How to Spend a Relaxing Holiday in Luang Prabang

February 21, 2019

Looking for a place to unwind for a few days? Luang Prabang, a friendly town in northern Laos, is the perfect place for a relaxing holiday. The former royal capital of Laos, Luang Prabang has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1995.

Its quiet streets are lined with French colonial architecture and historic temples. Nestled between the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers and surrounded by lush green mountains, the pace of life moves slower here. It’s the perfect place to sit back, drink a Beerlao, and let your worries drift away.


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When to Visit Luang Prabang

Laos basically has 2 seasons – dry season (November-May, hottest months March-May) and rainy season (May-October). I’ve been to Luang Prabang three times – once in July, twice in December – and loved it each time. I believe there are perks to each season.

My visits to Luang Prabang

July (rainy season)

In rainy season, the trees, plants, and rice fields are a lush, vibrant green. I loved the way the clouds hung on the mountains giving them an ethereal appearance.

Ricefields in Rainy Season in Laos

Since rainy season is low tourist season, hotels cost less and places are less crowded. The downside is the rain. Usually it only downpours in spurts throughout the day, so bring a poncho (or buy one there), and you can still see all the sites!   

December (dry/winter season)

Cool, cloudy mornings give way to bright, sunny afternoons and beautiful sunsets over the Mekong. Without the low-hanging July clouds, I discovered just how many mountains surround Luang Prabang!

The downside is hotels are more expensive and there are a lot more tourists. Even still, Luang Prabang is nowhere near as crowded as places in Thailand.  

Want more planning ideas? Check out my 'Ultimate Guide to Preparing for International Travel'!

Best Activities in Luang Prabang

1) Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall will be the highlight of your holiday to Luang Prabang. Several tiers of falls plunge down the hillside. When it's sunny, the pools at the base of the falls turn a beautiful turquoise. Although it's best to arrive early if you want to avoid the crowds, the falls are most spectacular in sunlight. If mornings are cloudy, it's worth it to wait and go in the afternoon. 

To get there, you can hire a van (shared or private) from your hotel or one of the travel companies in town. The falls are a 45-minute drive from Luang Prabang by car. Several years ago, we rented a motorbike and drove to the falls on our own which took a bit longer. The entrance fee is 20,000 kip (~US $2.50).

Two waterfall images - left one full, right one with less water and turquoise pool - Kuang Si Waterfall

Tallest waterfall at Kuang Si - what a difference between rainy and dry season! (left - July 2011, right - Dec 2018).

You can swim in several of the pools so be sure to bring your swimsuit! When the water level is high, you may be able to swing from a rope into one of the lower pools.

Kuang Si Waterfall rope swing in rainy season

Swinging into the falls in July (2011) - clearly I forgot my swimsuit!

Kuang Si falls in dry season

Same location as above, but no swing in December (2018). Looks like part of the stump is also gone!

Planning to visit the falls? Check out these 'Tips for Visiting Kuang Si Waterfall in Luang Prabang'!

2) Stroll through Old Town and Tour the Temples

Old town Luang Prabang is a picturesque mix of French colonial architecture and Buddhist wats (temples). Walking around town, you can pop into some of the handicraft shops, wander into the wats, and grab a fruit shake to cool you off. 

Colonial building Luang Prabang

A few sites not to miss:

Wat Xieng Thong

Built in the 1500s, this is one of the oldest wats in Luang Prabang and one of the few to survive invasions. It was used for coronations of Lao kings and other important festivals.

Wat Xieng Thong historic temple in Luang Prabang Laos
Wat Haw Pha Bang

Only completed a few years ago, this new wat is located in front of the Royal Palace. It was built to house the sacred Pha Bang Buddha image for which Luang Prabang is named. The façade of the wat is stunning, especially when the sunlight hits the gold decorations just right.

Wat Haw Pha Bang, Relaxing holiday in Luang Prabang

Wat Haw Pha Bang - in July

Royal Palace

This palace is not the most ornate I’ve been to (or even close), but I found it interesting to visit nonetheless. The museum's exhibits present a good picture of the lifestyle of Laos’ former royalty.

Royal Palace Tips:  1) The palace complex closes for lunch (~11:30am-1:30pm) so plan accordingly. 2) You cannot bring any purses, cameras, or bags into the palace itself so head to the locker room first to store your belongings.

3) Rent a Motorbike & Tour the Countryside

Renting a motorbike (or scooter) and driving around independently is one of my favorite activities. Luang Prabang is surrounded by rolling hills of lush greenery, sleepy villages, and flourishing rice field terraces.

Being able to stop to take photos, buy some fruit at a roadside stand, or just admire the scenery are luxuries that renting a motorbike affords. 

girl in yellow poncho riding red motorbike

Nothing says rainy season like a bright yellow poncho!

There are always risks you accept when renting motorbikes.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind for renting motorbikes in Laos:

  • Ask your hotel for a reputable motorbike rental location and always check out your bike before riding.
  • Technically it is illegal to rent a motorbike without a motorbike license, though many tourists do it. Be aware that you could be stopped by police and fined.
  • Always wear a helmet – you may be stopped by police and fined for not doing so, but more importantly SAFETY. Lao hospitals are not the best.
  • Always lock your motorbike when you are not on it. Unlocked, they are easily (and often) stolen.

4) Support Local Farmers by Drinking Delicious Coffee at Saffron

What is better than drinking a delicious cup of coffee by the Mekong? Knowing that your caffeine-addiction is contributing to a sustainable livelihood for Lao farmers. Saffron Coffee has been partnering with local villages to grow coffee as an alternative cash crop since 2006. The cafe has expanded since our first visit and now has a deck overlooking the Mekong.

iced coffee with town background

Saffron iced coffee

5) Climb Mount Phousi for Incredible Views

The incredible views at the top of Mount Phousi, a hill in the center of Luang Prabang, are worth the number of steps you have to climb to get there. From here, you can see out over the valley and the newer section of Luang Prabang set at the foot of beautiful mountains.  

View of Luang Prabang from Mount Phousi

View of Mekong from Mount Phousi

View from Mount Phousi in Luang Prabang Laos

View of Nam Khan from Mount Phousi

Many people climb this hill for sunset (and maybe sunrise), so if you plan to do so, show up early to claim your spot!  

6) Eat Traditional Lao Dishes at Tamarind

Bursting with herbaceous and spicy flavor, Lao food is a must-try when you’re in Luang Prabang. If you haven’t tried Lao cuisine before (or even if you have), I recommend starting at Tamarind.

tasting plates of Lao food dishes at Tamarind Luang Prabang

They offer several set menus, ranging from safe and mild to adventurous and spicy, which will introduce you to the highlights of Lao food. It’s a good way to discover what you like so you know what to order elsewhere, plus the food is delicious!

Tamarind also offers cooking lessons which you can sign up for on their website. Book early, especially if you go during high season. 

 Tips for Eating Lao Food

  • Khao neow or sticky rice is the most important dish in Lao food and serves as the vehicle to eat many other dishes. You eat it by picking up a little with your hands and rolling it into a small ball. Then, dip the rice into other dishes such as jeows (sauces), laap (minced meat salad), etc. to eat.
  • Papaya salad (tam mak hoong) – a must-try but can be very spicy and is made with a fermented fish sauce (padek) which I love but some foreigners don’t. Give it a shot and see what you think. If padek isn’t for you, tell them ‘baw sai padek’ (don’t put in padek) next time. Eat this salad with chopsticks.
  • Grilled meats – fish (ping ba), sausage (sai oua) – delicious and tend not to be spicy. Fish come whole from the grill so you’ll have to watch for bones.
  • Noodle soups (pho, khao piak, khao soi) are eaten with chopsticks and spoon. Pile the noodles onto your spoon then dip your spoon into the broth to get the perfect bite.
  • You’ll notice most tables in Laos have a bunch of condiments sitting on them. It’s perfectly acceptable to doctor your dishes, particularly soups, to your tastes. Add as many chilies as you want!

7) Ride a Boat on the Mekong

Luang Prabang’s setting on the mighty Mekong River gives you the perfect opportunity to hop on a boat. Walk down the road next to the Mekong and you’ll find a slew of boat drivers offering half-day trips, sunset cruises… anything you want!

In fact, when we visited Luang Prabang with my parents a few years ago, we decided that a 1-hour boat ride on the river was the perfect amount of time for us. We just sailed up the river admiring the scenery, then turned around.

Boat on Mekong River in Luang Prabang

Pak Ou Cave & Whisky Village

Many people choose to do the half-day (~3-4 hour) trip to the Pak Ou Cave and Whisky Village. The boat ride to the cave takes ~2 hours (going upriver) but coming back it takes only about an hour.

Once you arrive, you’ll have time to see the caves and walk around a bit. The first cave is just a few steps up from the boats. This is where most of the Buddha statues are. If you don't mind a bit of a climb, you can also walk up to the upper cave which is darker and has a few more statues.  

Buddhas at the mouth of Pak Ou Cave

Pak Ou Cave

Back in the boat, you’ll head to Whisky Village where you can taste several whisky - original and flavored - and shop for handicrafts. 

Whisky village handicrafts for sale Luang Prabang

Whisky village stop and handicrafts to purchase

We've visited Pak Ou Cave and the Whisky Village twice now. Once on a boat trip from Luang Prabang back in July 2011 and once on our Mekong River Cruise in December 2019. 

While interesting, if you have limited time in your Luang Prabang itinerary, I'm not sure if this trip is worth the time investment. The cave is small and generally very crowded with tourists. But if you’re hankering for a long boat ride and want a destination, it might be perfect for you!

8) Shop at the Night Market

Luang Prabang doesn’t have a lot going on after dark. The liveliest part of town is the nightly handicraft market.

As late-afternoon rolls around, vendors begin arriving near the Royal Palace to claim their spots and set up their wares. It’s a family and social affair - sellers gossip as their kids catch up on homework and babies sleep.

scarves, paintings, sinhs at night market

Scenes from Night Market at Luang Prabang

Stroll through rows of colorful cross-stitched purses and pillowcases, intricate Lao sinhs (skirts), paintings, woodwork, and more. If you see something you like, ask “thao dai?” (how much).

Pro Tip: Bargaining in Laos is more of a game than a serious negotiation. Remember to smile and be polite and you’ll probably get a discount, especially if you purchase more than one item.

9) Watch Sunset over Mekong River with a Beerlao

Stop at any of the restaurants along the Mekong, order some papaya salad and a Beerlao and watch the sunset. If it’s hot outside, drink it like a local and put some ice in it. Yes, this counts as an activity. You’re relaxing, remember?!

Boat and Sunset on Mekong River in Luang Prabang

Planning a Trip to Luang Prabang

As you can see, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a great place to spend a few days relaxing and exploring the natural beauty of Laos. 

Where to Stay in Luang Prabang

Trying to find the perfect hotel in Luang Prabang or to get idea of what to budget for accommodations? Use the map below to start your search!

Filter by your individual preferences and input your travel dates to see what places are available and what their nightly rates are. 

Here are a couple of the hotels we've stayed in on several holidays in Luang Prabang that I recommend checking out.

Mekong Riverview Hotel

Since we enjoy a view when we travel, the Mekong Riverview Hotel was perfect for us, albeit a bit expensive.

Located just across the road from the Mekong River, their rooms have generous balconies overlooking the river where you can relax and have a beer in the evening.

balcony with two chairs and ceiling fan with doors with wooden shutters behind them
large room with king size bed with white sheets and colorful pillows, chair, lamps, sofa, desk and two windows

Although it does not have certain amenities, like a pool, the Mekong Riverview felt very luxurious and the staff is wonderful. One of the highlights for me was the delicious breakfast at the hotel's restaurant overlooking the Nam Khan River. 

Another nice perk is on certain weekdays, they have a free wine happy hour where you can meet and mingle with other guests, plus meet the hotel's owner.

Hotel Villa Deux Rivieres

Nestled back at the end of the old town peninsula, Hotel Villa Deux Rivieres is a charming mid-range hotel with spacious rooms. Although it is on the Nam Khan river, most of the rooms do not have river views. 

room with king bed with white sheets, green wall with decorative artwork and ceiling fan
bathroom with shower and sink with mirror

We only stayed for one night in between our river cruise and leaving for Nong Khiaw. The hotel staff was great and helped us to arrange our bus and pick-up to go to Nong Khiaw.

Final Thoughts

With beautiful natural scenery, historic temples, and excellent coffee, Luang Prabang is a perfect spot to sit back and enjoy a few days of relaxation! Hopefully this article gives you some ideas for your next trip to Luang Prabang.

Happy travels!

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  • Great post, so impressed with the tranquil atmosphere of Luang Prabang city. If I had a chance to visit Luang Prabang, I would try to savor a coffee cup while observing the beauty of city >.<

  • Great post, will save for later and share with our network once the borders are open again – so many great reasons to come and visit Luang Prabang. Love the pics!

  • I didn’t know Laos whisky was a thing. I thought only a few countries made it. Laos is another one of those places that intrigues me. Temples, Markets, cool road and boat trips- what doesn’t it have. I had a friend from Laos when I was in Chicago. He was great fun. So obviously people are cool too

  • It looks like there is so much to do in Luang Prabang, plus I would always be content just hanging out on a riverside balcony. I’ve not spent any time in this part of Asia yet. Really looking forward to it down the road.

    • Luang Prabang is definitely the type of place where you could just sit and relax on a balcony overlooking the river. But also a great jumping off point to get out and explore the countryside as well. I hope you’ll be able to visit someday soon!

  • Ohhh you brought me right back to Luang Prabang! Such a beautiful town to explore. I loved wandering over the bamboo suspension bridge & exploring the quieter side of the river, too. Thank you for this great post. I’ve definitely saved it for when I return!

  • I haven’t been to this part of Asia yet – one day!! I love your waterfall pictures – one of the things I like about visiting somewhere more than once is you get to see differences like that. It looks a great place to visit.

    • I hope you’ll make it over this way one day! Luang Prabang is a great place to squeeze into a Southeast Asia itinerary since it’s so chill and relaxing. I took my parents right after a visit to Bangkok and I think they appreciated it after all the hustle and bustle of the big city.

  • One of my absolute favourite places! I visited Laos in December 2017 and have been hankering to return ever since. This was a nice trip down memory lane.

  • Ahh. I’ve never been to Luang Prabang! It’s been a regret, having lived “closeby” twice in my life! I’d loooove to go visit the waterfalls! And what’s this whisky village? you know that piqued my interest 🙂

    PS – my brother in law’s family is from Laos, so I know allllll about the delicious Laotian foods!!

    • Hopefully you’ll get to Luang Prabang one day – it’s a beautiful place! It’s funny having visited “whisky village” 10 years ago and going back this past year – clearly they’ve made money on the whisky and handicrafts because the village is much more developed and even has a new temple!

      That’s awesome that your brother-in-law’s family is from Laos! Do you know what part they’re from? Has he cooked for you before?

  • How lovely to read about a country I don’t know – and so colourful. It looks fabulous. And I had no idea you could go whisky tasting in Laos – now that’s different! 🙂

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed this post on Luang Prabang, Carole! The whisky tasting in Laos is certainly a different experience than I’ve had in other places and a fun thing to try. 🙂

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