Flying into Luang Prabang in Laos is breathtaking. All you can see is mountains for miles and miles, and you can’t even spot the little town until you are a few meters above the airport.
Visiting this unique town several times, I’ve stayed in everything from local guesthouses to 5-star hotels, tried lots of restaurants, and experienced all the sites, so this guide of ideas and useful tips will hopefully suit any budget to make sure a trip to Luang Prabang is on your Southeast Asia bucket list!
Laos And Luang Prabang
Laos is a small landlocked country, bordered by Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and China. It’s a rugged, mountainous and green country with a population of around seven million people. The Mekong River flows through Laos with villages built along the river who rely on its resources.
Laos, in general, is often overlooked by most touring South East Asia, which makes visiting an even more wonderful experience with fewer crowds, more authenticity, and a chance to experience untouched nature.
There are so many wonderful small villages to visit in Laos, as well as the capital of Vientiane, but if you are passing through, there is only one place you can’t miss and that is Luang Prabang in Northern Laos. The town itself is a UNESCO heritage site and its very easy to see why.
French colonial architecture intertwined traditional Lao styles gives the town its unique fusion of the two cultural traditions in the form of well-preserved temples, buildings, and streets. It’s an absolutely exceptional place to walk around where you can really feel like you are back in colonial Asia.
Most of the buildings are traditional wooden structures, whilst the temples are made from stone.
Luang Prang is located on a peninsula where the two rivers of Nam Khem and the great Mekong meet and bamboo bridges are built, washed away, and built again each year to connect the lands across the rivers.
Mount Phosi & Temples
Luang Prang was the royal capital of Laos until 1975 and it is home to many temples. After a mercenary army from China destroyed much of the town in the 1800s, the temples were rebuilt to their original standards with multi-tier roofs in the shape of serpents, thought to protect Buddhists from harm.
There are endless temples to choose from but our favorites were Wat Sensoukaram, Wat Nong Sikhounmang, and Wat Aham. All have different influences, styles, and colors which makes temple-hopping interesting and breathtaking.
Wat Chom Si is a temple located on the top of Mount Phousi and this famous viewpoint is well worth a visit for sunset. It’s about 300 steps which can be difficult on a hot day so make sure you pack water and of course your camera for some photos overlooking Luang Prabang and the rivers.
Giving Alms To The Monks
A wonderful immersive experience is to “give alms” to the hundreds of monks who walk the streets in the early morning to collect food. This is a longstanding tradition dating back to the 14th century and absolutely fascinating to participate in.
Monks do not eat after noon and they rely on offerings from the local people for food and drinks. Visitors are welcome to buy some food in advance of the ceremony and kneel alongside the local people before the monks arrive with their baskets.
It’s recommended to buy your own food instead of participating in tourist traps where some locals sell overpriced and sometimes, rotten food to tourists. It is also etiquette to dress with shoulders, chests, and legs covered and keep your head bowed, as a form of respect to the Monks.
This does mean setting your alarm early at around 5 am in order to give offerings to the monks as they pass through the village for food collection at sunrise.
Kuang Si Falls
Only a 45-minute drive away is the beautiful Kuang Si Falls, based in a National Park. This is a perfect morning trip to see some of Laos’ nature and mountains and take a refreshing swim!
Driving To Kuang Si Falls
You can easily hire a tuk-tuk from anywhere in the town although I would advise hiring a van as the road is very bumpy and uncomfortable in a tuk-tuk.
Usually, the tuk-tuk drivers will happily take you to their van if you request to be driven that way and it should not cost more than $25 return for as long as you’d like at the falls. If you are on a budget you can get there for around $5 if you choose a group tuk-tuk but bear in mind it will be a wait until the tuk-tuk is full, as well as being restricted on time at the Falls.
Another option is hiring a motorbike but unless you are very experienced on a bike, I would advise against this as the road is bumpy, twisty, and very slippery in the rain.
Walking The Falls
When you get the falls, it will take about thirty minutes to walk around the lower pools and take in the beauty. For a longer walk, you can continue to hike up the falls for another 45 minutes to see the waterfall from a different perspective.
It’s perfectly fine to swim in most of the pools and any prohibitions will be clearly marked. The pools are very chilly but refreshing on a hot day. Beware of the small (and some big!) fish who live in the pools and love to nip away at the dead skin on your feet!
When To Go
The biggest tip – go early. We left at about 7.30 am to get there right as the falls opened.
There were only a couple of other groups wandering around and it was the perfect time to have the pools to ourselves and take some photographs without crowds in the background. By the time it hits 9 am, busloads of tourists will arrive and the ambiance of the place is completely changed.
Free The Bears Sanctuary
A great addition to this trip, which many people do not know about, is the walk up to the falls. Here you will see bears in enclosures and find out about “Free The Bears”, an incredible organization that I previously worked within Cambodia.
This organization saves sunbears and moonbears from the exotic pet trade and from the cruel bile harvesting industry. It is an amazing experience to see these bears up close in a safe place where they are being rehabilitated before going back to the wild.
As you are on your way, be sure to buy a t-shirt or hat to make a donation to this great cause!
Local Village Day Trips
After visiting more temples than you can count, it can be nice to take a day trip and see what else the surrounding areas of Luang Prabang have to offer, we decided to get off the tourist trail and book a full day trip to see some of the surrounding villages and local handicrafts in the area.
We booked with a wonderful company called Vidotour and the guide picked us up at the hotel early in the morning and brought us to our riverboat for the day. Plenty of water and fresh fruit was provided as we boated down the mighty Mekong and took in the views of the landscape around us, spotting wild elephants drinking from the river and wild goats strolling along the shore.
Ban Xieng Mene
Our first stop was Ban Xieng Mene. This village is famous for pottery and we recognized the pottery style from restaurants and shops in Luang Prabang.
We visited the main pottery “factory” which was a small brick structure with some pottery wheels inside, a lighted hole in the ground, and a family of children running around squealing with laughter. The man with his hands deep inside the makings of a pot explained to us that his family has been making pottery for generations and he invited us to look around and see his work.
We were also lucky to see training underway for the next generation of pottery makers in the village. Some of the pottery was on sale and we couldn’t resist buying some small pieces for memories and also to support the local people.
We got back on the longboat and headed down the river for about an hour until we stopped for lunch at a little riverside locally-run restaurant to try a variety of traditional Lao food.
Our next stop was Ban Xang Hai where we watched locals create a unique rice wine called “lao lao”. It’s well worth trying although the alcohol content is so pure, a few sips should do!
On the way back, we boated around the Pak Ou Caves which were breathtaking and offered some nature time. Although, this is Laos, so these caves are sacred and hold up to 4,000 Buddha statues as a shrine to the river spirits!
All Things Food
We were pleasantly surprised at the variety and quality of food Luang Prabang had to offer. European influence has led to interesting French and fusion cuisine with endless restaurants and cafes along the streets.
You can get a quick and tasty meal for under $5 are Coconut Garden Elephant Restaurant, and a quick stroll around the main streets you will find endless great local eats. Smoothie stands are everywhere and you can choose whatever fruit you like for a $1 smoothie!
The day and night markets are also excellent places to try some local Lao food.
Utopia Bar is the best place to be in town for food and drinks. All backpackers and travelers of all ages and nationalities end up here to hang out.
Apart from a fun-loving staff, incredible food (their cauliflower wings are amazing!), 50c beers, and bean bags, the bar also hosts sunrise yoga every day on the river deck which cannot be missed!
It’s a perfect place to relax with a book for an afternoon and watch boats go by on the river or make new friends. By the time evening rolls around, you can find music, dancing, and cocktails that go on well into the night.
Bouang is a tiny and wonderful little fusion restaurant found in the middle of the main street of Luang Prabang. The menu is creative and delicious with a whole variety of items to suit any dietary requirement. We loved this place so much, we ate here three times!
Western influence has also meant that there are top range pizza places and Mexican restaurants everywhere if you feel like eating something a little closer to home.
Places To Stay – Ideas From Budget To Luxury
Luang Prabang is known for its kind people and high-end hospitality, no matter where you choose to stay for your trip!
Budget – Mad Monkey Hostel & Guesthouses
If you are into hostels and meeting other travelers, Mad Monkey Hostel is always a good recommendation with clean spaces, friendly staff, organised trips and guaranteed new friends!
Another option is a guesthouse. The town is full of guesthouses and this was always the traditional “hotel” offered in the town.
When I first thought of guesthouses, I assumed I would be staying in somebody’s home in a spare room. Although this is possible if you want to stay in a homestay environment, guesthouses are actually so much more different than I thought!
Guesthouses are just regular hotels that provide everything you need from shampoo in the bathroom to a hearty breakfast in the morning! They are usually run by families and have a smaller number of rooms available and guesthouses have a range of prices too depending on what you are looking for.
Most are a safe bet but I would recommend Nocknoy Lanexang Guesthouse which is about $10 per night. There are both fan and AC rooms, great breakfasts, perfectly located in town and there is even a TV room for all the guests to relax in as a more hostel vibe.
Mid-Range – Golden Lotus Nam Khem View
If you are looking for something more – or if you’re in Luang Prabang during the hot season and can’t live without AC! – I would highly recommend the Golden Lotus Namkhan View. Not only did this guesthouse have the kindest staff but the view was one of the best in Luang Prabang, overlooking the River Nam and the bamboo bridges.
I stayed here for four nights for a total of $60, including breakfast and daily fruit baskets! The bed was honestly one of the more comfortable beds I’ve ever stayed at, on par with any five-star bed I’ve expired.
The rooms are a little old fashioned but they fit in perfectly with the colonial style of the whole town and I felt like I was back in the 60s. The rooms are large, with big bathrooms and if you choose a balcony room, your breakfast will be brought to you on a little table outside so you can eat overlooking the River Nam.
High-End – Mekong Riverview Hotel
If you want something a little more luxurious, the Mekong River View Hotel is a really special and beautifully designed hotel situated right on the edge of the main peninsula.
It is owned by a Swedish hotelier, a man in his 70s, who is always on-site to welcome guests. He invites all guests for a glass of complimentary wine in the garden on your first evening to give you insider tips and ideas of the city.
It’s located on the edge of the peninsula and right in the center of town and is about $100 per night depending on the time of the year. A bamboo bridge across the river brings you to the beautiful pool and spa and breakfast is located on a deck that overlooks the Mekong river.
Of course, these are just my favorites and you can find hundreds more online. Do note that any of the more high-end resorts can be situated a short taxi ride out of town.
Between the beautiful architecture, rich history, incredible nature, delicious food, kind people, and endless places to stay, Luang Prabang really is a must for anybody traveling to Southeast Asia.
We hope that this article has inspired you to visit Luang Prabang. If you have any questions about the destination or have your own travel tips to share please leave these in the comments below.
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Read More About Laos
- Laos: The Forgotten Paradise
- Why Laos Should Be At The Top Of Your Bucketlist
- The Colonial Wonderland Of Luang Prabang, Laos
- 10 Incredible Places You Can’t-Miss In Southeast Asia
We Are Travel Girls Contributor Caroline Fitzgerald
Caroline has lived in Southeast Asia for the past two years and loves being immersed in new cultures, exploring new and unique places, and inspiring others to travel through her Instagram page. She works in animal welfare and is passionate about the environment and sustainability within travel.
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