ll also find all kinds of old garments, jewels, instruments and other interesting objects in the museum. One of the rooms you should not miss is the one with murals of Lao life in the 1930s.
Good to know:
- You are not allowed to takes photos or take your bag into the museum. You can take photos outside and there are locker to store your bag when you go inside.
- Dress appropriately. This means covering the knees and shoulders.
- Make sure to check the opening times, because it closes around lunch time: It’s open daily from 08:00 to 11:30 and 1:30 to 16:00
8. Cross the bamboo bridges
There are two bamboo bridges that go across the Nam Khan River. This is only possible during the dry season, because in the rainy season the rising water levels and strong current wash away the bridges. You’re required to pay a small fee to cross the bridge, which will be used to rebuild it for the next season.
9. Watch the sunset at the sunset spot across the bridge
Most people climb up Phousi Hill for the sunset, but if you want to avoid the crowds go to Sunset Viewpoint across the second bamboo bridge. There’s was a local lady selling some beers, but it might be a good idea to bring some drinks with you!
10. See the night market
Around 5 pm Sisavangvong Road goes from quiet to bustling with people, lots of stalls and lights. You can find all types of souvenirs on the market or some lovely snacks. Don’t miss the chance to try all types of local food at the night market or a fresh juice! There is a vegetarian buffet halfway along the street, that only costs 20.000 Kip (2.5 USD) for all you can eat!
Opening Times: The market takes place daily in the city center, from 5 PM – 11 PM.
Where to eat:
Nam Pan Shop: My favorite local place to eat was actually just off the night market. You won’t see the name Nam Pan Shop outside, but you can find the location on google. The owner cooked delicious food for a very cheap price! It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but I had several really good meals there.
Popolo: If you’re craving some western food, this place has great pizza’s. Maybe the best I’ve had in Asia.
Fathima Indian Halal Food: I love Indian food and always appreciate a good curry. Had a great dinner here. Would suggest to skip the paneer, because they don’t have real paneer anywhere in Laos.
Where to Stay
Chitlatda Bila House: It’s not the most social hostel, but it’s cheap, quiet, clean and has a good breakfast included. The location is perfect and the owner is very nice and helpful.
Funny Riverside backpackers: The more popular hostel in town. I ended up spending some time in their social area even though I wasn’t staying there.
Moonlight Champa River view: Looking for a relaxing getaway for two, then this place might be a good option for you!