Gorgeous Luang Prabang in Laos has been a bit of a tourist hot spot since the international airport was modernised and extended in 2011. Until then, difficult access meant this town was only visited by backpackers happy to sit for hours in crowded buses on stunning, but nausea-inducing, winding mountain roads, or the boats making their 2 day journey down the Mekong. We’ve done both, they were fun !
The old town centre is deservedly an UNESCO heritage site, French colonial buildings, fabulous wats and monasteries and the mighty Mekong river make this little town an unforgettably beautiful destination.
While you are in Luang Prabang, probably the best thing you can do is just wander and explore, but if you have more time there are some great trips out of town and no shortage of people happy to organise them for you.
Lets have a look at some wonderful things you can do during your time in Luang Prabang.
9 Reasons to Visit Luang Prabang
The Early Morning Monks’ Alms Walk
The Tak Bat, or morning alms collection walk of the monks in Luang Prabang is a must see, but one to handle with respect and care.
Silent streams of monks process from their monasteries to the town centre, each in a meditative state. Some of the monks are as young as eight years old, they walk in procession, oldest to youngest.
It’s a beautiful thing to see but the behaviour of some tourists is frankly shocking. I’ve watched young girls jostle for selfies with these boys and older tourists thrust cameras in their faces. It moved me to tears. Visitors need to be dressed correctly, with legs and shoulders covered and not intrude on the proceedings.
Please keep your distance and show due respect, this centuries old ritual is in danger of ending, such is the impact of disrespectful tourists.
The Food Markets
The variety of locally produced food for sale on the streets of Luang Prabang is a wonder to see. The vendors are mostly local farmers and smallholders, selling anything from a live piglet in a custom-made basket, to that morning’s catch from the Mekong . You will see wild mushrooms, wasp grubs, honey combs, chillies, herbs and fruits laid out on blankets in the street. It’s unlike most markets you will have seen before.
The Tourist Night Market
The Luang Prabang night market is vast, it closes 1km of the main street every evening, from about 4pm to 10pm. You will find locally produced textiles, hand painted shells, silver jewellery and more bizarre souvenirs. This market is not to be missed we posted about this and the food markets in The Markets of Luang Prabang.
The Monasteries, Temples and a Palace.
Just walk and get lost, head away from the river. You will find literally dozens of incredibly beautiful sites. Don’t miss the monks chanting in the early evenings at Wat Mai, this is the large monastery on the main street, just before the Royal Palace.
Walk to the top of Phou Si hill for stunning views, more small temples and Buddha’s footprint in the natural rock.
Pak Ou caves are a highly respected religious site in Laos and one dating back thousands of years. Today the caves house over 4000 Buddha Icons. The caves are on the far side of the river, visitors cross in small boats, seen above, and enter the lower caves (Tham Thing). Walk on a little further and climb the stairs to Tham Theung. These upper caves are black as night, you will need the torches provided.
We now have a post dedicated to our day at Pak Ou Caves.
There are two main waterfall sights near Luang Prabang, Kuang Si and Tad Sae. Both make a great trip, but we visited Tad Sae, they are cheaper to reach and more popular with locals. We just grabbed a tuk tuk and driver for the day. You need to negotiate well, day trips out of Luang Prabang seem disproportionately expensive, wealthy tourists make for high prices.
The river was in full flood when we visited but we were still able to swim and spend a lovely day at this beautiful jungle spot. Locals take a picnic or you can buy food at the waterfalls. There are zip lines and elephant rides available at Tad Sae. You will need to cross the river by boat, your driver will organise this for you.
The Food, Drink and Relaxation.
There are dozens of places to eat in Luang Prabang, fancy little cafes, bakeries, the baguette stalls or the street food vendors, take your pick. We posted about this in Food in Luang Prabang.
Our particular favourites were the noodle soup stall opposite Wat Mai, and bizarrely, an authentic Indian restaurant behind Dara Market.
Ock Pop Tock
Ock Pop Tock have shops in Luang Prabang. If you go along and ask for a tour, they will send their free Tuck Tuck shuttle to take your party to this free silk farm and weaving centre. It’s a fascinating place in a lovely setting on the river, enjoy a coffee, lunch or browse their beautiful shop.
I wrote a post about Ock Pop Tock when we were in Luang Prabang, back in the days when this blog was just a personal travelogue, I was sick and exhausted, sorry if I sound a bit grumpy, we really did love our visit here.
Number 9? Luang Prabang is in Laos
Laos is a beautiful and amazing country, full of warm, laid back people. I can honestly say that it’s one of our favourite destinations in the world. We spent 6 weeks in Laos in 2014, our second visit. We hope to retun one day.
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