Many travelers (wrongly) skip Luang Prabang during their time in Laos, instead opting to hit up the (previous) party mecca of Vang Vieng. I admit during my first visit I myself was guilty of this. Having recently made a return visit to Laos this time I made sure not to miss what has now turned out to be one of my favorite cities in all of Southeast Asia
There is so much to do and see in Luang Prabang, I much prefer it over Vang Vieng and certainly much more than Vientiane, which I actually find a bit boring. Here are a few of my top recommendations to do in Luang Prabang.
- 1 Visit Kuang Si Waterfalls
- 2 Visit the Night Market
- 3 Dinner and Drinks at Utopia
- 4 Explore the Royal Palace Museum & Other Wats
- 5 Go Bowling
- 6 Experience Tak Bat
- 7 Try an Authentic Laotian Massage
- 8 Learn to Cook Laotian Food
- 9 Prepare Your Own Dinner
- 10 Try Beer Laos
- 11 Climb Mount Phousi
- 12 Visit to the Pak Ou Caves
Visit Kuang Si Waterfalls
The number one attraction in Luang Prabang is the Kuang Si waterfalls. You can rent a bike or pay to go on an organized tour but the best way is to hire take a tuk tuk. Make sure to bargain hard to get a fair price!
I recommend going early in the day as you’ll want to spend all day hiking and exploring. Most people only see the main fall from the park located below, grab a selfie and go. Many people don’t know that you can hike up behind the falls and find hidden wading pools and other waterfalls! When you’re descending from the top of the mountain down the wooden stairs instead of following the trail down to the right go left through the wooded path. You’ll have to climb down a wet hill but I promise it’s worth it.
Your selfies will be way better than the same one that everyone else has that doesn’t bother making the climb down! There is also a cave system found at the top that you’re able to explore. Locals will rent you a hard hat and flashlight and act as a guide for a small fee.
Visit the Night Market
You cannot visit Luang Prabang without checking out its busy night market. The market is hectic and can become crowded but that’s part of what makes it so great! Try your skills of haggling with the friendly shopkeepers- I always start by countering with thirty percent of their initial offer before usually landing closer to half.
Dinner and Drinks at Utopia
Nearly everyone that visits Luang Prabang ends up at Utopia, a traveler’s favorite.
Utopia’s menu has both local and Western choices with impressive river view. Utopia is a chilled-out relaxation spot during the day (they even offer yoga!) before transforming into one of the best lounges/party spots by night! It’s great place to lay around reading a book during the day before meeting friends to share drinks and swap stories at night.
Explore the Royal Palace Museum & Other Wats
Learn a bit about the history of your host country as you spend an hour or two checking out the Royal Palace Museum. The museum is the former royal residence and also the only time I ever recall being barefoot at a museum, as you’re not allowed to wear shoes inside the museum! Apart from the Royal Museum, other Wats (temples) like Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Long Khoun and Wat Wisunarat are also worth visiting.
Editor’s Note: Looking for where to stay in Luang Prabang? Take a look at out full guide for our top tips and recommendations
I know this may sound like a crazy suggestion but I promise you it’s one of the most popular things in town to do. The entire country of Laos has a nationwide midnight curfew, so locals can wake up early to pay alms to the monks. In Vang Vieng, the curfew is ignored. I’ve come home at 4 a.m. in Vang Vieng with my friends arriving at the hotel hours after me!
In Luang Prabang however, the curfew is strictly enforced with most places closing no later than 11 p.m. The only place that seems immune to the curfew is the local bowling alley. At night, as you’re leaving the bars or restaurants, tuk tuk drivers will be waiting, offering rides to the bowling alley. Grab your friends, jump in and go!
There’s a fun mix of both foreigners and locals gathered at the bowling alley every night until around 2 a.m. Also—an entire bottle of local whiskey only costs about $5 USD!
Experience Tak Bat
On a morning, preferably not after a night of bowling and $5 bottles of whiskey, you should experience Tak Bat, or the daily tradition of locals paying alms to the monks. It’s an incredible sight to witness- a single file line of orange robed monks carrying bowls to collect offerings in front of them.
The monks line up in order of age, with the eldest monk going first. Locals and tourists alike lay offerings of food, flowers, and incense into their bowls. You can buy offerings near where the procession begins. You’ll find locals selling packages for you to purchase ( I suggest buying from the actual market rather than the baskets put together just for tourists).
Lastly, make sure to always remain respectful and to be dressed appropriately as this is an important local tradition that locals are privileged to even view, much less take part in.
Related: Basic Laos for Travelers
Try an Authentic Laotian Massage
Although neighboring Thailand is world famous for their massages, a traditional Laotian massage is just as wonderful and can be had for even cheaper.
If your muscles are really hurting after hiking the waterfall or Mount Phousi then try the four-hand massage. This is where you have two massage therapists working on you at the same time!
Learn to Cook Laotian Food
Luang Prabang is known as the best place in all of Laos to learn to cook traditional dishes. Classes are either full or half day and most classes begin with a trip to the local market to shop for fresh ingredients. Next, you’ll return to the class to begin learning how to prepare the dishes you’ve chosen.
Portions are large so the best thing to do is for everyone to choose a different dish to learn, prepare and then share with others in class. This way you’ll be able to try a bit of everything! Most schools include a cookbook in the price of the class so you can (attempt to) make the dishes for friends when you’re back home.
Related: What to Eat in Laos
Prepare Your Own Dinner
All over Laos, you can find restaurants offering BBQ but Luang Prabang seems to have the most I saw anywhere. Here, unlike a traditional BBQ restaurant, you’ll cook your own meal.
The tabletop cooking device is something between a hot pot and a charcoal grill where you’ll cook whatever meats you choose on the sizzling top while boiling noodles, veggies and seafood in a bubbling broth found below. Make sure to try the water buffalo- a local specialty that’s actually really delicious!
Try Beer Laos
There’s nothing better to wash your BBQ dinner down with than the country’s national drink: Beer Lao. I would say this is some of the best beer in all of Southeast Asia, second only to Myanmar. You can buy an ice-cold bucket full of bottles to share with your friends, or drink them all to yourself.
Climb Mount Phousi
Referred to as a mountain but I would actually call it more of a large hill, it’s worth it to climb the 355 stairs to the top for impressive panoramic views of the city. There’s a small temple at the top that you’re able to visit.
Visit to the Pak Ou Caves
Last but not least, a trip down to see the many Buddha structures varying in shapes and sizes is also a highlight when in Luang Prabang. You can get a glimpse of the mighty Mekong River while you’re at it. You can either join a tour or rent a motorcycle and drive yourself to the port where you can catch a local boat to the cave.
Hopefully, this post has given you a glimpse into the many awesome things to do around Luang Prabang. This city is a real highlight in my Southeast Asian travels and is a place that I urge everyone to visit.