Luang Prabang would be a great destination to consider if you want to venture off the beaten path. It lies in the northern part of Laos, a small landlocked country in Southeast Asia.
While Laos may not be as famous as its neighboring countries of Thailand and Vietnam, both digital nomad hotspots, Laos has many beautiful places that are still not overrun by tourism. One of these is Luang Prabang, a lovely town built on a peninsula at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers.
For such a small town, you'd be surprised to find several interesting things to see and do in Luang Prabang. Here, you can spend your days exploring dozens of temples, chasing waterfalls, admiring French colonial architecture, strolling bustling night markets, and hanging out by the river.
If you're planning to venture into this fascinating city, here's a Luang Prabang travel guide to help you plan your trip.
1. Witness the Alms Giving Ceremony
One of the top things to do in Luang Prabang is to witness the alms giving ceremony. However, you have to wake up early for this. Nevertheless, the experience is worth it. You'll see monks in bright orange robes queuing along Sakhalin Road, collecting alms of rice from local villagers.
Since it's a popular attraction in Luang Prabang, expect to see hundreds of people crowding the street. You can participate in the alms giving but buy your offerings in advance and arrive early. Also, be mindful of taking photos since this is a religious ceremony. Avoid getting too close and shoving your cameras on the monks' faces.
2. Visit Wat Wisunarat
Luang Prabang is home to some temples and stupas, and visiting these religious monuments is highly recommended. One of these stupas is Wat Wisunarat, the oldest Buddhist temple in Luang Prabang. It was built in 1513 and named after King Wisunarat, who ruled Laos in 1501.
Featuring traditional Lao architecture, Wat Wisunarat houses religious artifacts and precious items from the Buddhist religion. It's a unique landmark that's supposed to resemble a lotus flower. One of the distinguishing features of the stupa is the European-style roof, which is not common in Laos.
Wat Wisunarat is open from 6 AM to 6 PM. If you're staying in the center of Luang Prabang, you can walk towards this temple. Wear clothes covering your shoulders and legs and avoid touching the religious relics.
3. Enjoy the Serenity in Wat Long Khoun
If you want to visit a quiet place, away from the busy crowds of tourists, head to Wat Long Khoun, a Buddhist temple that once served as a sanctuary for people seeking spiritual transformation. In fact, before a Laotian King is coronated, he will stay here for three days for cleansing and meditation. The area exudes a serene atmosphere, allowing you to enjoy peace and serenity.
Wat Long Khoun features typical Laotian architecture and has two single-level sections. The temple's older section houses the Jataka murals, which tell the story of the 547 lives of Lord Buddha. They also feature local myths and legends highlighting the Buddhist morals of kindness and the value of giving.
4. Explore Pak Ou Caves
If you love nature and adventure, you should explore Pak Ou Caves, also called Buddha Caves. What's fascinating about the area is that the caves have over 6,000 Buddha statues that locals still worship today. You will find Buddhas in a reclining position and others sitting or standing.
Getting to the place is an adventure in itself. You need to take a 16-mile boat trip on the Mekong River. It's also possible to reach the area on a songthaew, a local transportation that operates like a shared taxi. You can explore the two main caves on foot. It will cost 20,000 LAK to enter the caves, while the shared boat ride will cost around 65,000 for a return trip. You can also book a pre-arranged tour, which includes a stop at Kuang Si Waterfalls, another popular attraction in Luang Prabang.
5. Climb Mount Phousi
At 100 meters above sea level, Mount Phousi is the tallest hill in Luang Prabang and a great place to climb if you want to enjoy the breathtaking sunrise views over the Mekong River. From the top, you can marvel at Luang Prabang's panoramic views and its many glittering temples, surrounded by majestic landscapes.
Getting to the top of Mount Phousi would require climbing 300 steps. However, the climb is gentle enough for anyone with good physical health. At the top of the hill is Wat Chomsi, a golden shrine built in 1804. You will find local vendors selling flowers as an offering. Halfway to the top, you will find Wat Tham Phousi, which has a Buddha statue and a reclining Buddha.
6. Trek to Kuang Si Falls
Luang Prabang is famous for its many beautiful waterfalls. The most popular of these is the Kuang Si waterfalls, which you can reach by trekking for 30 km from the city center. The giant waterfall majestically flowers through the limestone-rich jungle before emptying into three cascading pools, which make great swimming holes.
Surrounded by lush jungles, Kuang Si waterfalls cascade up to five meters high. If you want to swim, you can change into your swimwear at the nearby wooden huts near the entrance to the falls. But if you do not feel like swimming, you can relax in the shade or hike the nearby trails.
7. Discover the Tad Sae Waterfall
Aside from the Kuang Si waterfalls, another famous waterfall in Luang Prabang is the Tad Sae waterfall, another spectacular natural wonder worth visiting. Even though its cascades are not as high as the Kuang Si waterfalls, it looks just as fascinating, with its several streams of water pouring through its unique limestone formations. Feel free to swim in the large pool below the waterfall.
You can reach Tad Sae on a boat ride. As one of the most popular attractions in Luang Prabang, Tad Sae can get crowded over the weekend as many locals would come for a visit. So, try to visit during weekdays to avoid crowds.
8. Admire the Royal Palace Museum
The Royal Palace Museum used to be the home of King Sisavang Vong during the French colonial period. Featuring the Beaux-Arts French architecture with tasteful accents of traditional Lao designs, it is one of the top attractions in Luang Prabang. The museum showcases exhibit dating back to several centuries tracing the turbulent past of the Lane Xang kingdom up until the present day.
The museum also holds religious objects, statues, weapons, and paintings from several centuries. Check out the mirrored Throne Hall, where you will find the crown jewels of Laos. Surrounded by a spacious and well-manicured garden by Thanon Sisavangvong, the Royal Palace Museums are well worth a visit if you want to learn a bit about Laotian culture and history.
9. Learn More About the Local Culture at the Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre
Another fantastic place to visit if you want to learn about the local culture is the Traditional Arts & Ethnology Center. It's a museum dedicated to the various ethnic groups in Laos. Housed in a heritage building at Kingkitsarath Road, it holds a cultural display of arts and lifestyles, reflecting Laos' diverse ethnic population.
The Traditional Arts & Ethnology Center holds permanent exhibitions of traditional textiles and clothing. Other exhibits you will find are local pieces of jewelry, handicrafts, religious artifacts, and household objects. The museum offers a unique peek into the local life of Laotian people while offering a better understanding of the richly diverse culture of Laos.
10. Play Golf at the Luang Prabang Golf Club
Avid golfers should visit the Luang Prabang Golf Club and play a round or two at this 18-hole course golf. The golf course opens to magnificent views of the Mekong River, the city of Luang Prabang, and the dramatic mountains.
Getting to the golf course requires a 10-minute drive from the city center. But if you are coming from the airport, the golf course is about a 15-minute drive. There is a pro shop and a driving range at the golf club. After your game, indulge in delicious Lao cuisine at the restaurant.
11. Sample Local Foods at the Luang Prabang Morning Market
If you want to look into the everyday lives of locals, visit the Luang Prabang morning market, a wonderful place to hunt interesting and authentic Laotian food. The market is bustling with locals and vendors selling heaps of freshly picked fruits and vegetables. You will also find an abundance of local street snacks.
The Luang Prabang morning market lies at the heart of old Luang Prabang, along the lanes surrounding Wat Mai. The area has many hotels and guest houses, so if you are staying in this area, you can simply walk to the market. Aside from the usual fresh produce, you will also find interesting stuff, such as locally grown spices, medicinal home remedies, and mushrooms from the mountains. Come here early in the morning to witness the action. Local vendors start setting up their stalls before sunrise and will get busy at around 7 AM.
12. Learn Traditional Textile Making in Ban Phanom
Ban Phanom is a local artisan village where you can witness locals producing traditional textiles to sell at the city's local markets. The woven products are made using silk materials and cotton and put together with intertwined threads for shimmering effects. Observe local artisans working artistically on their looms, dyeing, and weaving the textiles with intricate patterns.
Some local families in the village work from their workshops, with the entire community operating as a cooperative that supplies textiles to local manufacturers. Of course, you can buy these textiles as souvenirs. They are reasonably priced and are open for negotiation. Ban Phanom Village is rich in history and a great place to stroll around if you want to witness everyday local life.
13. Join a Laotian Cooking Class
The best way to learn more about the local Laotian cuisine is to join a cooking class in Luang Prabang. Aside from learning how to prepare authentic dishes, you will also learn about the traditional ingredients used in Laotian cooking, such as lemongrass, garlic, kafir lime, chilis, and more.
Some cooking classes in Luang Prabang include visiting local markets where you shop for local ingredients. You can sign-up for a cooking lesson run by a local chef where participants learn how to prepare famous Laotian dishes like khao niew (sticky rice), sai oua (herbal pork sausage), mok pa (steamed fish), and tam muk muang (green mango salad). At the end of your cooking class, you will eat the delicious foods you have prepared while enjoying fun conversations with other participants and the local host.
Digital Nomad Places in Laos
Luang Prabang is one of the cities that digital nomads like to hang out in Laos, find out the others in the article listed below.