Situated near the famous Mekong River and surrounded by lush green mountains, Laos’ crown jewel, Luang Prabang is one of the most popular destinations in the country among tourists and locals alike. From the breathtaking turquoise blue waterfall, to traditional herbal saunas and massages, this UNESCO World Heritage city offers an abundance of things to do and to make sure you don’t miss out on any of it, here’s our list of the best things to do in Luang Prabang, Laos, as well as some general info such as the best time to visit, how long to stay, and where to stay.
Best Time to Visit Luang Prabang
The best time to visit Luang Prabang is during the dry season from November to February when the weather is cooler and dry. However, this time of year is also high season which means there will be plenty of tourists, and prices for accommodation will be on the higher end. If you don’t want to visit during the rainy season, and want to skip the crowds, consider traveling during shoulder season, from September to October or March to April.
How Long to Stay in Luang Prabang
There are many beautiful things to see in Luang Prabang, so if you don’t want to rush through, and want to enjoy the laid back atmosphere, we recommend a minimum of 4 days. Four days may be a tight schedule, but you’ll get to experience all the highlights in Luang Prabang.
How to Get to Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is located in north-central Laos, about 300 km north of the capital, Vientiane, and can be easily reached by air, land, or boat.
1. By Air
Luang Prabang has well connected flight routes to many major cities in neighboring countries. Flights from Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Siem Reap, and of course Vientiane fly into Luang Prabang’s international airport (LPQ) frequently. Popular airlines flying into LPQ are Lao Airlines, Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways, and Vietnam Airlines.
2. By Bus
Bus rides to and from Luang Prabang are exceptionally long and the roads are very curvy. Unless you absolutely have to, we do not recommend taking the bus as the ride is very unpleasant.
3. By Boat
If you are coming from Northern Thailand consider taking the boat to Luang Prabang. There are two options, either the speed boat which gets you to Luang Prabang in 6 hours or the slow boat which gets you there in 2 days.
Most travelers chose the slow boat as it is the safest and most peaceful option. The slow boat leaves from the border town of Huay Xai and makes an overnight stop in Pakbeng.
Where to Stay in Luang Prabang
Whether you want to stay in the old town and be in walking distance to everything, or stay in the outskirts of the city center, there are plenty of accommodations in Luang Prabang to fit every budget. Here are our top picks for the best places to stay in Luang Prabang.
Spoil yourself with a luxurious stay at one of the most exquisite hotels in Luang Prabang, Satri House Secret Retreats. Previously the residence of Prince Souphanouvong, this colonial-style five-star hotel has everything you need for a relaxing trip, oversized balconies to watch the everyday life of locals, spacious bathrooms with rain showers, a garden bar, 2 outdoor pools, and a spa. What more can you ask for?
Situated just 5 minutes from the famous night market and city center, Villa Oasis gives you all the comfort and tranquility without the steep prices. Built around a pond and garden, you can relax by taking a stroll through the beautifully landscaped greenery, reading a book in the library, or hanging out in the pool.
Backpackers and budget travelers looking for a cheap, clean, and social place to stay should book a bed at Chill Riverside Backpackers Hostel. It is rated as one of the best hostels in Luang Prabang. Located near Mount Phousi in the city center, the hostel offers clean dorms with ensuite bathrooms, amazing breakfast, a garden, and a terrace overlooking the Nam Khan River.
For more accommodation options in Luang Prabang check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates in town.
Best Things to Do in Luang Prabang, Laos
1. Kuang Si Waterfall
From Semuc Champey in Guatemala to Reach Falls in Jamaica, we have seen some breathtaking waterfalls during our travels, but it is Kuang Si that has secured the number one spot. Rated as one of the “most stunning natural sights in Southeast Asia”, Kuang Si Waterfall is the undisputed must-see tourist attraction in Luang Prabang, and easily the highlight of everyone’s trip.
Located about 45 minutes from Luang Prabang city center, there are several ways to get to the falls: by bicycle ($2-3 USD for day rental), by hiring a private tuk tuk or minivan (~$30USD), by scooter/motorbike (~$5-15 USD for day rental), or with a guided tour. We recommend this tour to Kuang Si if you don’t want to worry about the logistics of how to get there.
What to Pack: Swimwear, towel, a dry bag, proper shoes (hike to the top is muddy), food and water, waterproof camera (waterproof camera is crucial for taking the best shots at Kuang Si), sunscreen, and bug spray.
Entrance Fee: 20,000 kip
2. Kuang Si Butterfly Park
During your drive to Kuang Si Waterfall you will without a doubt see some butterflies, but if you want to see them up close and personal, we recommend stopping by the Kuang Si Butterfly Park (just 300 meters from the waterfalls) to look in awe at these gorgeous creatures in their natural habitat. The park hosts over 1,200 butterflies and is well designed with gardens, steams, and a natural fish spa. The 15 minute optional tour provided also makes this attraction an informative and educational one. It’s a great activity to do in Luang Prabang for families.
Entrance Fee: 40,000 kip
3. Pak Ou Caves
Two hours upstream the Mekong River, on a rocky cliff facing the Mekong lies the popular attraction, Pak Ou Caves. The walls of the two main caves are decorated with thousands of buddha statues of all sizes, shapes, eras of life, and positions. It is a sight to see!
The best way to get to the Pak Ou Caves is on a boat cruise, as that way you get to experience life along the Mekong river and see Laos beautiful scenery from a boat. You can take a public ferry in the morning for 65,000 Kip, charter your own boat for 300,000 Kip (if you do this option, go in the afternoon to avoid the crowds), or go on an organized tour which usually includes more activities than just the Pak Ou Caves. You can book a tour to the Pak Ou Caves here.
Entrance Fee: 20,000 kip
4. Royal Palace
The Royal Palace was once Laos’ Royal Palace but is now a museum which houses historical artifacts depicting Laos’ history and royal families. The palace compound has several buildings you can visit for free, including the Haw Pha Bang (the Royal temple which was built to enshrine the country’s most sacred Buddha image, Phra Bang), the Royal stables, the Royal theater and a building that houses the royal car collection. The Royal Palace Museum is the only thing you have to pay to enter on the compound.
Entrance Fee: 30,000 kip
5. Pha Tad Ke Botanical Gardens
An interesting thing to do in Luang Prabang for nature and plant lovers is to discover the incredibly diverse flora of Laos at Pha Tad Ke Botanical Gardens, Laos’ first and only botanical gardens. Located across the Mekong, in the jungle, Pha Tad Ke is a 40 hectare property divided into 10 beautifully landscaped garden areas with over 1,200 plants.
Here you can walk and relax among the plants, learn about them and how they are used in everyday life, create something at their handicraft workshop, and enjoy a tea tasting, all of which is included in the entry ticket.
Entrance Fee: $25 USD
6. Bamboo Bridge
Luang Prabang is home to two unusual bridges, but the one that gets the most attention is the one made of bamboo which crosses the Nam Khan River. This bridge is unique because it’s made entirely of bamboo and ropes, no nails. Plus, it exists only a few months out of the year. Each year the bamboo bridge gets washed away during the rainy season and is then carefully reconstructed by a local family to be used in the dry season (November to March). The 5,000 kip crossing fee goes to help the annual rebuilding.
Entrance Fee: 5,000 kip
7. Sunset Cruise on the Mekong River
The Mekong River, Southeast Asia’s largest river, which flows through multiple countries including Thailand and Vietnam is an attraction in and of itself. The best way to experience the scenery and life along the Mekong is to take a slow boat ride. There are many ways you can cruise along the river, whether that be taking a boat ride to the waterfalls, to the Pak Ou Caves, or to local villages, but the most popular way is on a sunset cruise. Sip a beer, sit back, relax, and watch the beautiful sunset. Now, that’s the perfect end to a day in Luang Prabang.
8. Mount Phousi
Perched 150 meters above the city center is the spiritual and popular attraction, Mount Phousi. Though there is a temple at the top, most visitors climb the 350 steps to marvel at the stunning views of Luang Prabang and its surrounding countryside. People tend to climb up Mount Phousi for the sunset or sunrise, but we recommend skipping that as it’s crowded, filled with mosquitos, and you’ll probably end up watching the sunset/sunrise through someone else’s camera.
Entrance Fee: 20,000 kip
Recommendation: If you want to see the sunset without the crowds, a better alternative is to take a sunset cruise on the Mekong or head to Ock Pop Tok cafe outside of town, both are much more peaceful and enjoyable.
9. MandaLao Elephant Conservation
Seeing elephants is one of the most sought after activities in Southeast Asia. However, it’s not always possible if you want to do it in an ethical manner that does not cause the elephants any harm. Luckily, interacting responsibility and ethically with elephants is one of the top things to do in Luang Prabang, thanks to one elephant sanctuary, Mandalao, which rescues elephants from lodging industries and riding camps.
At their 500-acre property, sanctuary elephants can roam free unchained, and visitors can trek through the jungle alongside them, and connect with elephants in the most natural way possible, this means no bull hooks, no riding, and no chains. If you want to see elephants responsibility, you should definitely take a tour with Mandalao.
10. Tad Sae Waterfall
Tad Sae Waterfall is another amazing natural wonder near Luang Prabang with impressive turquoise falls which can only be reached by boat, making it the perfect little adventure to retreat into nature. Since Tad Sae is a little lesser known than Kuang Si, you won’t see many tourists, however it is popular with the locals during the weekends. If you visit during the weekday, you’ll practically have the falls to yourself.
From swimming and sunbathing to ziplining, there are many things to do at Tad Sae, however please don’t participate in animal activities such as elephant riding as these animals are being harmed just for our entertainment. Tad Sae waterfall is a seasonal waterfall and is best seen during the rainy season, from August to November.
Entrance Fee: 15,000 kip
11. Wat Xieng Thong
Wat Xieng Thong is one of the oldest and most richly decorated temples in Laos. The complex has over 20 structures and shrines including the most impressive, the congregation hall, also known as the sim. The entire structure is extensively decorated with intricate gold stencilling on black lacquer, while the back of the building has a colorful mosaic of the tree of life. Other must visits on the complex includes The Chariot Hall and the Chapel of the Standing Buddha.
Entrance Fee: 20,000 kip
12. Alms Giving Ceremony (Tak Bat)
Tak Bat is a unique ceremonial event which takes place every morning in Luang Prabang where hundreds of trained Buddhist monks and novices leave their temples to receive alms from the local people of Luang Prabang. Though this is “quite a sight to see”, please understand that this sacred ceremony is for locals and the monks and is not a tourist attraction. It is not the place to be rude, loud, or obnoxious while trying to capture the “money shot”. Tourists are turning this ceremony into a circus, so if you choose to observe this sacred ritual, here is how to do it respectfully:
- Don’t participate unless you’re Buddhist – Would you go to Sunday mass if you weren’t Catholic? Probably not.
- Don’t go with an organized tour – They are the most obnoxious, toting blaring microphones, chasing the procession, and interrupting it to take pictures.
- Observe from a distance – Observe from across the street. Do not follow the possession or interrupt it to get your “picture perfect instagram shot”.
- Observe in silence
- Dress appropriately – This is a religious ceremony, so wear the same clothes you would in a temple, i.e. no shorts or tank tops. Your shoulders, chest, and legs should be covered.
- Don’t use flash – If you decide to take a picture do not use flash, it’s considered disrespectful.
- Don’t talk or make physical contact with the monks
13. UXO Lao Visitors Centre
Did you know that between 1964 to 1973 the US flew more than half a million bombing missions over Laos, dropping over 270 million bombies into the country, making Laos the most bombed country in the world? Did you know that 80 million of those bombies failed to explode upon landing and are still exploding to present day, still killing or maiming the people of Laos almost 60 years later?
No? Neither did we. Just 30 minutes at UXO Lao Visitor Centre will open your eyes to the terror this country had to endure and how, to this day, people are still losing their lives or limbs because of this secret war waged by the U.S.
The UXO Center in Luang Prabang, which is free to visit, is a true testament to the ills of war and the long-term effects it can have on a country and its people. It’s also a great place to learn about this secret war through artifacts, testimonies, and documentaries as well as see actual bombies (deactivated). Though not often added to most “things to do in Luang Prabang” lists, no visit to Laos is completed without a visit to an UXO center.
Entrance Fee: Free
14. Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center
The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre (TAEC) is a non-profit center dedicated to celebrating and preserving the diverse ethnic groups in Laos. Visitors can discover more about the people of Laos through their museum which features traditional handmade clothing and textiles, musical instruments, household tools, and more. Throughout the year they also host cultural events such as handicraft demonstrations, ethnic music performances, and talks. Free tours of the museum are available every Tuesday and Friday at 3pm.
Entrance Fee: 25,000 kip
15. Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham
Located right next to the Royal Palace, Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham (Wat Mai) is one of Luang Prabang’s largest and most exquisitely adorned temples. With five tiered roofs, adorned with golden Naga finials, detailed golden reliefs depicting scenes from village life, the Ramayana and Buddha’s penultimate birth, detailed black and gold stenciled columns, the wooden sim (congregation hall) in Wat Mai is easily the most spectacular structure there. It is said that the beauty alone is the reason this place escaped destruction by the Chinese in 1877. Wat Mai’s impressive size, aesthetic beauty, cultural importance, and great location makes it one of the best places to visit in Luang Prabang.
Entrance Fee: 20,000 kip
16. Heuan Chan Heritage House
If you want to see how a traditional Laotian House looked during the 19th century, a visit to Heuan Chan Heritage House is a must. Heuan Chan Heritage is a traditional Lao house which dates back over 100 years. Today it is a museum and cultural center where visitors can discover the authentic way of life in Luang Prabang through sampling food and drinks, visiting the museum, and taking one of the many workshops.
Entrance Fee: 15,000 kip
17. Visit a Traditional Handicraft Village
Visiting traditional handicraft villages around Luang Prabang is a unique way to learn about Laos’s famous handmade products. Discover the art of silk and bamboo weaving, natural dying, and more directly from the locals. Here are some popular villages around Luang Prabang.
- Ban Chan – Ban Chan produces a variety of clay pottery including vases, flower pots, and figurine. They also produce bricks and terracotta tiles. From town the village is a 10 minute boat ride across the Mekong River.
- Ban Phanom – The Tai Lue village is known for its woven products which are often sold at the night market.
- Ban Xang Khong – The village specializes in producing silk and Saa paper (paper made from the bark of the Saa Tree). It’s located two miles from Luang Prabang.
- Ban Hat Hien – Not far from the Luang Prabang Airport is the blacksmith village which specialises in machetes and knives.
18. Stroll Through the Old Quarter
Strolling through Luang Prabang’s Old Quarter is an attraction in itself. The UNESCO World Heritage town is a beautiful example of the fusion between Lao and French culture and architecture. Wander through the city center and admire Lao-French buildings, say “sabaidee” (hello) to the friendly Lao people, grab a bite to eat from a street vendor, and take in the atmosphere of Luang Prabang.
19. Traditional Storytelling at Garavek Theatre
Every evening from 6:30pm – 7:30pm, Laos’ legends, stories, and folktales are brought to life at a small theater in Luang Prabang known as Garavek. The tales are animatedly told in English through a simple two-man show which is accompanied by khene, a handmade bamboo mouth organ (Lao-style lyre). As the show recounts legends of how Mount Phousi and the Mekong River came about, you will quickly understand why this show is a must-see in Luang Prabang.
Entrance Fee: 50,000 kip
20. Traditional Lao Dance Performance at the Royal Ballet Theatre
Discover more about Lao culture through traditional dances, music, and costumes at the Royal Palace in the city center. The show is a slow-moving traditional dance performance of Phra-Lak Phra-Lam, the Lao version of the sacred poem, the Ramayana. The dance is put on by a 60 artists troupe, accompanied by a 10-piece Lao orchestra and takes place in the garden of the Royal Palace Museum.
21. Devour Traditional Lao Food
Food plays a huge part in Laos culture so why not take part and devour these must-eat dishes while exploring this UNESCO World Heritage City.
- Khao Niaw (sticky rice) – A staple eaten with every meal, with your hands, and is often eaten with a jeow (dipping sauce).
- Laap (minced meat salad) – Stir-fried minced meat salad cooked with shallots, chillies, fish sauce, lemon juice, sticky rice powder, a lot of fresh mint, and cilantro.
- Sai Oua – Smoky sausage stuffed with pork, seasoned with lemongrass, galangal, kaffir leaves, shallots, cilantro, chilies, and fish sauce.
- Khao Jee Sandwich – A french baguette filled with lettuce, tomatoes, pickled veggies, lunch meats, pate, pork floss, and a chili garlic sauce.
- Khao Soi – Noodle soup dish with a bolognese-like meat sauce made of pork and fermented soy paste.
22. Donate Books at Luang Prabang Library
Opposite Wat Mai in the city center is the Luang Prabang Library. The library helps children in rural villages improve their literacy by donating books via their tuk-tuk Library. While in Luang Prabang, you can help support this cause by purchasing a book to donate to the children in the rural villages. Learn more about how you can help on their website here.
23. Learn How to Cook Delicious Lao Food
You’ve eaten delicious Laotian food during your trip to Luang Prabang, now it’s time to throw on an apron and learn how to make it yourself. If you want to learn how to make delicious Lao food, there is no better cooking class in Luang Prabang than Tamarind Cooking School. We thoroughly enjoyed our class and couldn’t recommend it enough.
This half-day experience begins at the local market where you’ll explore and experience the sights and sounds of the local market while learning about ingredients used in Lao foods. From there, the experience continues with a ride outside of town to a secluded area where you will learn to cook in an open air kitchen. In two hours you’ll learn to make sticky rice, jeow, laap, Mok pa (fish steamed in banana leaves), as well as the secret art of stuffing lemongrass. The best part is you get to eat it all! If you are searching for a truly authentic Luang Prabang experience, this cooking class is a must.
24. Herbal Sauna at Lao Red Cross
Seeking a relaxing activity? Then there is no better activity in Luang Prabang than getting an herbal massage and sauna treatment at Lao Red Cross. While getting your message and steaming up in the sauna, know that your money is helping support some of the poorest neighborhoods in the region. The entire experience is a simple yet authentic one, popular among locals. With that being said, we recommend going when it first opens as the sauna gets crowded quickly.
25. Break Curfew and Go Bowling
When all the bars, restaurants, and stores close down for the mandatory 11:30pm curfew, there is only one place to go to have some late night fun, the Luang Prabang Bowling Alley. Everyone in town heads to the bowling alley to drink beer or a bottle of cheap Lao whisky, and of course to bowl the night away.
26. Free Movie Nights at L’Étranger, Books & Tea
Cushions, low tables, and saa paper lamps all set the mood for a perfect movie night at L’Étranger, Books & Tea. Every night at 7pm you can enjoy a non mainstream, but still highly rated movie at Luang Prabang’s first bookshop. The movie is free to see and the friendly Canadian owner just asks that you order a drink or a meal.
27. Shop and Eat at the Night Market
Looking for souvenirs or the perfect gifts? Head to the night market where you’ll discover hundreds of sellers offering handicraft goods such as bamboo straws, jewelry, ceramics, clothes, handbags, and more. If you don’t want to shop, head towards the end of the night market and down into an alleyway where you can stuff your face with Lao food such as grilled fish, spring rolls, khao soi, and more. The night market starts around 5pm on Sisavangvong Road.
28. Take a Workshop
Luang Prabang is one of the main centers for handicrafts in Laos. From silk and bamboo weavers, to blacksmiths and pottery experts, Luang Prabang is one of the best places to take a workshop and learn how to make anything from a bamboo basket to a machete. After all, there is no better souvenir than the one you make yourself. Some popular workshops include: scarf weaving, knife making, Hmong embroidery, Lao wine making, and crossbow making.
29. Explore the Morning Market
The Luang Prabang morning market is a great place to eat interesting and authentic food and shop for local produce all while taking in the vibrantly colorful market atmosphere. Be on the lookout for some food favorites like grilled honeycomb, crispy fried mung bean cake, and Khao Piak Sen. The vendors start setting up before sunrise and close shop by 9:30-10am, so if you don’t want to miss out, be sure to get there early.
30. Take Part in a Lao Festival
Laos celebrate many Buddhist festivals which are fun, beautiful, and majestic. If you are lucky enough to be in Luang Prabang during one of these festivals you should definitely partake, the locals would be happy to have you. Some important must-see Buddhist festivals in Luang Prabang are Pi Mai Lao (Lao New Year), Boun Lai Heua Fai (Festival of Lights), Boun Xuang Heua (Boat Racing Festival) and Kin Chiang (Hmong New Year).
As for when these festivals take place each year, there are no exact dates as they are based on the Buddhist lunar calendar which changes each year.
Luang Prabang is a phenomenal city and we hope after doing all the best activities in Luang Prabang, you’ll understand why this charming UNESCO World Heritage City is a must-visit destination in Southeast Asia.