No journey to Laos can be complete without a visit to the ancient royal capital and in this Luang Prabang guide we will show you why. Known for it’s stunning Buddhist temples and beautiful scenery, Luang Prabang in Laos is one of a kind and a destination you shouldn’t miss.
We were completely unaware of how gorgeous Luang Prabang is. As well as the exquisite French colonial architecture, we loved seeing the two rivers, Mekong and Nam Khan meet in this beautiful valley.
We promise you will not be disappointed, but we can also warn you that this city might break your carefully planned Southeast Asia travel budget, it surely broke ours!
Whether you decide to stay here for 3 or more days, we’ve got you covered. From food options to accommodation and great outdoors activities, this Luang Prabang guide will help experience the best of this luxury filled UNESCO World Heritage site.
See and Do in 3 Days
There is no place quite like Luang Prabang in Laos so be sure to explore it as much as you can. If you are only planning to spend here 2-3 days, here is what we really recommend seeing and doing.
The number one attraction in this Luang Prabang guide is Kuang Si Waterfall. Not only it is a beautiful place to visit, but also a great space to escape the heat. You won’t find a better natural attraction in the area than the turquoise pools hidden in the misty jungle area.
We really recommend spending a whole day here. You can hike to the top of the waterfall, swim in the pools, relax and enjoy the jungly surroundings.
For the best experience we suggest renting a motorbike or scooter. This way you will also be able to see the surroundings and have a quick zoom around this beautiful UNESCO site.
Check out this helpful post on How to Visit the Kuang Si Waterfall.
Explore the temples of Luang Prabang
You can easily get ‘temple fatigue’ while trying to explore the temples of Luang Prabang. So take it easy! We know exactly how it feels after exploring 17 Angkor temples in 3 days.
Amongst the golden temples in town, we really recommend visiting the Wat Xieng Thong, the most important Laotian religious site and Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham, the prettiest temple in town, in our humble opinion.
Catch the sunset by the Mekong river. While many head for the sunset from the top of Phu Si Hill, in our Luang Prabang guide we recommend going down to the Mekong river at the very tip of the peninsula.
Grab a takeout BeerLao and enjoy the sunset without being elbowed and shoved around by the impatient snap happy crowd. Join the locals, chill out and watch the sun slowly setting as the apprentice monks play in the river in their distinctive orange outfits.
Visit the other side, away from all the luxuries of Luang Prabang. It’s a more chilled local area where you will also find both of our favourite restaurants.
Crossing the bamboo bridges to the opposite side of the river will be an attraction in itself. There’s a small fee to cross the bridges so make sure you have some change handy. Both bridges are open only during the dry season when the river is low, and then rebuilt by the locals every year after the monsoon season high tides.
Planning to Stay More than 3 Days?
If you have more than a couple of days to spare, have a chilled day and make sure you explore the Mediterranean like streets of Luang Prabang. There are so many narrow red brick paved passageways that it’s easy to get lost. Luckily most of them lead towards the main road.
Climb the Phu Si Hill for panoramic views, just not the sunset. As you reach the first base, enjoy the glorious view of the Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham temple next to the Royal Palace Museum.
Visiting the Royal Palace Museum and the grounds might be somewhat confusing but luckily for you, this Luang Prabang guide is not just story telling, but also a useful guide.
On your left hand side you will see a ticket box which sells tickets for the Palace. You don’t needed a ticket to walk around the grounds of the Royal Palace, just the palace building itself. Tickets are checked when entering the residence.
Whether you choose to visit the Royal Palace Museum or not, it’s up to you, but make sure to dress modestly if you do. We found some interesting artefacts inside including a bit of moon rock given to Laos after the first US moon landing.
The mighty limestone karst includes the Tham Ting (lower cave) and the Tham Theung (upper cave), both hidden away inside the rock. Each cave contains hundreds of Buddha images in different positions carefully laid out over several levels.
The sight is impressive, but keep in mind that you will need to conquer over 300 steps to reach the upper cave.
Of course, don’t miss out all the great things mentioned earlier in this Luang Prabang guide too!
Luang Prabang Guide to the Food Scene
The food scene in Luang Prabang is incredibly diverse, from local Laotian cuisine to luxury restaurants meeting every kind of travellers needs.
For the ultimate experience you can sign up for one of the many cooking classes in town. It’s always worth learning to cook with the locals. We did a Thai cooking class in Chiang Rai and couldn’t have had a better experience.
While exploring the many culinary delights, try the local dishes such as Luang Prabang sausage, lam, or Mok Pa, a beautifully tasting fish steamed in a banana leave.
Rather expensive, but totally worth the money is Dyen Sabai restaurant. Try their Vegetarian Platter which includes the local Mekong seaweed along with other delicious items and a tub of steamy black sticky rice.
Here you should try the excellent fish steamed in a banana leaf or even a bowl of delicious Thai Chicken Coconut Soup if you miss Thailand.
The second favourite restaurant of ours in this Luang Prabang guide is actually a pizza place, Pizza Phan Luang. Don’t be quick to judge until you actually tried their pizzas. This recommendation is for fellow travellers who’ve been touring SE Asia extensively and are in need of some good comfort food!
The stone baked pizzas here are freshly prepared every evening, not to mention that the ingredients such as anchovies are shipped to this Laos royal capital straight from Italy. We are not surprised at all to see this place as top pizza restaurant on Trip Advisor. The guys here work hard and truly deserve the accolade.
Best Bakeries in Town
Lets move on to the French influenced delights. Does Pain au chocolat sound good to you? We thought so!
Thanks to the French influence, Laotians are pros at baking some of the most amazing pastries in SE Asia. For a coffee and a fresh and buttery pastry, be sure to pop into La Banneton Cafe .
Craving something more substantial than just noodles for lunch? We got you covered. A few doors away from the fancy French cafe, you will find a more down to earth and a much cheaper Scandinavian Bakery.
We loved their sandwiches and the ladies were always very friendly. The baguettes here are humongous, especially the chicken curry is good for sharing and saving those pennies.
For a cheaper option pop into the local market away from the peninsula. At the start of the market you will also find fruit smoothie stalls if you need some quick refreshment.
There are lots of stalls selling cold mix and match salad type of food along with some seriously good roasted duck for around $3.
Luang Prabang Guide to Accommodation
We did a little research while visiting Luang Prabang and found that accommodation prices at the end of the peninsula can reach sky high, as high as $260 per night.
But after much research, we found a place that might be just right for travelling couples. Because of the lovely terrace overlooking the river Khan, we found the place to be very romantic.
At $30 per night with fresh and tasty breakfast included, Oui’s Guesthouse was a perfect choice for us. You are welcome to read a full review of the guesthouse if you are interested in staying at the posh end with affordable price tag.
Otherwise, if you are a budget traveller, you might consider staying just outside of the peninsular area. There are plenty of hostels to pick from but read the reviews carefully as the quality varies wildly!
How to Get to Luang Prabang
If you are travelling to Luang Prabang from the border town of Huay Xai, we highly recommend taking a private, 2 day slow boat tour along the Mekong river.
We considered taking a public boat, but after reading one bad review after the other, we decided to splash out and go for the Mekong Smile Cruises. You will find all the details here, in our detailed slow boat review.
If you are planning to cross the northern Thai border into Laos and then travel on to Luang Prabang, you might want to read this useful post to make sure you are fully prepared.
Luang Prabang is linked up with Vientiane, the capital of Laos and central Vang Vieng by road. However, roads in Laos, even though paved in places are still in a poor state across the country.
Landslides are common in the rainy season and can take out large sections of tarmac. We had had a rather bumpy ride all the way to Vang Vieng in a local minivan.
TOP TIP: To find the best prices for air or bus travel in Laos we would recommend using the locally based travel website called 12go.asia.
We used this site to book most of our journeys in Southeast Asia. Best of all, you can just show any ticket on your smartphone when boarding your bus. That saves any running around to find a place to print your vouchers!
Try their site via the search box here. Simply pick your travel date for a full page of travel options in Laos and beyond!
Luang Prabang International Airport is only 4km from the city if you are planning to fly directly to Luang Prabang. It’s the countries second busiest airport with direct flights from other major cites across Southeast Asia.
Getting Around Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is fairly small and is easy to explore on foot. The 2 bamboo bridges connecting the other side also make it easy to go around the city.
However, renting a bike will give you more freedom, especially if you are planning on visiting the famous Kuang Si Waterfalls.
We rented a bike for a day via our accommodation for around $15, which is considerably higher than any other place we’ve been to in SE Asia. There are many places in town renting bikes, but the prices are all pretty much the same.
And again, we can’t let you rent a bike without reminding you to take pictures of the bike before taking off. We always recommend taking all necessary precautions to avoid being charged for scratches that were done before you rented it!
We hope you found this Luang Prabang guide useful. Have you visited? What did you think? Let us know if we missed anything in the comments below…