7 Reasons to Visit Luang Prabang, Laos

Image: Luang Prabang Storefront

Set along the scenic Mekong and Nam Khan rivers in central Laos, Luang Prabang is a city you have to add to your list. Protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995, the city (or, more aptly, the town) combines stunning architecture, scenery, and a warm and vibrant culture.

We've included a list of just a few things to do in Luang Prabang but, as you'll hear us say often, wander. The town is incredibly walkable - you don't have to worry about getting gauged by tuk tuks or taxis and you can stumble upon some great places that we haven't listed here (this list would be way too long if we included everything we liked in LP, because we fell in love with EVERYTHING). 

Here's a list of seven reasons to visit Luang Prabang.

 
A row of boats ready to leave on the two-day trip

A row of boats ready to leave on the two-day trip

 

Take a slow boat

If you’re coming from Northern Thailand, consider crossing from Chiang Rai through Huay Xai. From there, you can take a two-day river cruise down the Mekong to Luang Prabang. The river cruise had fantastic sights and was a very relaxing experience.

We took Shompoo Cruises, which at $150 US, was far more expensive than the public slow boat (about $60). The difference in price was well worth it. Taking our time on the slow boat with only 10-15 other people onboard gave us the opportunity to take in the beautiful sights along the Mekong and relax. The boat also stops at the Pak Ou caves on the way to Luang Prabang, saving you the trip and the travel-FOMO once you get there. 

 
A view of the Nam Khan river from Tamarind

A view of the Nam Khan river from Tamarind

 

Dine along the Nam Khan River

The Nam Khan River is more scenic than the Mekong side and had several great places to eat and drink on its shores. Of these, Tamarind Restaurant was our favorite drink spot with some delicious fried bamboo chips.

You can also cross the bamboo bridge to Dyen Sabai for some nice views and hot pot. A little further is Oasis, which has a great view of the river, a relaxed atmosphere and cheap drinks. 

Browse the Night Market and grab a drink

While its targeted primarily at tourists, Luang Prabang's night market was the best of any we've seen in Southeast Asia so far. The food is great, and the clothing and goods are more interesting than the knock-offs common in other markets. When shopping fatigue hits you, head to Tangor down the road for a drink. 

 
Our raison d'être at the Elephant Sanctuary

Our raison d'être at the Elephant Sanctuary

 

Visit an Elephant Sanctuary

Luang Prabang has a number of elephant camps. We went to Elephant Village, since it lets you ride the elephants (bareback, so as not to hurt them). We opted for a full day trip, but we found a half day would have been plenty, since most of the extra features were just filler.

 
Just a snap shot (literally) of some of the beauty in Kuang Si - the star of the show is much bigger

Just a snap shot (literally) of some of the beauty in Kuang Si - the star of the show is much bigger

 

TAKE THE FORBIDDEN PATH UP TO A SECRET INFINITY POOL

Be sure to visit nearby Kuang Si Falls if you're in Luang Prabang. But head early or you'll be bathing in people soup. On the way up to the main waterfall to the right of the bridge, there is a turn-off to a path that is blocked off. We were able to sneak under the sign and walk the goat path to a secluded infinity pool with incredible views. Walk at your own risk though. We went during the dry season, so the path may be less safe if it's wetter. 

VOLUNTEER YOUR ENGLISH SKILLS

Located right in the old city center, Brother Mouse is a charity that runs English language exchanges from 5-7 every night. If you have time, you can drop in to volunteer an hour or two to help a local improve his or her English. Down the road is a very unassuming mom-and-pop restaurant with terrible florescent lighting but incredibly delicious food. 

Skip It: Alms Giving

Luang Prabang is full of gorgeous Buddhist temples and the morning alms giving was something we were really looking forward to. Starting at 4:30 or 5:00am every morning, monks make the rounds in Luang Prabang accepting alms (rice and other food) from locals. It may be because we were in the middle of town, but this an experience we would skip if we were to do it again. Given how sacred the daily ritual is, we made sure to do our research on how to behave before heading over - unfortunately, many other tourists did not. To start with, there were crowds of tourists on the road in front of the monks taking pictures (no, no) and worse, with flash (another no, no). We found few locals so we tried walking ahead to see if we could find a "more genuine" experience with locals but there was no avoiding the camera-wielding, flash-taking tourists. Our verdict: save yourself the early rise.