15 things you should do while traveling to Luang Prabang
There are just so many things to do in Luang Prabang. Being the first UNESCO site listed in the country of Laos, the town offers a spectacular array of culture, nature, and of course, mouthwatering food. Even wandering the streets you’ll get a glimpse of life here.
1. Climb Mount Phousi
View of Luang Prabang form Mount Phousi
The first thing you should do after arriving in Luang Prabang is walk up the 355 steps to the viewing point on Phousi mountain. More of a little hill, you’ll find Phousi right in the centre of town, opposite the Royal Palace Museum. There is a little wat (temple) at the top, but you’re really here for the 360 degree panoramic views, a great way to get your bearings for the rest of your stay.
Discover more Mount Phousi is here.
2. Tiptoe Around a Wat
There are dozens of temple complexes around town and visitors are welcome to wander around as long as they are respectful and cover up inside the buildings themselves. Make sure you visit Wat Xieng Thong at the northern end of the old town peninsula as this is where royal coronations traditionally took place. One of the more opulent complexes in Luang Prabang, the temples are covered in gold and intricate mosaics, and offer a fascinating insight into the Buddhist religion.
Inside Wat Xieng Thong
Read more Wat Xieng Thong at here.
3. Climb Waterfalls at Kuang Si
If you do nothing else during your time in Luang Prabang, make sure you take a trip to the Kuang Si Waterfalls. You can get there by tuk tuk, bicycle or as part of a tour, and it’s best to go in the morning before it becomes too busy. The falls are in several stages beginning with a hidden jungle plunge pool at the top (which you can climb up to), and ending with a staggering series of emerald pools at the bottom to swim in. Oh, and there’s an impressive waterfall or two in between, often visited by playful monks who come to cool down in the heat of the day.
See more Kuang Si Falls at here.
4. Be Humbled by Tak Bat
Tak Bat in Luang Prabang
This early morning alms ceremony has caused a fair amount of controversy in recent years, with many tourists being disrespectful and turning the daily event into a circus. The best way to enjoy the ritual of monk processions receiving their daily alms is to sit quietly on the opposite side of the street and discretely use you camera without a flash. The lines of bright orange robes against the whitewashed temple walls are quite a spectacle, and the whole experience is quite humbling.
5. Chill out at Utopia
Chill out at Utopia
This sightseeing is thirsty work and there’s no better place to unwind than the aptly named Utopia bar overlooking the Nam Khan River. Grab a chilled beverage and bowl of olives before settling down on your chosen colourful pile of cushions to enjoy the view. And relax. The friendly staff even encourage you to have an afternoon nap if you want!
Yoga at Utopia
6. Plough Rice Fields with Water Buffalo
Plough rice fields with water buffalo
One of the coolest things you’ll ever do is become a rice farmer for the day at Living Land Rice Farm just outside Luang Prabang. From taking part in all 13 stages of rice production and crushing sugar cane for the juice, to forging tools and weaving bamboo with the farm workers, you’ll definitely come away knowing the story behind those boil-in-the-bags you use back home! The best part has to be trying to keep up with Susuki the water buffalo as you plough a field, no easy thing when the mud comes up to your knees! And yes, you get to wear one of those conical hats!
7. Wander Bare Foot around the Royal Palace Museum
Royal Palace Museum and Wat
The most impressive temple in town is undoubtedly the one here at the Palace, although you can only admire it from the outside. The Palace Museum itself is worthy of an hour of your time, although as it was only built in 1904 it didn’t have that feeling of awe that comes with the weight of history. The intricate brightly coloured murals in the main hall depict Laotian life through the years and are a testament to the patience and dedication typical of the Lao people.
8. Dine out on Traditional Lao Cuisine
Traditional Lao tasting platter at Tamarind
It is surprisingly difficult to find restaurants that serve true Lao dishes, as most cater for the tourist who is used to the egg fried rice and noodles of Thailand. Having said that, the buffalo noodles at Lao Lao Garden were delicious. For a real taste of Laos, book a table at the popular Tamarind Restaurant and try some of their tasting platters. The menu is more of a food bible and tells you how to eat the dishes as well as what they all are. We loved the fried river weed and lemongrass stuffed chicken, and learnt how to ball up the staple sticky rice with our fingers. Delicious.
9. Enjoy a Friendly Barter at the Night Market
There’s none of the frenzied negotiating or blatant rip-offs as seen in other night markets around the world, so this is a great introduction for first-timer hagglers. The vendors are genuinely lovely people and you can stroll through several times without the slightest bit of hassle. Souvenirs can be purchased at great prices as stall holders haven’t yet been touched by mass tourism and visitors ignorantly agreeing to ridiculous prices. Long may it last. Don’t forget to get yourself one of the iconic umbrellas or perhaps an elephant made out of a bomb from the Vietnam war.
Discover more Night market at here.
10. Ride the Mighty Mekong
Fisherman on the Mekong
Take a boat trip on this famous river up to the Pak Ou Caves, to the waterfalls or to visit local villages. Admire the verdant countryside of northern Laos zipping by as you sip a cold beer and munch on fried river weed, and watch fishermen hauling their nets whilst herds of buffalo graze along the shoreline. The Mekong is the life blood of Laos, especially for the rural villages along its banks which rely on it for both transportation and fishing. A boat trip is the perfect way to experience the heart of this magical land.
11. Learn to Cook Lao Style
Cooking at Tamarind Cooking School
The best cooking school in Luang Prabang unsurprisingly belongs to Tamarind, and is just a 20 minute tuk tuk ride out of town deep in the stunning countryside. The cooking pavilion overlooks a pretty lily pond and is open sided so is much cooler than in the city. The day class includes a trip to the local market for produce with your teacher, a great way to learn about (and taste!) some of the unusual ingredients. During the course you’ll be amazed at what you can cook, from jeow (spicy dipping sauce), and mok pa (fish steamed in banana leaves) to Laap (a traditional minced buffalo and herb salad) and sticky purple rice for dessert. Yum!
12. Chat with a monk
Chat with some monks
Whilst visiting temple complexes don’t be shy of the monks, go and have a chat if they’re not busy as many of them enjoy the opportunity to practise their English. Most males in Laos will be a monk at some point in their lives, and many rural families send their young sons to temples for a good education and better quality of life. Some remain monks all their lives, whilst others return home after a year or two.
13. Explore the Other River Bank
View from Wat Chomphet over Luang Prabang
Hop on a boat for the short journey across the Mekong to Wat Chompet, perched majestically on the hillside looking back across to Luang Prabang down below. The views from this small and almost forgotten temple are almost as good as those from Mount Phousi, and the climb isn’t quite so bad! You can also visit another temple complex (if you haven’t already seen enough) and some minor caves about ten minutes walk along the bank, or make a day of it and do some hiking if you don’t mind getting a bit lost.
14. Fall Asleep to the Sounds of the River
View of Mekong from Mekong Riverview
If you want to be close to the action but far enough away for a decent night’s sleep, and fancy a view of the Mekong from your private balcony then book at room at the charming Mekong Riverview. Located almost at the tip of the peninsula, the hotel is run by an enthusiastic Swedish chap who loves chatting with his guests over a glass of wine on the riverside dining terrace each evening. Breakfasts are all about chocolate pancakes next to the river, life surely can’t get any better than that?
15. Knock Back a Beer Lao, or Two
Drink some Beer Lao
After all that you’ll deserve it!
Locals tend to drink rice wine which is a fraction of the cost of a Beer Lao (which would almost be a week’s wages) but this famous local tipple is a bit of an institution in the country. So who are we to argue?
Read more Luang Prabang travel guide at here.