The pretty city of Luang Prabang lies in the north central part of Laos, at the confluence of the Mekong River and the Nam Khan River. It is a UNESCO World Heritage city that was the capital of the country until the communist takeover in 1975. The city is known for its many historical buildings like the palace and wats (temples); as well as its beautiful natural sites like waterfalls, caves, and of course, its rivers.
My trip to Luang Prabang was meant to be a quick getaway, so my travel buddy, Diana and I only had 3 whole days to get to know the city. It was a little rushed, yes… but we still had enough time to see some of the city’s famous sites, explore the old town, and spend some chill-out time by the river. This was our itinerary.
Day 1: Temples of Luang Prabang
The AirAsia flight from Kuala Lumpur arrives at Luang Prabang in the morning, and that meant I had a full day to explore the city! The taxi ride to my guesthouse, the View Khem Khong, was only 15 minutes from the airport; and the owner, Eric, was kind enough to accommodate our early arrival. We had a swift check-in, left our bags at the counter, and then went off to visit the city’s temples. There are a total of 34 temples in Luang Prabang — so knowing I couldn’t see ’em all, I randomly picked a few of the more famous ones.
Cycling Around Old Town
First things first, rent a bicycle! We decided that the best way to get our bearings in the city was to get on a bike and get lost. There are tons of shops renting bicycles and bikes throughout the city, and some hotels offer them for free. We rented ours for LAK20k~US$2.5; and had it for the whole day.
Brunch at Jo Ma Cafe
After getting our bikes, we decided that we’d look for a place to get some breakfast. We cycled around for a bit before stopping at Jo Ma Cafe, a lovely cafe overlooking the Nam Khan river (we later found out that it’s pretty popular, with two branches in the city). It’s a great place for that early morning cuppa; and my tuna sandwich with melted cheese was absolutely delightful too.
Wat Xieng Thong
Fully recharged, we were ready to hit the temples. The first one we dropped by was Wat Xieng Thong, located at the tip of the Luang Prabang peninsular. Built in 1559, it is probably the most significant temple in the city. I loved the beautiful glass mosaics, especially the tree-of-life located at the back of the main temple. Entrance costs LAK20k~US$2.5.
Wat Sene Souk Haram
Just next to Wat Xieng Thong is the glittering golden Wat Sene. It was constructed in 1718 with 100,000 stones from the river. The temple makes a great backdrop when watching the alms giving ceremony at dawn. Admission is also LAK20k~US$2.5.
Wat Wisunat (Visounnarath)
We then made our way a little further south to Wat Wisunat, the oldest temple in Luang Prabang dating back to the early 16th century. Entry into the temple costs LAK10k~US$1, but walking around the grounds is free — so I skipped the temple and admired the huge unique stupa in front of the temple. There are several souvenir shops on the temple grounds.
Our final temple of the day was Wat Manorom, just a short distance away from Wat Wisunat. Like many temples in Luang Prabang, it is also a monastery — and we noticed many monks walking about. The main door to the temple was shut during my visit, but just admiring the simple hand-painted murals outside the temple walls was more than enough.
After a whole day temple-hopping, we took a short rest before heading out to explore the city’s night market. The market occupies a large portion of the main Sisavangvong Road, and the vendors sell everything from clothing, bags, jewelry, souvenirs, and tea. I had a good time checking out everything there was to buy.
Dinner at Food Alley
Also part of the night market, the Food Alley is located along a small street beside Indigo Cafe — you might miss it if you’re not looking for it. However, once inside, the lane is buzzing with tourists, locals and food stalls aplenty. It is a good place to get food for cheap — the buffet stalls allow you to stack as much food as you want onto a plate for LAK15k~US$1.5; and the bbq stations has delicious meat cooking on the grill, from pork sticks and drumsticks to tilapia fish. I guess stuffing myself with lots of food was how I ended my first night in Luang Prabang!
Day 2: Along the Mekong
More adventures today! The plan was to spend the first half of the day gliding along the Mekong River; and ending the day watching the sun go down. We also decided to wake up at the crack of dawn to witness one of Luang Prabang‘s most significant cultural ceremony that happens every single day.
Alms Giving Ceremony
By 6am, with the sky still dark, people were gathered along the main road of Luang Prabang, waiting to witness (or take part in) the Alms Giving Ceremony. It is an age-old ritual practiced by the monks every morning — they walk in a line in their saffron-colored robes to collect offerings from devotees. I watched quietly from the sidewalk, and only took a couple of quick shots when the sky turned bright.
Breakfast at Le Banneton
After watching the ceremony along Sakkaline Road, I dropped into the only cafe opened so early in the morning – the popular Le Banneton French Bakery. I absolutely enjoyed my French breakfast set of eggs, bacon, a baguette, croissant and a cuppa tea for LAK52k~US$6.
Boat Ride along the Mekong
I made my way to the public boat jetty (opposite Saffron Cafe) to catch the 8.30am return boat along the Mekong to Pak Ao Caves. I had a lovely time cruising and admiring the view the first few minutes; but because the slow-boats are long and narrow, it got a little uncomfortable after a while. Still, the lazy cruise is a must.
Find out more: Mynn’s Top 10 Things to Do in Luang Prabang, Laos
Halfway up the river, we made a quick pit stop at the Whisky Village. There is not much to see here — just a small booth selling some preserved whisky (lao lao) in a bottle with snakes and insects in them, and a couple of handicraft shops. Most of the travelers in my boat just got down for a toilet break, and to stretch out for a bit.
Pak Ou Caves
A few travelers told me that the Pak Ou Caves were nothing to shout about — but I have to disagree. I was really impressed with the many, many Buddha figurines that crowded the caves. The upper cave has bigger statues but is dark and damp (a torchlight is needed); but the bottom cave is bright with more figurines, and well, tourists. Entrance is LAK20k~US$2.5. We were given about 45 minutes to explore both caves before being brought back to town.
Lunch by the River
Upon reaching town, it was time for lunch. There are tons of restaurants overlooking the Mekong River, and we finally decided to dine at the restaurant attached to our guesthouse, the View Khem Khong. Our Lao dishes — pork laap, curry chicken, river weeds and sticky rice were absolutely delicious; and the view, even better. We whiled away a couple of hours just enjoying the slow pace of life in town.
Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center
After lunch, we made our way to the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center — about a 15-minute walk from our guesthouse facing the Mekong. Located on top of a hill, the small museum displays clothing, head-dresses, as well as arts and crafts from the many different ethnic tribes found in Laos. The visit was pretty insightful; though the entrance fee of LAK25k~US$3 is pretty steep for such a quick browse.
Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham
On the way to the Royal Palace, we decided to do a quick stop at Wat Mai. Built in the late 18th century, the main temple has beautiful elaborate designs and houses several Buddha statues. It costs LAK10k~US$1 to enter; however, I decided to just walk around the space around the temple and visit the old ancient stupas in the vicinity.
The Royal Palace is located next to Wat Mai. Built in 1904, it housed the royal family until they were overthrown in 1975. The Palace is now a museum and I really enjoyed my informative visit — admiring the palace murals, the glass mosaic walls, the crowns jewels and throne, as well as the many chambers. It costs LAK30k~US$3.5 to enter. I also stopped by the ornate Wat Haw Pha Bang in the palace grounds.
After our visit to the Royal Palace, we made our way up Mount Phousi. During the climb up the 355 steps, we passed by temples, caves, religious statues and beautiful scenery — and made it just in time to watch the gorgeous sunset from atop the small hill. It was extremely crowded, so we just stood and watched the sun slowly disappear behind the river and the mountains. Entrance is LAK20k~US$2.5.
After a whole day exploring, we made a quick stop at our guesthouse to freshen up before heading to the spa! We decided to try the Peninsula Spa that was recommended to us by the owner of our guesthouse. Housed in a wooden Lao building at the tip of the peninsula, the spa looks pretty zen — and their prices were comparable to the (not so impressive) ones around town. The wonderfully relaxing Lao massage cost LAK60k~US$7.5.
Dinner at Coconut Garden
After our wonderful massage session, we made our way towards the center of town for dinner. We decided to dine at the Coconut Garden because it was packed (which is a good sign) and also because of the pretty lights around the outdoor seating area. We had the beef stew, Lao omelette, Luang Prabang sausage and of course, sticky rice. A satisfying meal before calling it a night.
Day 3: Waterfalls and Villages
The third and final day in Luang Prabang began with a trip to its most popular attraction, the Kuang Si Falls. No trip to the city would be complete without a visit to these magnificent falls. The rest of the day remained unplanned… but we ended up with one of the most memorable experiences on our trip. Goes to show that sometimes, it’s nice to just go with the flow.
Khao Soi for Breakfast
There are two Khao Soi (flat rice noodle soup with pork) stalls along Sakkaline Road, and Diana and I decided to try them both for breakfast. Both stalls do not have signboards — the first one we visited is opposite Wat Sene, and the second one is opposite Villa Santi. The former is more popular, but I preferred the latter — the broth was spicier with larger chunks of meat, and the lady was friendlier too.
After breakfast, we decided to visit the Morning Market. The market lines several quiet streets near the Royal Palace and is mainly visited by the locals doing their grocery shopping. It was interesting walking along the lanes and checking out the different meat and produce for sale — they even have exotic animal meat like bats, crabs all bundled together, and different colored rice!
Kuang Si Waterfalls
Our main trip for the day was to the magnificent Kuang Si Falls — and our shared van left the town center at 8.30am in the morning. It takes an hour to get to the falls, and we had about 3-4 hours to explore. I had so much fun visiting the many levels of the falls, taking pictures of the beautiful river steps, jumping into the cooling pools, and just sitting under the running waters.
Find out more: Mynn’s Top 10 Things to Do in Luang Prabang, Laos
Bear Rescue Center
Near the entrance of the waterfalls is the Bear Rescue Center. The center houses several Asiatic Black Bears that had been rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. They are kept in large natural enclosures for them to roam around freely, with viewing platforms for us to observe these beautiful creatures. Entrance is free, but visitors can help the ‘Free the Bears’ cause by donating or purchasing souvenirs like shirts and soft toys.
Ban Xieng Maen Village
We didn’t have a plan upon returning from the falls — so we made a last minute decision to take a boat ride to the other side of the river to the Ban Xieng Maen Village. The owner of our guesthouse told us about the village, and the few temples to explore in the area. We took a quick LAK20k~US$2.5 journey across; and had a lovely time exploring the village, talking to the locals and especially meeting two little girls who followed us everywhere we went. We spent more than 2 hours in the village.
Most of the temples at the Ban Xieng Maen Village are not as impressive as those in Luang Prabang — but if there is one temple to visit, it’s Wat Chomphet. A long flight of steps took us up the hill, where we were greeted with gorgeous views overlooking the Mekong and Luang Prabang. There is a small run-down temple on top of the hill, and several old stupas covered with vegetation.
While returning back to Luang Prabang by boat, we managed to witness the setting sun from the middle of the river.
After a quick shower at our guesthouse, we made out way to the spa again. This time, we decided to try one of the more popular ones in the city — L’Hibiscus Spa. The spa is located along Sakkaline Road, and housed in a lovingly restored traditional Lao building. The rustic interior of the spa is stunning, and service (and price) was great too. I tried the ‘Lao Massage with Hot Herbal Compress’ for LAK120k~US$14.5 — it was so so so good.
Dinner at L’Elephant Restaurant
For our last meal in Luang Prabang, we decided to splurge a little at the fine-dining L’Elephant Restaurant. We ordered the ‘Saveurs du Laos‘ set menu for LAK160k~US$19.5 per person. The set consists of betel leaf soup, steamed pork in lemongrass stalk, chicken salad (laap), fish steamed in banana leaf, grilled pork fillet, river weed, sauteed vegetables, sticky rice; and fruits and ginger ice cream for dessert. The meal was wonderful, and a great way to end our last day in the city.
We flew out from Luang Prabang early in the morning the very next day.