On this website, I talk frequently about all the great places to visit, stay, eat, and play in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, and many more. But there’s still a place that’s one of my favorite in all of Asia and the entire world; a destination that still is shrouded in mystery and intrigue despite the fact that I’ve already checked it off of My Bucket List. In my opinion, the town of Luang Prabang in the oft-forgotten country of Laos is the jewel in that country’s crown; and, indeed, it used to be the capital of that nation in the 16th and 17th century. While other tourists flock to the capital city of Vientiane (not my favorite at all), or the backpacker infested river valley of Vang Vieng, I can spend weeks just wandering around Luang Prabang, witnessing its marvels.
So, if you’re planning a trip to Luang Prabang, too, what are some of the top things to do and see that should be on your list?
Rise with Mount Phousi
Towering over the jungle and river basin below, you can reach the peak of Mount Phousi (ok, it’s more like a big hill), after climbing a steep trail of 355 steps. But both the workout and the stairs will take your breath away, with a 360-degree view of the town of Luang Prabang, including spotting landmarks like the Royal Palace below. I recommend doing this on your first morning at dawn to see the sunrise and also get a sense of geography while you’re there.
Visit the Wats
Laos is a predominantly Buddhist country, so you’ll find dozens (or even scores) of Buddhist temples – called “wats” – around Luang Prabang. You’re welcome to stroll around and in them all (just be respectful, dress appropriately, be quiet, and offer a small donation). Wat Xieng Thong on the north side of town is one of my favorites, with ornate gold and dazzling mosaics.
Browse the night markets
In typical Southeast Asian tradition, the streets come alive at night with marketplaces, which are so fun to walk through. You’ll find less commercial goods (and knockoffs) like you do in Thailand and more authentic local artwork, crafts, and food. I’ve seen some crazy things for sale at these markets – like a barbecued bat, squirrel, and blackbird!
Waterfalls of Kunag Si
The countryside around Luang Prabang offers endless possibilities for nature lovers, and the waterfalls of Kuang Si are definitely worth visiting, either by tuk-tuk or a good bicycle ride. However, they do get quite crowded – especially on hot days – so try to go in the morning.
Witness the traditional Tak Bat
This Buddhist tradition is amazing to see – and photograph (they won’t mind as long as you remain at a distance and are respectful). Every morning bright and early, the monks emerge from their various temples and walk in a procession, holding their bowls that are filled by Laotian people as alms, or donations of food and gifts to get them through the day. This parade of monks in bright orange robes with the backdrop of the temple walls and city streets is truly a once in a lifetime sight!
Meet the Mekong
Luang Prabang sits on the mighty Mekong River, and it’s a perfect opportunity to take a boat tour up and down the river, exploring the countryside and its villages, rice paddies, farmers, water buffalo, and even the Pak Ou caves.
Enjoy Luang Prabang – and a cold beer at night!