From tasting a selection of whiskies at the Whiskey village to having a heavenly experience when trying a traditional massage here’s our list of the best things to do in Luang Prabang, Laos
The city of Luang Prabang in Laos is a destination no visitor should ever want to skip.
It’s a mesmerising city filled with over 33 temples, vibrant nightlife, stunning nature, and so much more, which is why it’s the country’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Don’t Miss the Top Things to Do in Luang Prabang
There are a lot of top things to do in Luang Prabang, and each one is more memorable than the last.
Luang Prabang is also the ancient royal capital of Laos, so there is a lot of history in this region too.
It’s nestled between two of the largest rivers in the region, the Mekong and Nam Khan, and it’s definitely one of the best places to visit in Laos.
Relax at Kuang Si Waterfall
Laos may be a landlocked country, but it sure has some of the finest waterfalls in the region.
Although the waterfalls themselves aren’t in the city, they’re definitely worth the trip to get there.
It’s not easy to describe how falls look like, because they’re a gorgeous mix of azure and turquoise, and they cascade in an entirely beautiful way.
At times, they feel as if they’re the sky in liquid form, especially when they’re crashing down on the rocks.
You can also hike to the top of the waterfalls, and even stand inside the waterfall itself.
Proper footwear is absolutely required if you plan on making any excursions to the top, but there is nothing to worry about because there’s a fence about a meter away from the lip of the falls.
Experience the Majestic Temples
There are plenty of attractions in Luang Prabang but most of them pale in comparison to the stunning golden temples.
There are 34 active temples in the city, and all of them are beautifully gilded which gives Luang Prabang a deep spiritual feel.
They’re known as Wats, and they’re known to have a very relaxing and soothing atmosphere, especially when you’re walking through its gold and burgundy grounds.
The most famous temple is called Wat Xieng Thong, which was built in the 1500s, and it’s one of the finest places to visit in Luang Prabang.
Wat Xieng Thong is a well-known spot where you can rest and meditate, and search for Nirvana, but even if you’re just visiting you won’t regret seeing its beauty in person.
However, if you’re intent on visiting the temples, make sure to know the customs and proper etiquette.
They’re still active institutions, and sometimes it’s possible for locals and monks to be offended if you’re not following some guidelines.
Dressing properly is one of the most important guidelines for the temples, which generally means to have arms and legs covered.
Some temples might have a couple of extra rules, so be sure to ask before visiting.
Enjoy The Famous Night Markets
One of the things that South East Asia is most known for is its markets, and Luang Prabang has one of the best in the entire region.
They’re located in the centre of the town, and they’re very vibrant, colourful, and lovely.
Here is where you’ll easily find the spirit of Laos concentrated in one spot because it’s filled with people from several different regions around Luang Prabang.
Many of the goods that are for sale on the stalls are handcrafted.
There are plenty of different items on sale depending on the season, ranging from simple wood carvings to ornate jewellery and trinkets.
This spot tends to be quite crowded, and even though Luang Prabang already feels lively, the crowds give the city an extra sense of life.
Even if you don’t have any intentions of shopping, simply taking photographs of the place can feel amazing.
Another thing that no traveler should skip out on is grabbing a bite to eat.
Just off the main road of the market you can find the buffet street, which is a laneway filled with really good authentic food.
The buffet street even has communal seating, so it’s very easy to meet another likeminded traveler, and to make new friends.
Watch The Alms Giving Ceremony
Spirituality and religion play a deep role in the country of Laos, and there are plenty of old traditions that are still being practiced to this very day.
Starting from the 14th century, local monks leave their respective temples at sunrise in order to collect alms for them to be able to help feed the poor.
This is a ceremony that actively encourages visitors to participate, which is why it’s one of the best things to do in Luang Prabang.
The ceremony itself starts from the main street of the city, then it moves on to many of the side streets of Luang Prabang.
Since the ceremony starts at sunrise, it’s best to be there before the monks arrive because it’s considered rude and disrespectful to take part of the tradition after it has begun.
Clothing and general appearance is also important – having your chest, legs, and shoulders covered is a sign of respect.
Offerings generally include food, such as rice, fresh fruit, or traditional sweets, and they are to be presented respectfully with a bow.
It’s a lovely tradition, one that perfectly showcases just what Lao culture is all about, and it has an unforgettable serene atmosphere about it.
Hike Up To Mount Phou Si
There are but a few things that can compare to the beautiful views from the top of Mount Phou Si.
Phou Si itself means sacred hill, because this is not an actual mountain but rather a hill that’s tall – about 100 meters.
Luan Prabang has a gorgeous skyline, and Mount Phou Si is definitely the best place to experience it.
It’s located in the center of the old town, which makes it very easily accessible, but it does take a bit of a hike to get to the top.
There are over 300 stairs to reach to the top, but once you’re there, you’ll be glad you’ve put in the effort.
While the views are consistently amazing throughout the entire day, sunset is when the hill truly feels a magical spot.
You’ll be surrounded by golden pagodas, and just as the sun starts to set and the lights of the city flicker to life, you’ll get to experience something truly unforgettable.
Make sure to get to the top before the sun is about to set, because the spot is very popular and there will definitely be crowds around.
Explore The City And Its Spirituality
Wandering through old, historic neighbourhoods in the city is one of the best things to do in Luang Prabang.
When you’re stuck on what to do in Luang Prabang you can always set out to explore the pleasant French-laneways.
France had a significant presence in the past, which is why a lot of the architecture and general aesthetics have such a strong French undertone.
If walking for hours on end isn’t something you prefer, you can always rent a bike and just explore the place with it.
There’s plenty to see in the city, so you might want to spend a lot of time throughout the day doing nothing but sightseeing.
There are a few hills right on the outskirts of the town that are amazing to visit, especially on bike, and they’re pretty easy to reach.
Although it’s generally considered safe to bike everywhere in Luang Prabang, make sure to wear your helmet, and consider getting travel insurance.
If you feel you’re done with wandering and exploring, you can always sit down for a nice and relaxing spot of yoga.
Yoga is one of the best things to do in Luang Prabang as there is a cooperative of many independent yoga teachers with whom you can practice in the city’s most beautiful spots.
Learn History At The Royal Palace Museum
This museum was originally constructed as a residential palace for King Sisavang Vong in 1904.
It’s constructed with a blend of traditional Lao and French architecture, which is why it has such a unique aesthetic.
After the king’s death, the crown prince, Savang Vatthana, and his family occupied the palace.
They were the last to hold residence until the revolution of 1975.
When Laos no longer had a royal dynasty to rule the country, the government occupied the palace complex.
It was then reopened to the public in 1995 as a museum.
Since 1995, the Royal Palace Museum held a significant number of artefacts and items from the past that each tell their own stories, which are part of the larger story of the country of Laos.
The complex is divided into three parts – the main palace and a few other buildings.
One of the other buildings in the complex is an ornate pavilion, which is known for housing a standing Buddha statue called Prabang, which the city is named after.
There is even a car collection in the compound, though it’s modest in size and it includes American cars from the 1950s to 1970s.
Learn How to Cultivate Rice
One of the things that Laos is known for, in general, is their rice and the sprawling rice fields it comes from.
It’s possible to become a rice farmer for one day over at the Living Land Organic Farm, where you’ll be able to try your hand at every single step of making rice manually.
No modern machinery is used on the farm as everything is done with hard work. You’ll be taught how to cultivate and grow rice the traditional way.
The entire process is far from glamorous, though, as one of the steps requires you to wade through fields of mud.
After you’re done for the day, you’ll come to appreciate just how much effort goes into making rice.
Rice has become a staple of Lao cuisine, and the main type of rice is called sticky rice.
This is just one of several hundred types of rice that grow in the region, and you’ll have an amazing opportunity to learn more about them at the farm.
Cruise Along The Mekong
One of the best ways to experience the surroundings of Luang Prabang is to take a river cruise down the stunning Mekong.
It’s one of the best things to do in Luang Prabang, especially considering that you’ll be seeing a lot of the biggest highlights in the region.
What’s great about these tours is that there are plenty of options to choose from – from basic boats all the way to luxury vessels.
Touring the Mekong is best done right before sunset because then you’ll be able to truly enjoy the splendor of the surrounding nature, and you’ll be able to see the locals finishing up their daily routines.
There are three different spots to choose from, and several different companies, each with their own particular flavour.
You can take a short one-hour cruise, or you can even opt for a longer cruise to some of the farther sites like Pak Ou Caves.
See The Buddha Statues Over At Pak Ou Caves
The famous Pak Ou Caves are one of the most important religious spots in the region, and they’re one of the most known prayer sites.
They’re most known for the thousands of different Buddha idols, all in different shapes and sizes, left throughout history by different people.
In the past, when the pilgrims first came and settled in this region, they visited the cave and left a Buddha statue, which prompted other pilgrims to start leaving Buddha idols of their own.
Today, both upper and lower caves are filled with these idols, and even though they appear as souvenirs, they’re actually very important religious idols.
The lower cave is well-lit and everything is clearly marked, so there will be no confusion as to where to go.
The upper cave is the one that’s slightly more difficult to reach, but only because you’ll need a torch to climb the many steep steps.
Once you’re at the top, you’ll get to experience the caves the way they were mean to be experienced, which is without a lot of tourists, and as a place for serenity and relaxation.
They’re quite easy to reach by boat.
Sample Traditional Whiskey At The Whiskey Village
The Whiskey Village is one of the most popular touristy attractions, and it’s often a stop when visiting the Pak Ou Caves by boat.
The whiskey itself is quite different from whiskey in the west, in that it’s made from rice with a very traditional method, but the end result is still a very potent alcoholic beverage.
Whiskey is called Lao-Lao, which is in fact two different words – the first means alcohol, and the second is the country.
Lao whiskey is almost entirely incorporated into the culture, as it’s used in a lot of traditions, so expect to be treated with samples generously.
If you do take a liking to the drink, there are bottles of this liquor on sale as well.
You can even observe how to make and prepare the whiskey, although it’s not encouraged to take part of the process and try to make it yourself.
Visiting here will not take a lot of your time, as you’ll most likely be heading to the Pak Ou Caves relatively shortly after arriving.
Take Cooking Classes
A lot of visitors to this part of Laos are surprised that one of the best things to see in Luang Prabang is actually the inside of a kitchen.
Tamarind’s cooking school is located just outside the city, but you’ll be picked up from the Tamarind restaurant in the city with a tuk tuk and brought to the school.
Lao cuisine is absolutely exquisite and unique, and one of the first lessons is picking and choosing your ingredients at the market.
The school claims that only by knowing how each ingredient feels like, you’ll know how to properly prepare Lao dishes.
There are only a few other students in any given class, so you’ll receive more than enough attention and guidance on how to cook traditional meals.
It’s a worthwhile experience that will absolutely strengthen your journey in Laos.
Opt In For An Authentic Lao massage
It’s true that Laos’ neighbours are the ones that are much more famous for their massages, but Lao massages are an entirely different experience.
If you’re looking for a typical relaxing massage in Luang Prabang, then don’t look for an authentic Lao massage, but rather ask for an oil massage.
An authentic massage is not as relaxing as other types of massages, but rather it’s meant to be a therapeutic experience that releases tension by focusing on key pressure points.
These massages are done while wearing sarongs or loose clothes.
It is important to note, however, that you might feel pain or discomfort at first.
There are several spas in Luang Prabang, but be wary of some of the cheaper ones, because you usually get what you pay for.
Some locals might not pay as much heed to hygiene as much as they should, so make sure to find a place that appears reputable and clean.
Learn About Laos’ Devastating Past At UXO Luang Prabang Center
The history of Laos is not the most peaceful as the country had often been plagued with wars and revolutions.
During the 60’s and 70’s, before the revolution, Laos was continuously bombarded by ordnance and explosives.
Over the course of 9 years, there were more than 270 million bombs dropped on the country’s territory.
Laos is the world’s most bombed country per capita, and unexploded ordnance is still a live threat to this very day in most of the districts in the country.
This museum is dedicated to shedding light and raising awareness towards the issue.
Even after extensive relief support, however, the issue still persists.
The museum is a chilling experience and is considered a must-see in Luang Prabang.
Go On An Adventure in Green Jungle Park
Before Green Jungle Park was formed as a spot for adventures, it used to be rubbish dump, which has been fully reclaimed today.
The park is surrounded by a forest and a gorgeous cascade, where you’ll find a lot of zip lines, monkey bridges, and even rope courses.
It might not be that near to the city, but you’ll be able to get there by catching a boat from Luang Prabang behind the Royal Palace.
After you disembark from a 30-minute ride, you’ll be taxied for the rest of the way.
This is a great place to go if you’re not sure on what to see in Laos as it’s located in one of the region’s lushest areas.
There’s a unique sense of adventure and you’re never that far away from civilisation.