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.
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
There are always risks you accept when renting motorbikes.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind for renting motorbikes in Laos:
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Back in the boat, you’ll head to Whisky Village where you can taste several whisky - original and flavored - and shop for handicrafts.
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.
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?!
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!
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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.
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.
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.
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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.