Luang Prabang might be one of the most laidback cities in Asia. The colonial quarter, low rise buildings, its many temples and the river flowing through add to a whimsical vibe. It’s easy to see why it’s a much loved city by travelers and why a lot of backpackers extend their stay to hang out a bit more.
When we arrived in Luang Prabang from Vang Vieng we figured we would stay a day or 2 to make arrangements to head further up north. But we too were taken by the friendly atmosphere, the climate and the, for lack of a better word, spirituality of the place.
One could argue that Luang Prabang caters to Western tourists too much and loses some of its Lao charm (and you could be right) but it is a very welcoming place for the weary traveler. And for those willing to dig a little deeper, hopefully our Luang Prabang travel guide will help out.
Luang Prabang things to do
Visit the temples and monks
Luang Prabang has a multitude of temples to choose from, the largest and most well known being Haw Pha Bang. Located by the main road and on the grounds of the Royal Palace, it’s hard to miss. Our favorite however, was Wat Paphaimisaiyaram. Not only because our guesthouse was right next door, but also because it’s a small and quiet temple.
One afternoon one of the apprentice monks struck up a conversation with us and we loved exchanging some knowledge and wisdom until he had to go to the drum tower. Every morning at 4am we would be woken up by the drums, and they would be played again at 4pm. We loved the haunting sound and to see the monks play them.
Other notable off the track temples include Wat Manorom, Wat Wisunarat and Wat Phra Mahathat.
Hoping to talk to a monk? Modest dress is key! Both men and women should cover their knees (ankle length is preferred) chest and shoulders.
Enjoy the riverside
The mighty Mekong river flows right through Luang Prabang. Monks come here to catch the breeze on a hot day, tuktuk drivers take their naps in their hammocks and people stroll by the riverside to get away from the main sights.
There are plenty of little places to sit down for drinks, you could take a boat tour from here or walk all the way until the Bamboo bridge, that gets washed away by the rains each year and then rebuilt again. Make sure to go for sunset to see the sun disappear into the Mekong.
Wander the French quarter
Luang Prabang has a beautiful French quarter with colonial villas, leafy lanes and temples. An afternoon stroll will walk you by tiny local eateries that you should most definitely try! We found this area of town quiet every time we were there, but it makes for great photo opportunities. We especially loved the colorful bougainvilles!
Climb Phou Si hill
Not climbing Phou Si hill is not an option! You’ll find the steps directly across from Haw Pha Bang, and the first platform offers a stunning view of the temple. Some 300 steps up you will reach the top and have a stunning 360 view on the sunset. (Or sunrise, if you prefer).
There are 2 temples on Phou Si hill; halfway up you will pass Wat Tham Phou Si and Wat Chom Si at the top.
Don’t buy birds! At the bottom of the stairs you’ll find several women selling birds in cages. Supposedly, releasing them at the top brings good fortune. Please don’t buy them. These birds have never learned to fly or look after themselves and will plummet to death immediately upon release. It’s animal abuse.
Enjoy the night markets
The Luang Prabang night market is set up in the main street and one of the nicest ones in Asia! You’ll be able to get your souvenir’s fill (don’t forget to bargain!) and to have a meal. In one of the side streets leading off the main street you will find the food market. Anything from baked goods, meats and even a vegetarian section is available here. For a few dollars you can load a plate full!
When you choose a meat dish, make sure it’s being cooked in front of you. A lot of the products have been out for a while, making sure it’s cooked or fried freshly will greatly reduce sickness risks!
Go watch a ‘free’ movie
In the attic of cafe Kōpnoï, which is a cute little tea shop and art shop, the owners have set up a movie room. There’s a movie every night at 7, and the list outside will tell you what’s on this week. The only thing they ask is that you buy food or a drink, a pretty sweet deal! We watched the Joker, had a few glasses of wine and really enjoyed relaxing with a good movie.
The French have left behind a good coffee culture, and there are countless little bakeries that offer delicious croissants and pastries! Our favorite was Indigo Cafe, not in the least because they have a roof terrace with a perfect view on the night market.
Where to eat
- Cafe Indigo or Joma Bakery for breakfast
- Khao Soi Noodle Shop; a hole in the wall local eatery in the French quarter. Excellent food!
- Popolo; we loved this place for their great cocktails and lovely garden. The food won’t disappoint you either!
- Chez Matt for a little splurge on good wine. If you’ve been missing cheese and wine in Asia, this is it!
- Bouang Asian Eatery for a perfect mix between Western and Lao food.
Where to stay
Luang Prabang has so many guesthouses to choose from! We stayed at Kinnaly Place House, in a quiet street off the main street. The staff was super sweet and we had our own room with bathroom for about $28 per night.
We loved the city so much, we came back a second time, after visiting Nong Khiaw in the north. Let us know if you found this Luang Prabang travel guide helpful and if you have any lesser known secrets!
*this article contains affiliate links; which means we get a small commission if you purchase anything through our links. This will be at no additional costs to you, but will help us to keep the blog running