Luang Prabang is such a laidback little town with so many things to do. It is so easy to have incredible experiences while living comfortably and eating great food for cheap! Here are my seven favourite things to do in Luang Prabang, Laos.
This laid back little city just has the best vibes. With tons of exciting things to do, fascinating culture, and the most kind, wonderful people, Laos was Derek’s and my favourite stops 2 months into our world tour. Looking through my images from the trip, Laos is also the first place that I don’t feel all our photos do the place justice. I think that’s because a huge part of our experience here has been the quiet moments and our interactions with the locals. So much of Luang Prabang’s magic is in its feeling.
After all the hustle and bustle of Vietnam, this part of Laos feels much less congested. There are fewer people, fewer tourists, fewer cars. Less noise, more space, more authentic feelings of the simple life of the locals. Still with it’s relaxed feel, there are so many unique and interesting experiences to be had in Luang Prabang. Here are 9 things that Derek and I enjoyed during our week here. This is by no means everything this city has to offer, just the activities we chose and loved.
Luang Prabang is a laid back piece of paradise. The streets are quiet even in the middle of town. Its the perfect place to kick back after visiting much busier places in Asia.
7 Things to Do in Luang Prabang
ELEPHANT TOUR WITH MANDALAO
As you may know, elephants are my all-time fave. I adore them and love to see them in safe, and healthy, and non-exploitative conditions. While there is a movement towards more ethical elephant practices in South East Asia, there is still a lot of work to be done. Tourists drive the elephant tourism industry, so choosing responsible companies is an essential responsibility when travelling. And easily the best company I have ever experienced is Mandalao Elephant Conservation and Tours in Luang Prabang, Laos.
This is the ONLY non riding elephant experience in the city, instead offering whole (or half) day intimate, small group experiences with their rescue elephants in their natural habitats. All the elephants are rescued from either logging companies, or from riding tourism companies that use cruel, backbreaking chair saddles. Now, they live on over 100 hectares of jungle by the Nam Khan river. Check out the Mandalao website for all the amazing things this company is doing to change the lives of Laos domestic elephants, as well as protect and proliferate the wild elephant populations.
So to say its an amazing company setting the standards for elephant tourism world-wide is one thing, but I know that for your money, you also want a super cool experience. And trust me, spending the day walking through the jungle and streams side by side with these beautiful creatures, eating lunch with them under the dense trees, and bathing with them in the river is a far more authentic experience than you will EVER get from sitting on their backs.
We had many special moments during our day with Mandalao. By the end of the day, you actually felt a bond with these happy elephants.
Have you ever heard elephants laugh? I have! When I first heard the rapid, high-pitched trumpeting I was so shocked that it was coming from these giants. Our guide says that they only do this if they are truly happy and healthy.
Our day-long excursion was alongside these two lovely ladies. They are sisters rescued from labouring in the logging industry. I can’t remember (and I couldn’t spell even if I did) their real names, but they translated to Wilted Lotus and Boob. Not the most beautiful names for these magnificent creatures, but at least they sound better in Laotian.
TREK TO TRADITIONAL VILLAGES
While Luang Prabang is well-known to South East Asia Tourists seeking a laid back bit of riverside paradise, remote and traditional villages are nearby and a must-see. These traditional villages show the way many people in the country live. Woven huts with straw or tin roofs, subsistence living, and many without electricity. The villages have a strong sense of culture and community, and are very interesting to visit. Plus, there are tons of adorable children and puppies running around.
Everyone was so welcoming to us as we wandered between their homes. We visited two villages, one Khmu and one Hmong on a day long trek with Tiger Trails. The Hmong village is only accessible by foot, and the days worth of hiking was a lovely way to get a feel for the jungle and natural surroundings of Luang Prabang.
I don’t think these little munchkins had seen a big camera like mine before, and were very confused when I gestured to ask if I could take their picture. Once I showed them one though, they laughed so hard and wanted to do all sorts of poses.
During our vists in the middle of the day, the village was almost emtpy apart from mothers caring for their children. Everyone else was working in the rice fields. And many of the children has made the long trek to the nearest school.
KUANG SI WATERFALL
A visit to Luang Prabang is nearly synonymous with a visit to Luang Prabang. All through the town, tuk tuk drivers hold pictures of the turquoise cascading falls and offer to take you there. I’ll admit, images of this beautiful place was part of what made us decide to visit Luang Prabang in the first place. Did it live up to our expectations? YES.
There are multiple levels of the falls, some of which you can swim in. The main falls are magnificent and towering. You can hike up either side to reach the very top. In my opinion, this isn’t necessarily worth it. The top of the falls is quite overgrown, and fences (and people to enforce them) keep you from getting too close to the edge for your own safety. However, if you take the path up the right side of the falls, there is a pathway to a secret pool that is a lovely lookout. The way is blocked off (look out for barbed wire when you sneak through) but its a lovely place to hang out once it gets too busy down below. We visited after there had been a lot of rain, so we couldn’t swim too easily. Regardless, I would still recommend checking it out.
The only downfall of Kuang Si is how busy with tourists it gets. We took a rented motorbike to the falls, and found the road quite doable despite the many potholes. The falls open at 8am and entrance costs 20,000 Kip. I recommend arriving as close to that time as possible to avoid the crowds! It takes about an hour from downtown Luang Prabang to get there on a motorbike.
HANG OUT AND DO YOGA AT UTOPIA BAR
Utopia is more or less a must while in Luang Prabang. This riverside hangout place is a chill place to spend the afternoon on comfortable mats, utilizing their fast wifi and enjoying bevies. At night, the bar is hopping and its the backpacker/expat hangout of choice. Utopia also has yoga classes at 7:30 am and at sunset. Sunrise yoga overlooking the jungle and the river is a pretty cool Luang Prabang experience.
TAD SEI WATERFALL
Tad Sei Waterfall is the perfect place to end a long hot day in Laos. Only 30 minutes from downtown Luang Prabang, followed by a momentary boat ride across the Nam Khan river, and you arrive at the most beautiful sight! The cascading falls tumble over their strange, flat pools all the way down to the river. Cost to enter is 20,000 Kip, the same as Kuang Si, but Tad Sei tends to be less busy, and offers more places to swim. It also packs the punch of all the cascading falls being visible at one time, where as Kuang Si’s are more spread out.
We visited the falls close to its closing time at 5pm. In the late evening light, we were nearly the only ones there.
SEE THE ALMS GIVING CEREMONY
The giving of alms is a magnificent ritual that occurs every morning. This sacred Buddhist tradition takes place every morning as the sun rises. In a massive procession of orange, hundreds of monks leave their temples, and quietly walk the streets of Luang Prabang in a long line. Kneeling on the sidewalks, the habitants of the city hand them their daily meal, making offerings of sticky rice and various foods. The monks also give some of this food back to begging children and the poor as they make their way back to the temples.
While tourists are allowed to take part in the ceremony, Derek and I chose not to do so, and watch instead. This is a sacred ritual of the Lao people, and we felt that participating just for the sake of doing so was not the correct move. However, lots of tourist were participating, and I think as long as you do so respectfully (do your research), its fine. Make sure to dress humbly for the occasion. One of the most popular places to watch the ceremony is Sisavangvong Road (the main street in Laos).
As the sun rose, the monks slowly made their way through the streets in a silent procession of saffron and bare feet.Many of the monks are quite young. In Laos, particularily the area around Luang Prabang, most men are monks at some point in their lives.People crouch on the street, offering an assortment of food. The most common is sticky rice, but people also give fruit, candy, and even cash.This little boy squatted next to his basket quietly as the monks went by. So many of them shared their food that by the end of the procession he could hardly carry his little basket.
CHECK OUT THE MARKETS
Markets are a way of life in Luang Prabang. There are two main markets every day: morning wet market and evening market. The morning market has fresh ingredients for cooking! The streets are lined with vendors selling mainly veggies, herbs, and fruits, but also some eggs and meat. If you are staying in a guesthouse it’s likely you aren’t cooking for yourself, but its an interesting place to check out on your way back from seeing the monks.
Every evening as the sun goes down, the main road in Luang Prabang because backed with vendors. This huge market stretches from the end of the main restaurant and shop area, all the way towards the end of downtown. The vendors mainly sell souvenirs – textiles, jewelry, clothing etc. The things that are for sale are actually really nice compared to what I have seen in other SE Asian markets.
However the best part about the night market is the food! At the end of the night market near the main restaurants, lots of vendors sell baguette sandwiches, crepes, and fruit shakes. These are great is you are feeling like a more western meal without breaking the bank (each cost 10,000 kip = $1.50). The best street food experience in my opinion is towards the other end of the market just one street before Kitsalat Road. Here you can buy loads of different Laotian street foods, barbecued meats, and fresh fruit!
The morning market took place just outside our guesthouse (Golden Lotus Place) each morning, from 6am to 930am.This food extravaganza was my meal of choice almost every night in Luang Prabang. For 15,000 Kip, I enjoyed all I could eat this massive choice of vegetarian dishes. Derek and I liked to do one buffet bowl between the two of us, and then each get a barbecued chicken skewer for another 15,000 Kip. $5 for two people to stuff their bellies? Not too bad!The barbecued meat and fish was some of the tastiest food we’ve had in AsiaThese Lao pancakes were one of my favourite desserts! They are made with coconut milk and rice flour.
I hope you enjoy Luang Prabang as much as we did!