Luang Prabang Travel Guide

luang prabang laos travel guide

              Tucked between the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers and surrounded by a wall of mountains, the UNESCO Heritage Site city of Luang Prabang is a beautiful destination that shouldn’t be missed.  With It’s 33 UNSECO Heritage temples, turquoise waterfalls, jungle clad mountains, and world class food, it has become one of the most popular destinations in Laos.

buddha statue luang prabang laos

The former royal capital is devoted to its heritage.  Luang Prabang is an idyllic town of terracotta rooftops, golden stupas and laneways frequented by saffron-robed monks strolling back to temple. It all comes together to form a picture increasingly difficult to find anywhere in Southeast Asia.  Luang Prabang has so much going for it that it’s hard to know where to start. Read on to find out more about this gorgeous, laid-back city; including the top things to see and do, where to stay, and how to get there.

What to Do in the City

Royal Palace Museum

royal palace luang prabang laos

              Built in 1904 as the residence of King Sisavang Vong, in a fusion of French and Lao architectural style, the palace now stands as a museum.  The museum gives you a glimpse of what life was like in the palace, as well as some insight into Lao history and culture.  Apart from being a beautiful structure, the Palace Museum also has a beautiful garden, palace temple, and the car collection of the last king of Laos.

Cost: 20,000 LAK/2.22 USD; tour of the garden is free.

Wat Xieng Thong

wat xieng thong luang prabang laos

              Wat Xieng Thong is one of the oldest monasteries in the city.  For centuries it was considered the ceremonial gateway to the town, with its stairs leading from Mekong River.  The site encompasses a large area with many temples gilded in gold, detailed mosaics, and elaborate wall carvings.  Wat Xieng Thong is considered one of the finest temples in all of Laos.

Cost: 20,000 LAK/2.22 USD

Kuang Si Waterfall

kuang si waterfall luang prabang laos

              The Kuang Si Waterfall is one of the most popular attractions in the area.  This three-tiered waterfall is famous for its turquoise water and jungle surrounded waterfalls.  Guests are allowed to swim in all but one of the waterfalls pools, so bring your swimsuit.  In some of the pools there are also Red Garra fish (known as the Dr./pedicure fish), so you can experience a fish pedicure for free.  On the trail leading to the falls you will pass the Kuang Si Bear Sanctuary.  Here you can see Moon and Asian Black Bears that were saved from poachers.  Kuang Si Waterfall is located about 30 minutes outside of town so you will need to get a tuk tuk to take you there (30,000 LAK/3.33 USD).

Cost: 20,000 LAK/2.22 USD 

Knife making

knife making luang prabang laos

              Blacksmithing knives from recycled materials is an important trade in Luang Prabang.  Through Backstreet Academy you can experience the real process of making knives from scrap metal from start to finish.  Accompanied by a translator, you will work with a master blacksmith to create a knife of your own.  The course costs $34 USD and includes transportation, translator, and the materials needed to make the knife you take home.  Backstreet Academy has many other experiences in Luang Prabang as well, but this is the only one that I tried.  You can check them out or make a reservation on their website:

Elephant Conservation Center 

elephant conservation center luang prabang laos

              The Elephant Conservation Center is not in the town of Luang Prabang (it’s 2 hours outside of town), but it is where the experience starts.  If you want to see what a real elephant conservation looks like in action or want to help out, then this is the experience for you.  They offer 2-7 day experiences which teach you about the Asian Elephants and how the center acquired and takes care of them.  It also allows you to trek through the jungle and watch the 34 elephants in their natural habitat.  The experience is a bit costly, but it is an amazing experience.  You can book a tour at their office in Luang Prabang or by visiting their website:

Mount Phou Si

view luang prabang laos mount phou si
View of Luang Prabang from atop Mount Phou Si.

              Mount Phousi is Luang Prabang’s highest hill and sits as a center point for the city.  Atop the 328 stairs climb you will get panoramic views over the countryside, the radiant temples, and the Mekong River.  Wat Chomsi, also at the top of the mountain, dates back to 1804.  The mountain top also offers one of the best viewpoints of the sunset.  Needless to say, this also makes it a very popular place for people to come in the evening.  

Cost: 20,000 LAK/2.22 USD

Wat Visounnarath

pathum wat visounnarath luang prabang laos
Pathum at Wat Visounnarath

              Wat Visounnarath was originally built in 1512, but was razed by the Black Flag Army in 1887.  It has since been rebuilt in a new style.  In front of the temple is the famous Pathum (lotus flower) stupa.  This temple is also a repository for ancient art and objects.  Visiting this temple can also be coupled with Wat Aham, located just beside it. 
Cost: 20,000 LAK/2.22 USD

Wat Manorom

wat manorom luang prabang laos

Wat Manorom was originally built to inter the ashes of King Samsenthai.  It is also known for housing one of Laos’ oldest Buddha images.

Heuan Chan Heritage House

heuan chan heritage house luang prabang laos

              A beautiful, well-preserved traditional Lao house situated at the center of Luang Prabang.  The house has a small museum inside that can be toured.  There is a nice garden on the property where you can enjoy some snacks or drinks from the cafĂ© there.

Witness the Alms Ceremony

alms ceremony luang prabang laos

              At dawn, the monks come down Sakkaline Road to collect alms of rice from both villagers and tourists. You can easily locate the route for almsgiving by looking for rows of rice baskets and stools waiting for the alms-givers.  Remember that if you attend you should dress modestly.  You should also stay out of the way of the monks and only photograph respectfully.

Night Market

night market luang prabang laos

              Set on the Sisavangvong Road (outside the Royal Palace), the night market has a seemingly endless line of stalls selling souvenirs, food, and handmade goods.  Many of the souvenirs and jewelry are made from re-purposed Vietnam War Era bombs.  This is a visit if only for the street food that can be found here.  

Watch the Sunset

sunset mount phou si luang prabang laos
Sunset from atop Mount Phou Si.

              Watching the sunset in Laos is a beautiful thing and there are few places better to see it than in Luang Prabang.  Here there are so many amazing options for you to enjoy.  Whether you climb to the top of Mount Phou Si (along with seemingly everyone else in town), enjoy it from the deck of Utopia, or watch it glistening off of one of the beautiful temples, you can't go wrong with catching the sunset in charming Luang Prabang. 

Walking/Cycling Tour

wat may souvannapoumaram luang prabang laos
Wat May Souvannapoumaram

              Besides the above-mentioned sites, Luang Prabang has numerous other things to see and do within the city.  Luang Prabang is a UNESCO Heritage Site with 34 protected temples.  I only listed a few above, but you should take the chance to see as many as you can as each one is unique.  The ‘Old Town’ also has a lot of Lao and French architecture that is worth viewing during a leisurely stroll through town. 

Where to Eat

orlam food luang prabang laos
Orlam, traditional Luang Prabang specialty.

              Luang Prabang prides itself on its food.  If you are a foody, then this is the #1 spot in Laos that you need to visit.  Luang Prabang has no shortage of restaurants, eateries, and cafes to choose from.  If you think it looks good, chances are it’s better than you think.  Here you can find a number of traditional dishes from around Laos, as well as some Luang Prabang specialties.   My two favorite dishes are sai oua and Orlam.  Sai oua is a sausage from Luang Prabang made from fatty pork, chilli, garlic, and lots of herbs.  Orlam is a spicy, bittersweet meat soup made with chilli wood, lemongrass, aubergine and dill.

street food buffet luang prabang laos
Street food vegetarian buffet.

              Aside from all of the restaurants, you should not pass up a chance (or any night) to eat a street food buffet in the night market.  Every evening a series of stalls open up offering an array of different foods at low-budget prices.  I loved walking down the row each night to buy a sausage or two), spring roll, and creating a veggie stir-fry, then sitting down at one of the tables to enjoy it all. 

utopia view mekong river luang prabang laos
View of the Nam Khan River from Utopia.

              If your looking for a cool place to get a drink in the evening then I recommend Utopia.  It is a favorite amongst the backpacking crowd, so if you want a sit along the river then you will need to show up early.  The place has a chill bar with nice ambiance, beanie bags, and great riverside views.

Where to Stay

mekong sunset guesthouse luang prabang laos

              Like all tourist cities, you can find a variety of hotels and hostels in every price range.  I stayed at the Mekong Sunset Guesthouse, located just across the road from the river, and was very happy with my stay.  When booking my hotels, I always use Agoda to find the best hotel in my location and price range. 

How to Get Around

tourist map luang prabang laos

              I recommend walking while in Luang Prabang; it is by far the cheapest and easiest way of getting around.  Luang Prabang is small enough that all the main sights and restaurants are within walking distance from one another.  A bicycle is another easy way of exploring.  Bicycle rentals start from 10,000 LAK/1.11 USD per day for a regular touring bike to 50,000 LAK/5.55 USD per day for a mountain bike. You can speak with your hotel about a bicycle rental and you usually will be required leave identification as a deposit.

Haw Pha Bang
Haw Pha Bang

              There are also tuk tuks for in town and songthaews (truck with a covered bed) for further away sites.  You will find many of these huddled together in the main part of town working the tourist that pass by for shared rides, but if you search out a songthaew outside this area you will be able to get a better price. 

How to Get There


              There is an airport in Luang Prabang with both domestic and international routes if you wish to fly there.  The small Luang Prabang International Airport (airport code LPQ) is located four kilometers from the city center.  Travel from the airport (minivan only) or to the airport (minivan or tuk tuk) costs 50,000 LAK/5.55 USD.  If you are flying to Luang Prabang, I suggest using the Skyscanner widget below to book yourself a cheap ticket.


              There are two bus stations in Luang Prabang, each serving northern and southern cities respectively, and a third minibus station.  Each station costs 10,000 LAK/1.11 USD (double at night) to get to by tuk tuk.  The minibus is much quicker than the local bus, but it is also more expensive and usually far more packed.  You are also more likely to get car sick in a minivan, since they take the windy roads at greater speeds.  12GO <![endif]--> is an easy way to book buses online.

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              If you are traveling to/from the west and have time, there is also the option of taking a boat up/down the Mekong River.  There are two options for boats, both a slow and fast.  If you take the slow boat down river, then it will take 2 days, with an overnight in the small town of Pakbeng, before arriving in Luang Prabang on the afternoon of the next day.  Up river will take about 3 days.  The slow boat is a great option if you are wanting to just relax and take in the surrounding views, but it can also be a little cramped.  The slow boat costs 180,000 LAK/19.98 USD.  

              The other option is the speed boat.  This option is much faster than the slow boat; taking only 7 hours, with a lunch stop in Pakbeng.  It is considerably more expensive though, with a total cost of 380,000 LAK/42.15 USD.  These speed boats only have 6 passengers aboard, so they are much more comfortable, as well as give you a lifejacket and helmet for your safety.  During dryer seasons, these speed boats become increasingly more dangerous due to the shallow water and high speeds.  

luang prabang laos pinpoint map

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