A walkway with the Laos flag at Wat Sene temple in Luang Prabang, Laos Laos

WIT: Top 11 Things to Do in Luang Prabang

There are so many things to do in Luang Prabang, you’ll wonder if there’s ever enough time to see it all. The cultural capital of Laos and a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, Luang Prabang is beautifully-preserved and precociously designed. We’ve put together a list of what we believe are the best 11 things to do in Luang Prabang, and we hope you’ll agree.

It’s unusual to walk European-style streets abundant with french balconies when you’re in deep in the heart of South East Asia, but the obvious French influence is absolutely welcome. Luang Prabang teases visitors with sharp coffee, tantalising food and a frustrating amount of things to do. That being said, there are plenty of opportunities to kick back with a Beerlao, observe the slow pace of the city and relax under the sunset after a hard day of tourist-hot-spotting.

Getting There

AIR

As a pretty popular destination for holiday-makers and backpackers alike, Luang Prabang is easily reachable by air. The airport (LPQ) is handily located just 4km/15 minutes from the centre with most taxis and tuk-tuks offering a reasonable set rate. Beware though, airfare in Laos is government controlled and isn’t known for being budget-friendly.

BUS

Road conditions are pretty dire in Laos, to say the least. However, there are two main bus stations in Luang Prabang itself, and it can get pretty confusing. Departures are subject to (last minute) change and tuk-tuk drivers often overcharge to get to/from the centre.

Buses to/from the North use Kiew Lot Sai Nuan station. This serves destinations such as Nong Khiaw, Huay Xai and Phongsali. Alternatively, for destinations to/from the South (including Vang Vieng and Vientiane) you’ll want to be at Naluang Station instead.

SLOW BOAT

If you’re travelling from Thailand, the best way to arrive in to Luang Prabang is along the Mekong River. There are three options to make this journey, dependent on both budget and time. You can read about the Slow Boat experience in our WIT article here.

A man jumping in to blue waters at Kuang Si waterfall in Luang Prabang, Laos
We saw the ‘no jumping’ sign as we were leaving…we swear

Things to Do in Luang Prabang

Kuang Si Waterfall
Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre

Kuang Si Waterfall is rightly popular: a must-do when in Luang Prabang, this is a really enjoyable way to spend the morning.  Upon parking (2,000K) and paying your entry (15,000KUPDATEthanks to chloetomtravel for letting us know that the entry is now 20,000K [March ’19]) you’ll find yourself strolling through the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre (entry included) and learning about the rehabilitation programs they work hard on. All of these bears are rescued and supported with the intention of being released back in to the wild.

A bear yawning at the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre
We know the feeling

WEE TIP: without a doubt the best way to get to the falls is to rent a scooter and drive. Not only because it allows you to do a few other things on a day-trip from Luang Prabang (keep reading to find out more), but because it’s the most cost-effective too. Your return mini-van journey organised through the hostel will cost around 8,000K and you’ll need to leave and return with everybody else. Friends of ours also had grief organising their ride through a tuk-tuk: as soon as they arrived, they quickly discovered their agreed fare didn’t include the promised entry fee. Bring a jacket – 8am on a scooter can still be chilly!

The Waterfalls

So once you’ve got your sleepy-bear snaps, you’ll continue walking to find the most incredible, rub-your-eyes aqua waters. Yes, the water really is that blue, and your photo edits will barely need to touch the saturation sliders. There are handy information panels along the path to explain how the water gets its staggering colour.

Aqua water at Kuang Si waterfall in Luang Prabang, Laos
Emerald waters everywhere you look

WEE TIP: these waterfalls are amazing and so they can get busy – really busy. We’d recommend getting here early and parking up before any of the coach tours have arrived. We were there for 9am and there were only 20-30 other people with us, allowing us to get the pictures we wanted and take our time on the walk. There’s a lunch area right at the waterfall that coach tours drive to, so they have the added benefit of skipping the 20-30 minute walk and ruining your experience en-masse.

A very straightforward path leads you past a few smaller falls, each of them prettier than the next, all the way to the main waterfall in around 20-30 minutes. Get your pictures on the bridge and enjoy the fantastic views. From here we’d recommend taking the path to the right and hiking all the way to the top of the waterfall itself and getting great views over the site – there’s even an Instagram swing at the top.

Water spilling down the falls at Kuang Si waterfall in Luang Prabang, Laos

This way, you’re going up the slightly easier side and coming down the steep-er way, which often has a flooded path.

WEE TIP: don’t bother getting ripped-off with the food at the entrance to the waterfall. At the bottom of the road which leads back to the main road, you’ll turn right and head back towards Luang Prabang. Almost directly across from the Dairy Farm there’s an amazing local joint serving up impossibly huge portions of delicious noodle soup. They cost next-to-nothing, too. We were the only ones here, and paid a fraction of what we would have paid at the waterfall for a real tasty lunch.

Buffalo Dairy Farm

Once you’ve slammed back the cheap noodle soup across the road, why not enjoy some fresh home-made ice cream for dessert? Since you’ve driven all the way here from Luang Prabang, make sure to do the free tour and learn about the farm. This would be silly to miss after visiting Kuang Si Waterfall – like we did.

A socially-responsible business established in 2016, this is a great place to stop off for some tasty dairy products. After travelling through South-East Asia for a while, most Europeans are desperate for some quality cheese and you’ll find it here.

WEE TIP: you’ll have also passed some butterfly farms on your drive to and from Kuang Si – everybody we spoke to was pretty underwhelmed after their visit, so we’re not going to recommend it!

Tad Sai Waterfalls

We didn’t know much about these waterfalls but were promised by somebody in our hostel that they were even nicer than Kuang Si Waterfall. While this claim wasn’t necessarily 100% accurate, they were still beautiful falls and absolutely something you need to do when in Luang Prabang.

WEE TIP: unbelievably, you’ll still find elephants that you can ride here. Say what you want about Chiang Mai, but at least they’ve recognised that this isn’t ethical practise at all: Laos still has some way to go. In the reviews you’ll find plenty of scathing comments about the maltreatment of these wonderful creatures – so DON’T get an elephant ride here, please. 

Several waterfalls at the Tad Sae site near Luang Prabang, Laos
The first of three waterfalls at Tad Sae

After you’ve paid the scooter parking fee (5,000K) and your waterfall entry (20,000K) you’ll need to buy your return boat ticket too. This is only a short 10-minute boat ride (10,000K per person return). You’ll be glad to hear that it isn’t dependent on the boat being full – a refreshing change.

A sign showing the direction around Tad Sae waterfall site in Luang Prabang, Laos
Another amazing swimming area, even if it was pretty obviously man-made

Stepping off the boat you’ll quickly find the café and restaurant at the first waterfall. Yes it’s obviously man-made, but the water is still an amazing colour and it’s a really refreshing swim on a warm day. A 30-minute walk will take you to two more waterfalls which are also astonishingly blue and much quieter than Kuang Si falls. Jump back on your return boat whenever you like and enjoy our sunset ride back to town.

Sun peering through the trees of the Tad Sae waterfall walkway
The exit from Tad Sae
Temple Hopping

Luang Prabang is littered with beautiful temples and even if you’re already sick of them, some of them are a must-do when in town. Wat Xienthong temple (20,000K) is hard to miss when you turn the corner from Nam Khan River. There are a few temples here all differing in size and scale. Their mosaic-colours are really pretty and we liked the interior decorations too, but we felt the entry fee was a little steep for what you can see.

Beautiful colours and bright mosaics at Wat Xienthong Temple in Luang Prabang, Laos
Beautiful mosaics at Wat Xienthong Temple

Closer to Mount Phousi you’ll find Wat Sene temple (free) which is much better value for money. Equally dazzling in the sunlight, the colours are fantastic and this typically Buddhist-design temple shouldn’t be missed.

Wat Sene temple and its gardens in Luang Prabang, Laos
A must see in Luang Prabang

We also visited Vat Wisunarat (free), and if you’re passing be sure to jump in and tick off another temple. If you don’t happen to pass it, it’s really not the end of the world. There are so many more temples you can visit in Luang Prabang, and if you think there are any other particular stand-outs please let us know in the Comments below!

WEE TIP: if you’re close to Vat Wisunarat then walk around the corner and check out the views from the Old Bridge. It’s not exactly for adventure junkies, but you’ll still get a thrill from walking across the mostly-derelict planks of wood held together by ancient nails. No cars are allowed on this bridge: even though you can see the river through the gaps at your feet, be sure to check out the views all along the river.

The old bridge in Luang Prabang, Laos

Sunset by the River

Grab a Beerlao and make your way to the river for sunset. While Mount Phousi can get pretty crowded at sunset, you can enjoy some peace and quiet along the riverfront as the sun goes down over the boats. It doesn’t feature on too many Luang Prabang to-do lists for now, but this is a relaxing and budget-friendly way to enjoy the setting sun. If you’d like to get more involved, then turn up around an hour before sunset and you should be able to arrange a sunset boat ride instead.

A sunset on the Mekong River in Luang Prabang, Laos
Grab a Beerlao and enjoy the Mekong sunset for free
Teach English at Big Brother Mouse

It’s rare that we get the chance to give a little back when we travel, so if you find the time be sure to drop in at Big Brother Mouse. A great educational institution founded in 2006, this is a gem in central Luang Prabang which a lot of people we spoke to found the time to do – sadly we didn’t and we really regretted not visiting. This organisation has been proudly making books for kids with the aim of making literacy fun.

However, they’ve recently started English language sessions which foreign visitors are always invited to join in with. There are full-day and even long-term options if you’d like to volunteer with them, but for a lot of backpackers, dropping in at the 5pm session is rewarding enough. Lots of young locals and even adults attend the session in the hope of practising their English with native speakers and improving their literacy. Like I said, we were really annoyed that we weren’t back in time for this.

Hike Mount Phousi

Climb the 300 or so stairs to the peak of Mt Phousi (or Phu Si as it’s also known) and you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of Luang Prabang, with not much to do except enjoy the surrounding mountains and vistas of the Mekong River. Phou Si translates to ‘sacred hill’ and as a result, there are a couple of stupas to check out – golden That Chomsi is at the summit and is a popular sunset watching spot. A really popular sunset spot.

There are two stairways to the top. The most common one is found on Sisavangvong Road (opposite the Royal Palace Museum) but you can also go up the Thanon Phousi way. Why not head up one way and down the other for all of the views? Unfortunately we can’t offer a first-hand review: we were too busy enjoying the peace down by the river for sunset.

A dragon within a temple in Luang Prabang, Laos

Night Market – Shopping & Food

No visit to Luang Prabang is complete without visiting the lovely Night Market and make sure it’s something you find the time to do. The night market happens seven times a week and you won’t miss it. Between 17:00 and 23:00 along the main street in central Luang Prabang you’ll find crafts, clothes, souvenirs and all sorts of sellers ready for your best haggling efforts. The atmosphere is great, so be sure to smile when you’re negotiating.

The real highlight for us though was on the street food alleyway just off the night market. Stalls sell everything from delicious cakes and treats to sausages, spring rolls, fresh fish and vegetarian buffets. The food here really was value-for-money and superbly tasty.

Enjoy a Coffee Tour at Saffron Coffee

Quality coffee grown right. We ran out of time to do this right when in Luang Prabang (spotting a theme here?) but it’s the number one thing on our list to do when we return.

A wall logo within Saffron Cafe declaring their passion for coffee sustainability in Luang Prabang, Laos
Saffron Coffee source their coffee sustainably

Saffron Coffee established themselves as Luang Prabang’s prime coffee producers, roasters and espresso-pullers long ago. Their knowledgeable staff are eager to help you choose the coffee that best suits your taste and tell you all about where it came from. Daniel had never had a peaberry filter coffee before, and while it wasn’t really anything to write home about, the other filters we sampled and the espresso certainly was. Emma’s focus was slightly distracted by the amazing cheesecake brownies.

Saffron offer a couple of different tours, showing you the process of getting the coffee bean all the way from the farm to your mug. Proud to source their coffee locally and ethically, this place ticked a lot of boxes for us, and we reckon it will for you as well.

Cooking Class

Discover the best of authentic Lao cooking by taking a cooking class in Luang Prabang. Normally you start your day with a trip to the market to buy fresh produce. Afterwards, you prepare a variety of dishes with guidance from the chefs. It’s a great way to learn about local food cultures and traditions.

Family-run Bamboo Tree Lao Cooking School (classes from 250,000 kip) come highly recommended – book in advance online to avoid disappointment. Everybody that we spoke to thoroughly recommended it, even if it was something we ran out of time to try and do.

Utopia & Late Night Bowling

Due to the city curfew, Luang Prabang shuts down at 11pm (midnight at a real push) and there’s one thing left to do. Once the tourist-hotspot Utopia closes its doors as the clock chimes 12, it’s time to head to the infamous bowling alley. We won’t give too much away, but rest assured you’ll be in for a night of hard-to-believe fun. A visit really hits bulls-eye, but just be careful because it’s three strikes and you’re out!

Figures on a temple wall show stories of history and construction in Luang Prabang, Laos
Bizarrely, this mosaic actually describes the chaos at the bowling alley pretty accurately

WEE TIP: Tuk-tuks wait on the road outside Utopia to take backpackers the short 15-minute ride to the bowling alley. Make sure you have a full wagon (x8 people) before leaving and, as always, agree on a price beforehand. We heard stories of backpackers agreeing on a price then refusing to pay new prices declared on arrival and things turning nasty. We believe (we’d had an awful lot of local whisky) that we paid 160,000K as a group.

Where to Stay

There’s accommodation to suit all budgets in Luang Prabang, from backpacker dorms to luxury guesthouses & hotels along the river with sunset views. The majority of options lie within the compact Old Town and Riverfront, where everything is within walking distance.

SUNRISE RIVERSIDE POOL HOSTEL our choice

A firm backpacker favourite, this reasonably priced hostel tends to sell out once the slow boat crowds start to arrive, so book in advance to avoid disappointment. With a range of free breakfast options to choose from each morning, a central location (around the corner from Utopia) and relaxing atmosphere, this is the perfect base for your stay in Luang Prabang.

Dorm from 50,000 ($6)

Y NOT HOSTEL our choice

Another centrally located backpacker option, Y Not Hostel also offers a substantial included breakfast, free tea and coffee station (always a big thumbs up from us), friendly staff and comfy dorm beds. The social area gets busy in the evenings (free Lao Lao whiskey every night at 7pm helps) and is a great place to grab a beer with other travellers.

Dorm from 36,000 ($4)

Where to Eat

LUANG PRABANG NIGHT FOOD MARKET

As you can probably tell, we’re big fans of local food markets, and this one is up there with the best. You’ll find it down a narrow alleyway towards the end of the Night Market – where Sisavangvong Rd meets Settahilat Rd. Just look out for the crowds of both locals and tourists, it starts to get very busy come 8pm.

Local vegetarian foods at the night market in Luang Prabang, Laos
Fill your bowl for next to nothing! (iPhone)

There is literally something for everyone – our favourite was the vegetarian buffet stall towards the end of the street. For 15,000K you can fill your plate with some of the tastiest vegetarian food we had in our time throughout South East Asia. They serve vegan options, along with a few tasty dessert options too.

There are also various BBQ meat and fish stands, serving up really tasty meals for ridiculously cheap prices. Just be careful with the soy, garlic and chilli sauce, the chillies are absolutely lethal. Along with mouth-watering dessert stalls selling chunks of delicious brownie, our mouths are drooling just writing this; take us back!

DYEN SABAI

If you’re looking for a treat, cross the bamboo bridge over the Nam Khan River (5000kip) and enjoy the views and delicious food (be sure to sample the BBQ style hotpot!) at Dyen Sabai. They also have a daily Happy Hour, perfect for late afternoon drinks with a view.

PHA KHAO LAO

This pretty little eatery serves authentic Lao food at really decent prices. This is a good alternative if you’re looking for a restaurant over street food. We recommend trying the laap here (Laos staple dish) – extremely tasty!

Luang Prabang Summary

Example Plan:

Day 1

  • You’ve probably just arrived from the slow boat! Get checked in to your accommodation and relax with a local beer tonight

Day 2

  • Rent a scooter and try get to Kuang Si Waterfall for 9am
  • Visit the Dairy Farm and have lunch at the local stall across the road
  • Apply suncream before the drive to Tad Sai falls
  • Check out the night market and grab some tasty street food

Day 3

  • Enjoy a lie in before checking out downtown Luang Prabang
  • Temple hop and sample delicious coffees at Saffron
  • Enjoy the sunset either by the river or up Mt Phousi, then drop-by at Big Brother Mouse
  • After dinner at Pha Khao Lao organise a group at your hostel and head to Utopia, then the Bowling Alley
Accommodation:
  • Sunrise Hostel
  • Y Not Hostel
Restaurants:
  • Night Market (Vegetarian Place)
  • Pha Khao Lao
  • Dyen Sabai
Cafes/Bars:
  • Saffron Café
  • Utopia

Luang Prabang Budget Breakdown

Getting There:
  • Luang Prabang Pier – Luang Prabang Town
  • Mini van
  • 20,000K pp

Total: 40,000K ($4.50)

Accommodation:

Riverside Pool Hostel

  • 8-bed dorm
  • £2.85 Hostelworld deposit
  • 50,000K price per night (x3 nights)

Y Not Hostel

  • 14-bed dorm
  • 40,000K price per night (x1 night)

Total: 380,000K ($44)

Attractions:
  • Wat Xieng Thong 20,000K pp
  • Kuang Si Waterfall entry 15,000K pp
  • Scooter parking for Kuang Si Waterfall 2,000K
  • Entry to Tad Sai Waterfall 20,000K pp
  • Parking for Tad Sai Waterfall 5,000K pp
  • Tad Sai boat (return ticket) 10,000K pp
  • Bowling Alley game (x4 players [or 4 couples]) 80,000K total

Total: 92,000K ($10.50)

Local Transport:
  • Automatic scooter hire (24H) 110,000K

Total: 110,000K ($12.50)

*excluding petrol costs

Moving On:
  • Luang Prabang (North) – Nong Khiaw
  • 09:30 – 13:00
  • 70,000K pp

Total: 140,000K ($16)

Total for 3D/4N: 762,000K/$88

The above budget is for x2 people. Food and drink is not included.

This budget breakdown isn’t meant to be an exact record of what we spent, but should give you a rough idea of what you’re likely to spend.

*all currencies accurate at the time of writing*

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