Luang Prabang is a province in the north of Laos and a place where most people go to relax, explore and enjoy all the area has to offer.
After our bike trip around the Bolaven Plateau we headed north, had a quick stop in Vientiane and then on to Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang is both a region and a city. It sits in the valley of the surrounding hills and the confluence of two rivers, the Mekong and Nam Khan. Luang Prabang is known for its temples, palaces and mix of western and eastern architecture.
During the French colonisation of Laos in the late 19th and early 20th century the area took on a more European look than other parts of Laos. The town of Luang Prabang itself is a UNESCO world heritage site. You can see a clear mix of Lao urban structures with those built by the Europeans.
Before this period the town was a center of wealth on “The Silk Road” due to its position on the rivers and also the home of Buddhism in the area. Taking its name from a statue of Buddha given by the people of Cambodia, The Prabang.
We spent a week in Luang Prabang and really enjoyed ourselves, below we have our top recommendations for activities and food.
What to See in Luang Prabang?
Early Morning Alms Giving
A tradition throughout the Budhist country of Loas. Alms giving is carried out at sunrise. . Luang Prabang is no different, wake up before sunrise and head to the town center. Purchase a gift before such as food and follow the locals lead.
Present your offering to the monks and earn “merit” for the day. If you don’t wish to take part please be respectful and don’t disrupt the locals or the monks.
Luang Prabang Royal Palace
The Royal Palace in Luang Prabang was built in 1904 during the French colonial era for King Sisavang Vong and his family. Now it is the site of a museum, there is an extra cost to see some of the exhibits or like we did you can just take a stroll around the grounds.
It is a great example of traditional Laotian architecture. Giving you something to compare with the more European style of the rest of the town.
After taking in some historical and religious activities why not change it up and head to Sisavangvong street for some shopping. This is one of the main streets in the town and is lined with cafes, bars and stores of all kinds.
You can get jewellery, fabrics, antiques, clothes, books, you name it you can find it here. Take your time and window shop for something you like. Don’t be afraid to haggle if there is no market price. If it is not welcome there is usually a sign up saying as much.
In the evening the main street of Luang Prabang is pedestrianised and traders of all shapes and sizes come out to flaunt their wares . Watching the setup of the night market is an experience in itself.
Like a well oiled machine people unpack trolls laiden with clothes, toys, bags and jewellery. Within 30 minutes the street goes from a normal road to a bustling market filled with stalls and street food. It is a must do evening activity in the town in our opinion.
There are other markets in the town but this was our favourite and a hub for Luang Prabang nightlife.
Sunset hike of Mt Phousi
Take a hike up Mt Phousi in the centre of the peninsula for stunning sunset views. This mountain can be accessed from two sides of the town. Take the main stairs up from in front of the palace. It is about 100m high at a steep angle so take your time.
There is a fee of 20,000 kip to get up. At the top there is a temple at the summit and great views of the surrounding hills. Make sure to head early as it gets very busy.
The Unexploded Ordnance Museum likes its sister site in Vientiane is well worth a visit. During the Vietnam war the US Air Force dropped in secret nearly 2 million tons of ordnance on the country of Laos.
Their reasoning was to disrupt the chain of supplies coming into North Vietnam. In reality they were indiscriminately bombing innocent civilians and villages the length and width of Laos.
The “cluster bombs” that they dropped are still causing havoc in Laos today. They are small round metal balls and many are left unexploded in the Laos countryside. Children, farmers or people going about their daily business can stumble on one of these UXO and have their lives changed forever.
The museum goes into more detail about the history and also the impact it is having this secret war is having on people’s lives today. If you are in Luang Prabang you must go and visit. All proceeds go towards clearly these bombs and helping people affected.
Take a Day Trip out of the town.
If you’re spending a couple of days in Luang Prabang then a day trip in the surrounding area is a must. From waterfalls to caves there is so much to see outside of the city.
One of most popularly advertised trip in Luang Prabang is to visit an Elephant Sanctuary. This is a delicate topic for everyone as some of these places can treat their animals poorly and their practises can be less than ethical. All tours we saw stated that elephant riding was an optional extra. We chose not to visit one as we did not want to inadvertently support animal cruelty.
The surrounding countryside outside of Luang Prabang is spectacular. Some of the best waterfalls, mountain views, and Mekong views we have seen. Keep an eye out for our next blog giving a more in depth guide on our day trip adventures from Luang Prabang.
Get lost around the town
If organised trips aren’t your thing then why not make your own adventure. We were lucky that our hotel offered free bicycle use to its guests so one of the mornings we grabbed two and went for a cycle.
Luang Prabang is small but has many amazing side streets and hidden gems for you to explore.
Where to Eat in Luang Prabang?
The Big Tree Cafe
We discovered this spot as we explored the town and we liked it so much we went back a few times. Grab a coffee and take in the artwork and photography on the walls upstairs, or head out the front and sit riverside.
The menu is a mix of Laos and Korean food with some European dishes thrown into the mix. The Big Tree Cafe prides themselves on using fresh local produce.
If you’re going later in the evening then ask if they are screening a movie that night as it is something they do regularly.
Coconut Luang Prabang Restaurant & Bar
We came across Coconut Luang Prabang Restaurant & Bar when we were out for a walk one evening.
The food is great, the prices are very affordable and the staff are super friendly. They have a mixture of local Laos dishes and western food too. If you just want to grab a drink head there too. They have a great balcony to sit and relax on as well as pool, darts and board games.
Dyen Sabai Restaurant
If you want to get a little bit out of the city head over the Bamboo Bridge and visit Dyen Sabai restaurant. This highly recommended spot is a super setting with decent food.
The walk across the bamboo bridge is a quirky start to the evening, however it does cost 7,000 kip for the pleasure. This restaurant is a little more on the pricy side for Laos. If you are looking for a treat it is the perfect place.
If you’re more interested in reading more about different types of Laotian foods the check out our Laos Food blog here. We have compiled a list of the must try dishes to eat when in Laos.
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