Luang Prabang is Laos’ ancient, religious city and is somewhere that I really took to. It’s a popular city in Laos, and is visited by most of the travellers who pass through, but it still manages to be completely authentic and doesn’t feel too tourist trodden. It’s home to religious buildings and traditional rituals, museums, restaurants, bars, colonial architecture and has some wonderful nature not too far from the city centre.
It’s a lot more chilled out than most Asian cities, but also has so much to do. It’s a wonderful mix of everything that’s good about cultured cities like Hanoi in Vietnam, and chilled out but pretty places such as Savannakhet, further south in Laos.
Basically, make sure you don’t miss Luang Prabang while on your Laos itinerary. And now we’ve established that, you’re probably wondering what some of the best things to do in Luang Prabang in three days are. So let’s get stuck in.
Three days in Luang Prabang is the minimum time you should spend in this city, but you could easily pass more time if you wanted. But we’ll go through this Luang Prabang itinerary presuming that you’re here for three days, with some extra add-ons.
How to Get to Luang Prabang
If you’re travelling to Luang Prabang from elsewhere in Laos, buses are your answer. Buses leave Luang Prabang for Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Phonsavan, Nong Khiaw and other smaller places. If you’re venturing from further south in Laos, you may have to change in Vientiane.
If you’re in Thailand, you have two real options: long-distance bus or slow boat. The slow boat takes you down the Mekong, offering some amazing scenery. But it is what it says on the tin: slow. It takes 2 days from the Laos border, so it’s up to you whether you want to spend 2 days sitting on a scenic boat.
If you do decide to take the boat, be sure to check with Laos Smile to see if they have any discounts on their luxury liners (sometimes they have 75% off which makes it cheaper than the normal boat!). You can go through to their website here.
From Thailand, you’ll likely be going from Chaing Mai or Chiang Rai. It’s 6 hours to the border from Chiang Mai and 3 from Chiang Mai, and then about 12 hours from the border to Luang Prabang. You can book with the same company the whole way, who will wait for you at the border.
There aren’t any jazzy boats from Vietnam to Luang Prabang sadly (you can do a DIY job of local transport and incorporate a boat on the Nam Ou River, but it will involve 3 buses and a very long shuttle boat), but long-distance buses do travel from Hanoi and Sa Pa to Luang Prabang.
You can, of course, fly – there is an international airport in Luang Prabang – but this is an overland travel blog, and I know nothing about flying ;).
Day One: Arrive in Luang Prabang
Most journeys to Luang Prabang are quite long ones. A lot of travellers take the slow boat from Thailand (which takes a stunning three days from Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, or two days from the border), or a long bus from Vietnam.
If you’re visiting Luang Prabang from elsewhere in Laos, your journey will probably be shorter, but still not exactly a hop down the road. From Vang Vieng it takes five hours, from Nong Khiaw it’s four hours, and from Vientiane, Laos’ capital, it’s an eight hour overnight bus.
So basically, you might be a little sleepy when you arrive in Luang Prabang. And that’s totally fine; day number one on this Luang Prabang itinerary is really chilled out, giving you the chance to get to know the city. It’s Laos, nothing goes too quickly here!
Check-in and Explore the City
For day number one in Luang Prabang, I’d recommend finding your hotel or hostel, dropping your bags off, and ambling around the city. Head to one of the many spas for a massage, grab a coffee or tea (if you’re seeking somewhere a bit more European JOMA serves good coffee and has soy milk!) and just amble around the city streets.
The colonial architecture is wonderful, as are the Mekong views that can be found throughout the city.
If you want somewhere to charge up from the journey, hang out with travellers and catch up with some reading, check out L’Etranger book cafe. They have a book exchange programme here, as well as delicious drinks.
Evening Plans: Yoga, Dinner and Drinks
And another place to chill in Luang Prabang is Utopia. There are yoga lessons throughout the day, click here to find out times. After yoga, you can stay here for food, and experience the change from a relaxed joint to a party place. After dark, they serve up Beerlao and other drinks, have bonfires and music until 11pm.
At 11pm, nearly all of the bars in Luang Prabang shut to help people sleep, as the monks wake up at 4am for the almsgiving. A whole city with a curfew is a dream come true for me, someone who absolutely thrives off being in bed by 10pm.
But if you do fancy heading out after Utopia, the bowling alley is your best bet. It’s the only place that stays open in Luang Prabang after midnight, and it’s just as fun as you think it is. You can either get drunk and bowl, or not get drunk and bowl while watching drunk people bowl. It’s a great time, trust me.
Day Two: Waterfalls and Caves
Today will help you experience the scenic beauty around Luang Prabang. While other destinations in Laos are all about the nature, I would argue that Luang Prabang is better visited for its culture. However, there are some must-visit destinations in the surrounding area that are well worth visiting.
Kuang Si Falls
Kuang Si Falls are one of the top things to do around Luang Prabang. You can get there by minivan for 35,000 – 40,000 kip, or rent a motorbike and make the journey yourself. Like most journeys in Laos, you might find that the road here is a bit on the twisty and turny side – if you’re prone to travel sickness, maybe hold off on the big breakfast fry up.
Kuang Si Falls are really beautiful, with crystal blue water and drops that make for fantastic photos. They’re great for a swim – although do be aware that in the morning it can be quite chilly. The mist clears at around 11am and then it suddenly gets scorching hot!
You can also hike around the falls, through the forest at the back. There is a bear sanctuary on site as well. It’s ran by Laos’ Save the Bears Charity – although I found it a bit odd that they were rescued from poachers only to spend time in captivity. I’ll let you pass your own judgment on this.
Pak Ou Caves
The best way to reach the Pak Ou Caves is to take a van back to Luang Prabang and then a boat to the caves, which are adorned with Buddha statues – thousands of ’em, to be (not all that) exact.
The Pak Ou Caves are a marvellous natural formation – so marvellous that they became one of the area’s top religious sites. They’re now the home for thousands of Buddha statues, and more are added each year. Generally, these are statues that have broke or are for some reason disused, and they come to live their retirement here rather than be thrown away.
Luang Prabang Night Market
The Luang Prabang Night Market is thought by many to be the best in South East Asia. You can buy all sorts here – food, souvenirs, gadgets, clothes, and more!
There are lots of trinkets and souvenirs that other night markets might not necessarily have. One especially poignant thing, for me, were the artefacts made out of bomb shells – not only did this put them to a use and help people make money from the shells, but it raises awareness about how much it still affects Laos today.
Also on sale are some traditional skirts and the normal Asian night market fare of baggy traveller pants and colourful bracelets.
Now, I am recommending that you eat at the Luang Prabang Night Market, but I will issue a word of caution – DO NOT eat any buffet food that is served cold and has obviously been sitting out for a while. Even if it’s vegan. As you might have guessed, I’m writing from personal experience.
I hungrily tucked into my plate of veggies and noodles at the Luang Prabang Night Market, thinking ‘ah, it’s just veggies, what could go wrong?’. Let me tell you – a lot. I ended up experiencing the worst bout of food poisoning of my life, while in an 8 bed dorm room. It was grim. Grimmer than grim. Just be careful, please, I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.
That being said, there are plenty of food stalls at the Luang Prabang Night Market that cook the food for you there and then. Eat some piping hot food there, try to get the lovely image of me running to the bathroom every 2.5 minutes out of your head, and enjoy your time at the night market!
Day number three starts early. If you’re mad for bowling and want to head there after your time at the night market, you do you, but be warned that if you’re planning on following this Luang Prabang itinerary to a T (which of course, you don’t have to do, but yaknow I make a lot of sense ;)) you’ll need to be up at 4:30am sharp the next day.
Day Three: Traditional Laos
Rise and shine! Today we’re going to experience the traditionality (is that a word?) of Luang Prabang. And it starts with a post-5am alarm. Erk, I know.
But this isn’t something you want to miss. At sunrise every day, monks offer alms around the old city of Luang Prabang. It’s a beautiful, highly significant sight and is well worth the alarm call.
You can make your way down there yourself and observe the ceremony, or join a tour if you would like to offer alms yourself. It is possible to do so without a tour, but there are particular ways that you need to offer alms to ensure that you’re doing it respectfully and personally I know that I would rather a local ensuring that I was doing the right thing.
Tours also include pick-up from your hotel, positioning in the best place to see the ceremony and an English-speaking local guide who will be able to give you more information than all the travel blogs ever could. Click here for more details about the almsgiving tours.
Temples of Luang Prabang
Once you’ve refreshed, breakfasted and maybe had a nap, head back out to check out the best temples in Luang Prabang. Being a religious city and the ex-capital of the country, there are plenty of spots to check out around and about.
Some specific temples worth checking out are:
- Wat Xieng Thong
- Wat Mai
- Royal Temple Museum: as the name suggests, this is both a temple and a museum. It’s really interesting and helps you learn a lot about past Lao monarchy.
If you would rather a guided tour around Luang Prabang’s highlights, that’s totally possible. This city tour will take you around all of the main temples and attractions in the city, with a friendly local guide. Click here to see more details and to book the tour.
UXO Visitors Centre
If you’re not going to Vientiane on your Laos trip, I highly recommend checking out the UXO visitors centre in Luang Prabang (there is a larger centre in Vientiane called the COPE centre which is a must-do in the city, so I’d recommend seeing that one if you’re choosing between the two).
The UXO vistors centre has displays about the Secret War, how Laos became the world’s most bombed country and how UXOs still affect the population of Laos to this day. It’s hard-hitting, but when travelling in countries like Laos, it’s very important that you get the full picture.
Lao Cooking Course
Lao cuisine doesn’t get quite as much glory as neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam, but guys, it’s still pretty awesome. It takes its inspiration from South East Asian dishes as well as French food, which have been present in the country since colonialism.
Some Lao cuisine is quite similar to other countries in South East Asia, like curries inspired by Thailand and spring rolls mimicking those found in Vietnam. But there are some dishes that have a notable French influence, and others which are just so Lao.
So what better than to enjoy this on a Lao cooking course? This vegetarian cooking course with Backstreet Academy takes you to a local’s kitchen to enjoy some authentic Hmong food. It is three hours long and includes the preparation of 2 Lao dishes and 3 sauces. Click here for more information and to book.
Mount Phousi for Sunset
Beautiful Mount Phousi looks over the whole of the city and is a spiritual place for Lao people. There are temples and shrines dotted around the mountain, making the climb up wonderfully scenic – and the view is spectacular as well.
It’s an easy climb that takes around 15 minutes to reach the summit. However, if you want to get the best Mount Phousi pictures, head there a little before sunset to secure your view. It gets busy at this time.
Dinner at Tamarind
Tamarind is one of the best restaurants in Luang Prabang and definitely deserves a spot on this Luang Prabang itinerary. It serves some of Laos’ best dishes, including laab, sticky rice and spring rolls. Many dishes are veganised which was just music to my ears. They also serve shots of flavoured LaoLao and a ginger and lemongrass refresher which was basically the best thing I’ve ever drunk.
It’s a lot pricier than most places you’ll eat in Laos, but is well worth it, especially in a big group.
Where from Luang Prabang?
Check out my Laos itinerary for ideas about where to go from Luang Prabang. You’ll most likely be heading to Vang Vieng, Vientiane, Nong Khiaw, Thailand or Vietnam though – so check out my posts for each of these destinations by clicking through:
- What to do in Vientiane
- Why I didn’t party in Vang Vieng
- Hiking in Vang Vieng (and how not to do it)
- Hiking in Nong Khiaw
- Is Chiang Rai Worth Visiting?
- Elephant Nature Park: An Ethical Elephant Sanctuary Near Chiang Mai
- Your Ultimate Thailand Itinerary
- 3 Days in Bangkok Itinerary
- Trekking in Sapa
- Your Ultimate Vietnam Itinerary
More Laos Posts
And that’s not all I’ve got for Laos! Click through to see my posts for other areas of the country.
- Things to do in Savannakhet
- Things to do in Pakse and Champasak
- 4,000 Islands Travel Guide
- Is Kong Lor Cave Worth It?
- The Thakhek Loop – How to See it Without a Motorbike