One of the top things to do in Laos (in our opinion anyway) is to visit Luang Prabang. Situated on the peninsula formed by the Mekong and the Nam Khan River, this French-influenced town is one of a kind.
Once you put together a list of top things to do in Luang Prabang, you'll be surprised at how many fabulous sights you can see in and around the royal capital of Laos.
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We took the 2 day Mekong River cruise to travel to Luang Prabang from Huay Xai border town. When we finally arrived at this UNESCO World Heritage Site, our list of top places to visit and fun things to do in Luang Prabang had grown into a one-week itinerary.
If not for the high cost of living in this luxurious town, we would have surely stayed here even longer. As a safe westernised place, Luang Prabang is packed with package holidaymakers which, no doubt, pushes the prices up around town.
But this should not put you off from enjoying your time in Luang Prabang. Start your visit by absorbing the beauty of the peninsula first. Take a stroll, admire the palm tree-fringed banks of both rivers, relax and stop rushing.
Then, check out the Laotian food scene, night markets, day trips and free things to do in Luang Prabang.
We thought you might need some help to compile your checklist, so in no particular order, these are our top 10 recommendations for Luang Prabang
1. Explore the streets and passageways
If you have been travelling around Southeast Asia for a while, the first thing you’ll notice is how beautiful and clean the streets (with pavements!) are. Walking up and down the narrow passageways was one of my favourite things to do in Luang Prabang.
The narrow red-brick streets leading to the main high street will make you forget you are in Laos, it feels very Mediterranean. The picturesque streets of Luang Prabang, not to mention the beautiful colonial architecture, really deserve the UNESCO accolade.
2. Eat your way through Luang Prabang
We are positive that the food will be one of the Luang Prabang highlights, the town prides itself on the amazing cuisine of all sorts. From freshly baked French pastries to Laotian and Thai fusion, Luang Prabang has it all covered.
Vegetarian options are plentiful, but the best comfort food for full-time travellers will be the Italian stone-baked pizzas.
Below are just a few places we would confidently recommend to foodie travellers looking for exciting things to do and eat in Luang Prabang.
Pizza Phan Luang: We especially loved this pizza place across the Bamboo Bridge, the best pizza place in town.
The restaurant is located at the back of a residential house which also houses Emerson English Centre. It's easy to find it as it has a big signpost next to the house which says 'PIZZA.' It's open Tuesday-Sunday from 5.30 pm - 10.00 pm.
The pizzas here are amazing, we nearly ate our way through the whole menu while visiting Luang Prabang. Some ingredients like anchovies are shipped straight from Italy so you get only the top quality meals here. No surprise the place has earned its way to the top pizza restaurant on TripAdvisor.
Charlie especially enjoyed his Pizza Carbonara which came in the form of a massive Cornish pasty. Intensely creamy, filled with ham and mushrooms it was pretty amazing.
Pizzas start at 60,000 LAK ($7.39 USD) so our usual trick was to share a pizza to keep the costs down. However, sometimes we found them just too good to share, so our incredibly enjoyable dinner together with one big BeerLao to share set us back around 120,000 LAK ($15.40 USD).
Not the most sensible thing to do in Luang Prabang for budget travellers but eh, enjoy it while you can.
Celebrating Charlie's birthday here was such a fun thing to do. We started our Laotian feast with the Vegetarian Platter which included the Mekong Seaweed, Steamed vegetable, Eggplant dip, Garlic mushroom, and Tomato dip served with black sticky rice.
My main course of the Fish steamed in a banana leaf was wonderful and so delicate. Paired with a tub of sticky rice it was a perfect duo. Charlie opted for the Thai fusion of Chicken coconut soup and it felt like we were back in Thailand...
The dinner, including a couple of beers and our favourite spirit Rum (which is very rare in SE Asia) to kick start the evening, came to a staggering 270,000 LAK ($33.26 USD).
Since this was a birthday present from our lovely friend back in the UK, we didn't record it under our travel expenses. Thank you, Simon!
La Banneton: We think that bakeries make a delicious attraction in Luang Prabang. The French bakery La Banneton makes good coffee and bakes scrumptious pastries, do try them!
Their lunch options are on the pricier side though - 75,000 ($9.24 USD) for a sandwich. But we kept coming back for more pain au chocolat.
A pot of black Lipton tea, single espresso and 2 pastries will set you back around 49,000 LAK ($6.16 USD)
Scandinavian Bakery: This place is not as fancy as Le Banneton, but the sandwiches here are delicious. The large sandwich is very large and generously filled with fresh ingredients. At 29,000 LAK ($3.57 USD) per sandwich, we usually shared one and it was more than enough to fill our rumbling stomachs.
We mostly enjoyed our takeaway sandwich lunches back at our guesthouse terrace overlooking the river Khan.
3. Take an authentic Laotian cooking class
Have a spare afternoon in your itinerary? Why not try a cooking class in Luang Prabang? There’s something amazing and fun about learning to cook with the locals, don’t you think?
We really enjoyed our Thai cooking class in Chiang Rai and encouraged everyone to learn a little bit more about the local cuisine. You also get to visit food markets with a local which is always a bonus.
Some of the trusted Cooking Schools in Luang Prabang are Tamarind, The Terrace Restaurant or Bamboo Tree Restaurant and Cooking School.
4.Cross the Bamboo Bridges
Crossing the 2 Bamboo bridges, constructed by the locals, is definitely one of the most fun and inexpensive things to do in Luang Prabang.
If you are lucky to visit Luang Prabang during the dry season, you will see one of the bridges just at the tip of the peninsula. Enter the beautifully maintained park and take the steps down towards the delicate bamboo construction.
A small fee of 6,000 LAK ($0.74 USD) applies to cross the bridge.
Once you are on the bridge, have a look at the delicate yet strong enough construction up close.
The second bamboo bridge is located further upstream right at the bottom of Mount Phousi. This bridge will cost you 5,000 LAK ($0.62 USD) to cross and will take you right to the Dyen Sabai Restaurant and Pizza Phan Luang a few steps further.
As you walk across the bridge, don't forget to absorb the beautiful landscape of Luang Prabang.
Both bridges are open only during the dry season and, fascinatingly, rebuilt by the locals every year after the monsoon season.
During the rainy season, there are complimentary boats provided for visitors wishing to dine at Dyen Sabai Restaurant. You can also reach the other side of Luang Prabang by crossing the permanent Old Bridge, especially if you travelling around by bike.
Both bridges are free after 6pm. Once the sun goes down, they are lined with fairy lights to lead your way in the darkness.
Travelling to Luang Prabang? Try using the helpful and efficient website 12GoAsia. It helped us to compare and book fares across Southeast Asia and find the cheapest or most convenient option.
5. Discover the 'other side' of Luang Prabang
If you have room in your itinerary for more fun (and free) things in Luang Prabang, then explore the ‘other side’. It's nice and chilled here. The area is more local than the sleek central Luang Prabang and very interesting to explore, so take your time and don’t rush back.
After crossing the bamboo bridge at the far end of the peninsula of Luang Prabang, walk to the right and up onto the main road where you will see the peaceful Wat Pha Mahathat. Your efforts will be rewarded with beautiful panoramic views back across the river.
6.Watch the sunset in Luang Prabang
One of my biggest joys when travelling is catching soulful sunsets in different locations. Don't you just love climbing up hundreds of steps just to be rewarded (or disappointed) with the pink sky?
Luang Prabang definitely has that high viewpoint where many gather to catch the sun sinking phenomenon. If you want to follow the mass, head to Mount Phousi just opposite the Royal Palace. Beware that there are around 355 steps to climb and the climbing is rather steep.
You’d think that seeing a sunset would be one of the free things to do in Luang Prabang… Well, there is a fee of 20,000 LAK ($2.46 USD) per person to climb the famous hill.
The 360 panoramic views at the top of Mount Phousi are, of course, fabulous, but the tiny platform gets way too crowded. We enjoy a peaceful sunset and the shoving and elbowing weren’t what we were looking for.
If you, like us, are looking for more unique experiences in Luang Prabang then we have a suggestion.
For a better sunset experience head to the bank of the Mekong river at the tip of the peninsula. It's a more local spot to enjoy a cold beer on the river bank and it's free of charge!
We also recommend climbing to the first base (free of charge) of the Phousi hill to have a good view of the golden Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham.
Top Tip: Download this article our Luang Prabang walk and others on gpsmycity.com as a self-guided walking tour on your smartphone.
7. Visit temples and the Royal Palace Museum
Out of all the fabulous things to do in Luang Prabang, the magnificent Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham should be on your Laos agenda.
Located next to the Royal palace it is the largest, most elaborately decorated, and probably most photographed temple in Luang Prabang.
The temple is located in the gated area of the Royal Palace and, I am sure it confused many people whether it’s a free thing to do or do they have to pay for the privilege of entering the Buddhist sacred place.
The box office located to the left-hand side as soon as you enter through the main gate confused us into thinking that we needed a ticket to walk around the grounds of the Royal Palace. But we are here to clarify that you only need a ticket if you want to visit the Royal Palace itself.
The entrance fee is 30,000 LAK ($3.70 USD) per person, but no one checks your ticket until you are actually entering the residence.
Ladies, be sure to wear trousers or a long skirt at your visit. We didn't think museums applied the same dress code as temples and I was denied the entrance, whoops.
Charlie, however, had a peek into the house and thought it was very basic but found some interesting artefacts including a bit of moon rock given to Laos after the first US moon landing.
For a royal palace, it's quite sparse and not really worth the entrance fee unless you are into Laos royalty.
8. Pop into Luang Prabang night market
If you are on a hunt for souvenirs, clothing or food, pop into the night market located near Wat Mai stretching along Sisavangvong Road to the town centre.
The food market along with hot food also offers fruit shakes, a variety of cold salad and buffet-style Laotian food which is much cheaper than the expensive restaurants in Luang Prabang. Also a good option for vegetarians on a budget.
The Night Market is open from 5pm until midnight.
9. Luang Prabang nightlife
Roaming the streets of this World Heritage Site by night gives you a different perspective of this lovely place. Beautifully lit guesthouses, buzzing restaurants and streets filled with glowing lanterns create a magical atmosphere.
But if you are looking for fun things to do at night in Luang Prabang, there are a few places you could visit. Some of the better-known places to chill out with a cold pint of BeerLao are Utopia, Lao Lao Garden, Dao Fah, The House and Bar 525.
We really enjoyed our beers at the dimly lit Utopia with lovely views of the river Nam Khan. There’s plenty of space for everyone to hang out and chill out after a hot day in Luang Prabang.
10. Visit the spectacular Kuang Si Waterfalls
The ultimate and a must thing to do in Luang Prabang is to visit the spectacular Kuang Si Waterfall. The natural pools are easily accessible from Luang Prabang.
We made our way there on a motorbike, but you can get a Tuk-tuk or sign up to one of the tours widely available all over Luang Prabang. This post will help if you are wondering how to visit Kuang Si Waterfall.
The place is absolutely magnificent with the turquoise waterfall pools in the jungle, perfect for a cooling swim. So don't forget your swimsuit and GoPro (or similar), you'll love it there!
We spent all day cooling down in the natural pools, hiking to the top of the waterfall and relaxing in the beautiful nature. Food options here are minimal plus expensive so put together a little picnic.
Where to stay in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang has no shortage of places to stay, but 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!
We also recommend researching hard to find the best deal. We were lucky to located Oui’s Guesthouse at just $30 per night with fresh and tasty breakfast included.
Wedged between the luxury hotels on the posh end of the peninsula, this place was more than affordable to spend a blissful week in Luang Prabang.
Download this article our Luang Prabang walk and others on gpsmycity.com as a self-guided walking tour on your smartphone.