Luang Prabang is often called the ‘Heart of Laos’ and many visitors choose to come here instead of Vientiane as it is known for its gorgeous countryside and scenic views across the majestic Mekong River.
Luang Prabang also lies on the Nam Khan River, meaning that you can take to the water on a trip here and this is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which tells you everything you need to know about the splendor of the city.
Another reason to come to the city is to check out the temples as you will be spoilt for choice on a trip here and can take in the gorgeous religious architecture at almost every turn. If you want to get out of town, then you can find spots that include lush waterfalls and pools.
Here are the 25 best things to do in Luang Prabang…
1. Climb Phousi Mountain
One of the main attractions in Luang Prabang is Phousi Mountain.
To get to the top you will need to walk up some 355 steps to get to the viewing platform but from here you will be able to look out over the city and take in the views.
There is also a small temple at the summit of the mountain which is actually a small hill rather than anything too taxing.
With that in mind, it is well worth the trip to the top for the panoramic vistas of famous spots in Luang Prabang.
2. Tour Wat Manorom
Wat Manorom is said to be one of the oldest temples in Luang Prabang and you and the signature feature is the main ordination hall which is also known as a sim in Lao.
Inside the sim you will find a statue of the Buddha which is made of bronze and said to date back to 1372, although it has been restored several times.
Getting to the wat is an adventure in itself as you have to walking through twisting streets to get to the main courtyard but it is more than worth the effort.
3. Trek to the Kuang Si Waterfalls
For many the highlight of a trip to Luang Prabang is the chance to visit the Kuang Si Waterfalls.
To get to the falls you can cycle through the countryside or sign up for a tour.
Once there you can trek through the jungle to the different falls which reveal themselves to you in stages.
There are also plunge pools at the base of the falls which are perfect for swimming in if you are hot after your hike.
The waters around the pools are known for their emerald green hue and you can watch families and monks taking in the scenery at the weekends.
4. Admire Wat Xieng Thong
Luang Prabang is known for its monasteries but none is more famous than Wat Xieng Thong.
This temple is known for its large ordination hall and the walls are adorned with intricate mosaics which have a tree of life mural in the center.
There are also a number of stupas here and some smaller chapels on the property, which means that you need to leave several hours to explore here to see everything.
There is also an image of the Standing Buddha and a Red Chapel which was built during the French colonial period which has an image of the Reclining Buddha.
5. Explore the rice fields
If you want to do something a little different in Luang Prabang then you need to visit Living Land Rice Farm which is on the outskirts of the city.
Here you can learn how rice is cultivated and harvested in Laos and you can have a go at walking through one of the many rice paddies here.
If you are feeling adventurous then you can even try ploughing a field with a water buffalo.
6. Take a cooking class
If you want to learn how to make delicious Laotian food then you need to take a cooking class while you are in Luang Prabang.
There are a number of different places where you can learn to cook, but one of the most famous is called Tamarind and you get to learn in an open kitchen which looks out over scenic fields.
There are a number of different classes that you can take but if you opt for one in the morning then this is also paired with a market trip so that you can learn all about the delicious local produce for which Laos is famous.
Some of the dishes that you can learn to make include laap or laab which is the national dish of Laos and is made of minced meat in a kind of salad.
You can also try your hand at making mok pa which is a kind of fish cooked in banana leaves.
7. Visit Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham
Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham has a rather long name so it is often just referred to by locals as Wat Mai.
This amazing monastery and temple is known for having a five tiered roof and the front patio has a series of gorgeous murals which show famous scenes from the life of the Buddha as well as the Ramayana.
This is also the home of the head of the Lao Buddhist faith who is known as the Sangharat so this is a very important spot in Laotian Buddhism.
8. Cross the river
Luang Prabang lies on the mighty Mekong but make sure that you take the time to get on a boat and jump across the river to the other side.
On the opposite side of the Mekong from Luang Prabang, you will find Wat Chompet which is a temple that sits on a hill and looks directly across to the city.
There are also a clutch of other temples here and some small caves if you want to spend the day exploring this side of Luang Prabang.
9. Tour Wat Sensoukaram
Wat Sensoukaram is known for its walls which are a deep crimson hue and are covered in gold leaf decorations.
As you would imagine, this makes it one of the prettiest temples in the city and it takes its name from the 100,000 Kip that it is said was used to build it from the ground up.
This may not sound like a lot now but it was a huge sum in the days of old, and this temple dates from 1718.
10. Get outside at Green Jungle Park
Some thirty-two kilometers outside of Luang Prabang you will find Green Jungle Park which is a great slice of greenery in the middle of the countryside.
One of the main activities here is zip lining and there are some 900 meters of zip lines to try out in the park.
As if that wasn’t enough you can also enjoy monkey bridges as well as rope lines which will let you check out the jungle canopy from above.
You will also find a nice cafe here and some gardens that make a good place to go for a stroll in the afternoon.
The park is also studded with limpid pools which make the perfect place to cool off in the afternoon.
The park is also known for its elephants which are all animals that were rescued or retired from the logging trade.
11. Shop at the Handicraft Night Market
The Handicraft Night Market is the Perfect Place to find some souvenirs and is located in Th Sisavangvong.
As you would expect from the name, the market starts up after dark and you will find a number of sellers who have amazing local handcrafts such as silk pieces, textiles, clothes, jewelry, ceramics and bamboo carvings.
The market is mainly meant for tourists in the area, but it still makes a great spot if you are looking for gifts.
12. Tour the Royal Palace Museum
If you want to learn more about the history of the Royal Palace in Luang Prabang then you need to head for the Royal Palace Museum which was built in 1904. Here you can check out galleries which have murals that show you how Laotian life has changes through history and you can also see exhibitions of antiques and other interesting artifacts.
13. Enjoy Bun Awk Phansa Festival
If you are in Luang Prabang in September or October then make sure you come to the Bun Awk Phansa Festival.
This takes place on the Nam Kahn River and you can enjoy vibrant boat races on the water.
It is Buddhist tradition to place boats fashioned from banana leaves on the water with a candle inside and sail them down the river in order to dispel bad luck.
This is also a way of thanking the waterways of Laos and appeasing the naga which are mythical river snakes said to lurk beneath the surface.
14. Eat at the Night Food Stalls
Distinct from the Night Market in Luang Prabang is the Night Food Stalls which set up at sunset and are located directly behind the main Tourist Office in the city.
Here you will find a selection of small tables which sell tasty local fare and this is the best place to come for an authentic taste of Laos.
If you like vegetarian food then you will be spoilt for choice here as there are a huge amount of vegetable based dishes available, or you can try the seafood or fish which is rubbed with fragrant lemongrass.
15. Visit TAEC Museum
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Happy New Year! The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre (TAEC) is a local social enterprise founded in 2006 in the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang, Lao PDR. We explore the rich cultural traditions of Laos’ diversity through expertly curated exhibitions, talks, and craft workshops. We also support our community through school outreach and fairtrade shops that are directly linked with artisan groups. We are excited to share the stories behind the extraordinary people, crafts, and culture of one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Southeast Asia! . . . #traditionalartsandethnologycentre #taecmuseum #taec #taecmuseumshop #luangprabang #laos #southeastasia #ethnology #ethnic #diversity #unesco #artisanorigins #artisaninspired #handicrafts #craftpreservation #culture #handmade #textiles #fairtrade #madeinlaos #chooselocal #purchasewithpurpose #happynewyear #2018 #fairtradelaos #helloinstagram
If you want to learn more about the ethnic minorities in and around Luang Prabang then make sure you come to the TAEC Museum.
The building itself is a work of art and it actually used to be a mansion during the French colonial period and would have been built in the 1920s.
Now the mansion houses a small and compact museum that still manages to fill you in on the history of these amazing tribes.
Even though the museum only has three main rooms, it has galleries that are dedicated to the farming industry as well as exhibitions related to costumes and jewelry.
There is also an onsite shop where you can buy some local souvenirs and all the profits are funneled back into the local community.
16. Explore Wat That Luang
Wat That Luang is one of the more important temples in Luang Prabang as it would have been the place where the Lao royal family were cremated.
The wat is said to date from the 3rd century BC although many parts of it have been added to over the years or rebuilt meaning that much of the structure was built far more recently.
There are some pretty stupas here which are worth the visit alone, and legend has it that they contain the ashes of famous kings, although there is not historical basis for this to be true.
17. Experience the Pi Mai Festival
If you are in Luang Prabang in April then make sure that you don’t miss the famous water throwing festival which is also known as the Pi Mai Festival.
One thing to bear in mind is that the locals are very serious about their water throwing and they particularly like to drench foreigners, so make sure that you secure all your valuables inside plastic bags or they will get ruined.
18. Visit Wat Xieng Mouane
Wat Xieng Mouane is a temple that is located in the Old Quarter in Luang Prabang and is known primarily for its pretty ceiling which is covered in drawings of golden snakes called naga.
As with many temples in Laos, this is also a working monastery and you will find classrooms here where the monks are trained and where they learn a range of skills such as paintings, sculpting and carving.
19. Visit Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden
Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden has the claim to fame of being the first of its kind to open in Laos.
This also means that it’s a great spot for anyone looking for somewhere to relax and unwind in the center of the city.
As well as just getting to stroll around the gardens, you can also learn all about the orchids that grow here as part of a guided tour.
As if that wasn’t enough, then there is also the chance to try some free herbal tea that is brewed in the park as well as attend a bamboo handicraft tutorial.
20. Take a boat trip
As Luang Prabang is located on the river, one of the best things to do here is take a trip on a boat a check out the town from the point of view of the water.
As you speed along this famous waterway you can enjoy local villages and see fisherman as they haul in the day’s catch.
21. Visit Wat Ho Pha Bang
Wat Ho Pha Bang is known for the Pha Bang image which is said to have given the city its name.
This is a located inside a carved pavilion and you will also find a statue of the Buddha here which is said to date from 1512. The Buddha statue is actually a very important symbol in Laos and legend has it that it was made in the 1st century in Sri Lanka before being brought over to Laos.
It was then pilfered several times throughout history and taken to Thailand before being brought back and restored to its rightful place in the temple.
22. Watch a show at Garavek Storytelling
The word ‘garavek’ means ‘mythical bird’ in Lao and you can learn the story of this magical creature by taking in a show at Garavek Storytelling.
Here you will find an old performer who plays the lyre and who tells the story of this legend along with an English narrator.
There are a number of ancient folk stories told throughout the hour long performance and this is a great place to come if you are visiting Luang Prabang with children who will be mesmerized by the tales.
Bear in mind that this is a very popular attraction in the city so you need to book a seat in advance to avoid disappointment.
23. Visit Wat Phunluang
Wat Phunluang is one of the older temples in Luang Prabang but it is also one of the prettiest in a delightfully unshowy way.
The temple has some jade green carvings of water serpents on the roof which are known as naga in Laos and you will also find a pretty interior chamber which is painted in ochre and has some scenic murals depicting scenes of rural life.
24. Go spelunking at Tham Sakkalin
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Stranger's advice: take a boat across the Mekong to check out an old Temple and the cave nearby. Reality: check out the old Temple and get a tour of the cave by a 16 year old boy who somehow runs up and down the pitch black cave in too small of flip-flops and scares you with an artifact's broken off arm. #travel #explore #katandmelsbigadventure #photography #laos #luangprabang #cave #officialtourguide #holeinthewall #watlongkhun #thamsakkalin
Tham Sakkalin is a large limestone cave which stretches for around 100 meters and is rather damp inside, but still worth a visit if you are visiting Wat Longkhun at the same time.
This temple is also said to have some Buddha statues inside although these have fallen into disrepair and it can be hard to make out the historical significance of the pieces.
25. Try the local cuisine
As Luang Prabang is firmly on the tourist trail in Laos, some visitors complain that it can be a little difficult to find authentic local dishes here.
With that in mind, make sure you make the effort to seek out local favorites such as buffalo noodles as well as the national dish which is called laap or laab.
To learn a little more about the food in Laos, you may want to visit the famous Tamarind Restaurant in Luang Prabang which is known for its large sharing platters.