The ancient town of Luang Prabang situated in northern Laos, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Considered by many travellers and writers as being the heart of Laotian culture, the tiny town is encircled by mountains and is 700 metres above sea level at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers. Here visitors are subjected to an inflamed economic bubble that does not apply to the rest of the country. Being Laos' premier tourist destination and (arguably) Southeast Asia's most beautiful spot, ironically tourists will pay more for the innate pleasures of eating, drinking and sleeping than they would in the country's capital city Vientiane.
Luang Prabang was the ancient royal capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom until King Phothisarat moved the administrative seat to Vientiane in 1545. Regardless, it has continued to overlook Vientiane as the destination of choice with its amalgamation of crumbling French architecture, glistening temples and extensive natural beauty. Even the hardest of hearts would have a struggle not to warm to the place. The town's entire historical section is dedicated to tourism, with everything from former royal palaces to over 33 Wats (temples), on the tourist trail. This former Royal capital still remains the main centre for Buddhist learning in Laos and is the perfect location for spiritual contemplation.
Cascading waterfalls, scaling peaks and the milky-brown waters of the Mekong River provide ample opportunity to swim, climb and sail your way through Luang Prabang. It is only as recent as 1989 that Laos opened up to tourism and the country that had previously been cut off from the rest of Southeast Asia developed a small but steady economy, based on tourism and regional trade. This small and gentle town where most locals are asleep by 22:00 is now one of the richest and most visited provinces in Laos. It's one of the few places where you feel that this is the genuine article and one that retains its unique ambiance.
Getting Around Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is fairly compact and best explored on foot or bicycle, unless you want to get out of the heritage area and discover other off-the-beaten-path attractions. Most five-star hotels may offer scheduled shuttle service to/from the old city.
Otherwise, your option is limited to tuk-tuks (motorised three-wheelers, also called Jumbos), which can easily be flagged down. Whether just going from one place to another or chartering for an entire day, these tuk-tuks come in very handy. Always negotiate a price before getting in.
For crossing the river, you will need to charter a long-tail boat. To get to Pak Ou or Ting Cave, hire a boat in front of Vat Xieng Thong. Boats that go to Xieng Maen are in front of Vat Phon Xai (west of town centre). To get to Vang Vieng, charter a Jumbo and get to the Southern Bus Terminal.
Luang Prabang International Airport is about 4km north of the old city. To get to town, you have three options (in case your hotel doesn’t offer free transfer service). Taxi and hotel shuttle service are both convenient but relatively expensive.
The hotel shuttle service may cost up to US$7 per person per trip, while the taxi is usually about US$7 per trip. You can locate a taxi stand right outside the arrival hall, while hotel shuttle is available on a pre-arranged basis. The cheapest option is a Jumbo tuk-tuk, which waits for passengers outside the airport gate. There’s no bus service to the old city.
Best Time To Visit Luang Prabang
Visitors can travel to Laos in general and Luang Prabang in particular at any time of the year, but before coming to this beautiful land, you should have information about the weather here for preparing needed package. Luang Prabang also has 2 seasons which are summer and winter.
The rainy season lasts from May to November, followed by dry season from December to April, this is also considered the best time to visit Luang Prabang as the temperature at this time range from 15 to 30 degree C.
For reasons that are soon become apparent, Luang Prabang is often described as the 'Jewel in Laos Crown'. Even though the town is well and truly on the tourist trail, it has nonetheless managed to preserve its natural splendor and inherent charm, exuding a missed-out-on-modernization vibe.
The majority of the city's sights can be reached on foot, so getting a map and making your way to the many temples (33 to be exact) is a good way to soak up the surroundings and observe the way of the Lao people, and the large monk community. The wonder of the ancient temples is apparent at first glance; the gentle and unassuming nature of the locals, given the chance, will also leave a lasting impression.
Alms Giving Ceremony in Luang Prabang
The UNESCO World Heritage City of Luang Prabang is the perfect place to see one of the most sacred Lao traditions, the Buddhist Alms Giving Ceremony. Despite being a highly revered ritual for locals, visitors are encouraged to be involved as long as a level of respect is maintained throughout.
Alms giving takes place daily as the sun rises, beginning on the main street of Luang Prabang before spreading out to all the side streets. You should buy your offerings (usually food) in advance and arrive with plenty of time to spare as it’s considered very offensive to disrupt the ceremony once it has commenced.
Follow the guidance of the locals by kneeling down ready to give your offering to the monks; most common gifts include rice, fresh fruit and traditional sweet snacks. The idea of the alms giving is for the Buddhist monks to make merit and also to collect food for their one meal of a day.
Ban Phanom near Luang Prabang
Ban Phanom is a village steeped in traditional textile making with all families in the village working their looms to provide goods for sale at the night markets. The woven products were once supplied to the royal family and weavers today use the same techniques and patterns, resulting in a distinctly old-fashioned look. Cotton and silk materials with a range of coloured threads are intertwined to produce a shimmering effect whilst silk is added to create a pattern.
Some of the families work from their own small workshops with the whole village operating as a co-operative supplying to a handful of manufacturers. Prices are open to negotiation and very affordable, you will need to bargain and expect not to pay the first price offered. In addition to shopping and enjoying a cultural experience, the area around Ban Phanom makes for a great place to take a bike ride and to explore some ancient remote temples.
Close to the Phon Phau Temple, the village of Ban Phanom makes a popular tourist stop and is similar to the villages of Luang Namtha and Sam Neua as there you can observe the female textile makers at work on their looms, dyeing and then weaving. Years ago Ban Phanom was the village of choice for royal textiles, with each reigning monarch continuing to use village weavers as their preferred suppliers.
The village itself is rich in history and offers a fantastic insight into an ancient art that is still very much alive today, thanks to tourism. Many sightseers visit the village, so it can get quite busy, especially when coaches arrive between 09:00 and 10:00, so avoid these times and you'll probably experience a much more relaxed trip. If you’re interested in buying some textiles as a souvenir then it’s definitely worth visiting here instead of buying at the night market.
How to get there: To get to Ban Phanom takes about 10 minutes by tuk tuk from the centre of Luang Prabang on the banks of the Nam Khan River. You can also make the trip by bike although be warned it is quite a hilly ride and only for experienced riders. A tuk tuk will cost in the region of 100,000 kip and this includes waiting time and the return journey. Tour companies also run excursions to the village and usually include a side visit to French explorer Henri Mouhout’s grave.
Kuang Si Falls
Kuang Si is a complex of three waterfalls, which the highest waterfall is about 60 meters high. As one of the most famous tourist destinations in Laos, so coming here not only tourists can visit the mountains, but can also climb and swim in waterfall or lake. The water here is very green, comes from upstream and carries an enormous amount of algae; that is also the reason why the falls are green all year round. In here, there is also bear sanctuary with some rare bears alive.
Wat Xieng Thong
Located near the junction of the Mekong River, Wat Xieng Thong is the most beautiful, the oldest and most important temple of the 65 large temple in Luang Prabang. Bringing Laos specific architecture with curved roof extending down near the ground, the interior is the sophisticated reliefs and sculptures based on ancient Buddhist. It has many large Buddha statues; this is also a place of royal ceremonies and Buddhist dignitaries. From above the temple, visitors can watch panoramic view of dreaming ancient capital immersed in the green of the leaves.
Royal Palace Museum
National Museum of the People's Democratic Republic of Laos, which is the ancient Kingdom of Laos’s palace, marked by modern architecture of France, the Royal Palace museum is a repository of Prabang Buddha statue, regarded as national treasures. Beautiful landscape with two palm trees in the entrance with gorgeous, lovely gardens, precious and sparkling lakes... On the right is bronze Sisavang Vong King Statue and on the left is the Entrance Hall.
Wat Wisunarat Temple
One of the oldest temples in Luang Prabang, on the list of world cultural heritage, Wat Wisunarat was built in 1513, was renovated and reconstructed in 1896 - 1898. Wat Wisunarat have a large campus, green grass , two adjacent side street, in front of the temple is a majestic tomb tower 34.5 m high was built from 1503. The temple has a simple architecture, except metal roof with many decorative details make the temple look simplicity and calm.
Mount Phou Si
Mount Phou Si is the highest point in Luang Prabang, ideal for tourists watching panoramic view of peaceful ancient capital. To climb to the Peak of Phou Si Mountain, visitors must pass 329 red-brick terraces, during the road up to the mountain there are rest stops, so visitors can climb to the mountains without too much difficulty. Currently, there are five temple in the mountain space brings the old, serene, hidden feelings among wildflowers.
Luang Prabang Old Town
The houses, or rather, an entire old town, quiet in the ancient capital of Luang Prabang will give visitors an indescribable feeling of peace with the roofs, moss walls, wooden doors… Though Luang Prabang not prohibits motorized vehicles, but the space here are always peaceful, visitors will never hear sirens or noises of the modern transportations. There are absolutely no modern buildings or any single house has more than 2 floors, the timeless streets with lanterns at night make Luang Prabang more beautiful than ever.
Tad Sae Waterfall near Luang Prabang
Tad Sae waterfall is a spectacular natural wonder best appreciated in the wet season. Despite not being as high as Kuang Si waterfall there are many more streams of water which cascade and make a thunderous sound following plenty of rain. The falls pour over beautiful limestone formations across a variety of levels into large pools below, which are fantastic to swim in.
Tad Sae is only reached by boat, making it quite an adventure and an opportunity to retreat into nature and get close to the locals who head there in groups over the weekend. If you prefer peace and tranquillity then you’re better off visiting during the week. The water is cool, offering swimmers a refreshing dip which is best experienced from August through to November. If you’re visiting Luang Prabang at any other time then head to Kuang Si waterfall instead.
The cascades of Tad Sae offer really great photo opportunities as the water teems over the multi-levelled rocks into the pools below. There are steps leading into the largest pool making swimming access really easy. The pools are very popular with locals and it’s best to dress modestly like them, especially if swimming. There are public toilets and changing facilities at the waterfall and also a restaurant with a small resort attached nearby.
Most locals bring something to sit on and enjoy a picnic close to the falls where there are also a few waterwheels. The waterfall is located about 20km away from the centre of Luang Prabang but it’s definitely worth a trip during rainy season, outside of this time the falls are pretty dry and most likely will prove disappointing. The waterfall is located close to the Ban Amen village on the Nam Khan River. It’s a ten-minute boat ride from there to Tad Sae.
Pak Ou Caves near Luang Prabang
One of the most respected holy sites in Lao; Pak Ou Caves have a history dating back thousands of years. Packed with over 4,000 Buddha icons, the caves, a shrine to the river spirit and Lord Buddha, are set in a dramatic limestone cliff at the point where the Mekong joins the Nam Ou River. There are two caves to visit, the lower cave called Tham Ting and the upper cave Tham Theung, both boasting miniature Buddhist figures that are mostly made from wood.
Positioned about 50 feet above the river, Tham Ting filters in some light but a torch is required for the absolutely pitch black Tham Theung. The upper cave is home to the majority of the Buddha statues and you will need to find your way in darkness to the thousands of hidden icons. The statues are believed to have been left in the caves by local people for hundreds of years.
Pak Ou translates to ‘mouth of the Ou river’ with the first cave entrance of Tham Ting being very visible from the water; the higher cave is accessed by stairs. The Buddha images in the Pak Ou Caves assume a variety of positions, from meditation to peace and nirvana (the reclining Buddha). Both caves are shrines to Buddha, offering places of worship with the largest image in Tham Ting being a popular place to burn incense and offer prayers. The smaller cave is the more peaceful, with glimpses of the Mekong providing a breathtaking backdrop.
The caves are a very popular pilgrim site for locals and get very busy during April when the Lao New Year is in full swing with locals washing and attending to the images. The caves are not far from Ban Xang Hai village, famous for its wine production and for the making of Lao wine earthen jars; it is a great side trip where you will get the chance to try locally produced whisky and wine.
Location: Pak Ou Caves are situated two hours upstream or 25km from Luang Prabang.
Remarks: The small village located close by has attractive wooden homes and affable villagers and is a wonderful experience in itself as you will get to see river life and meet some real locals. Don’t forget to bring a hat, sun cream and a torch; you might also want to include some mosquito repellent as well. Most tour operators include lunch at a local restaurant in the trip which will usually last all day and include a river cruise in addition to the visit to the caves.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Luang Prabang has been inhabited since at least 8,000 BC. The first Laos Kingdom, Lane Xang, was founded here in the 14th century by King Fa Ngum after he conquered and unified the lands of modern-day Xieng Khouang , the Khorat Plateau and Luang Prabang. The city was first referred to as Muang Swa and by 1357 the name was again changed to Muang Xieng Dong Xieng Thong by local inhabitants. Shortly thereafter, King Fa Ngum accepted a golden Buddha image called the Pha Bang as a gift from the Khmer monarchy and the thriving city-state became known as Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang was the capital of Lane Xang until moved to Vientiane in 1545 by King Setthathirath (although Luang Prabang remained the country's main religious centre). The city's first contact with western emissaries occurred in the mid 17th century during the reign of King Surigna Vongsa. After his death in 1694, Lane Xang broke up into three separate Kingdoms; Vientiane, Champasack and Luang Prabang.
By the late 19th century Luang Prabang was under attack by marauding Black Flag bandits who destroyed many sacred Buddha images, temples and historical documents. Under King Sisavang Vong (1904-1959) a number of restoration and beautification projects were launched, many of which are still evident today. French influenced buildings began to appear in the later 1800's, adding to the mixture of Lao, Tai-Lue, Burmese, Chinese and Tai architecture.
Luang Prabang is rich in cultural heritage, and is known as the seat of Lao culture, with monasteries, monuments traditional costumes and surrounded by many types of nature's beauty.
In 1995 UNESCO declared Luang Prabang a World Heritage Site. This distinction confirms, through the concerted action of local, national and international authorities, a real motivation to preserve this wonderfully serene city. The title is justified not only by the many beautiful temples in Luang Prabang, but also by its traditional wooden dwelling, the old colonial style houses and the natural environment that encases it in a perfect harmony of plant and stone.
Luang Prabang is rich in history and natural beauty, a trek, mountain bike ride or some gentle kayaking gives you the chance to really discover the landscape and warm friendly people that live in and around this celebrated UNESCO world heritage site. Three ethnic tribes located at villages in the surrounding mountains of Luang Prabang welcome visitors to experience their daily lives, whether you opt to visit them via kayak in their water homes on stilts, or opt for a trek to their mountain-top village with the option of staying with them for the night. Along the way you’ll discover elephant sanctuaries and inviting waterfalls all framed by spectacular countryside of rice fields, striking mountain ranges and dense tropical jungle.
When you’ve ticked off the exploring boxes, you’ll find plenty of places to relax and unwind in Luang Prabang. Spend the day at one of the many spas and treat yourself to a traditional massage, which us even more enjoyable post trek. If you fancy something a little more strenuous then head to the Luang Prabang golf course where you can hire everything you need for a round then finish off your day with a late-night local beer at the bowling alley.
Trekking is an absolute must in Luang Prabang with a variety of treks to suit all levels. On your way you’ll see spectacular waterfalls, indigenous wildlife and gain a fascinating insight into some of the rural folk living in the hill tribe villages. Descendants of the Mongolians, the Hmong tribe make their home in the chillier higher hills whilst the Khmu tribe is found in lower regions with treks to their homes taking you through lush tropical jungle.
We offer treks from one day to several days including Luang Prabang to Ban Nong Touk which takes you through paddy fields, pineapple gardens then up to visit some Hmong families on the first day. The second day you’ll pass through some spectacular scenery including a visit to a cave which once served as a bomb shelter, a waterfall and a visit to the Sun Bear Rescue Centre. This trek is available all year round. Luang Prabang Fair Trek offer similar trips and also a hiking adventure to the Elephant Park Project which includes a visit to the beautiful Tad Sae waterfalls.
There are plenty of choices to suit all budgets when it comes to day spa pampering in Luang Prabang. For a ‘charitable massage’ then look no further than the Lao Red Cross who offer a full body massage for US$5 and who also have an onsite sauna. Offering clients plenty of facials, scrubs and massages, the Spa Garden is a popular spot in scenic surroundings. If you’re feeling brave then try a local Kamu massage at the Kamu Spa where oil and strong pressure is applied to really help you loosen up.Traditional Lao herbs and locally sourced organic botanicals are combined for use in their body treatments which are given in one of their elegant pavilions.
Luang Prabang Bowling Alley
The Luang Prabang Bowling Alley is famed for being a late-night drinking hole in addition to being the town’s only ten pin bowling venue. Loud Asian pop music, local whisky and Beer Lao are as popular as the bowling which costs 20,000 kip per person per game. Bowling, drinking and socialising continues until doors close at 02:00 with the crowd consisting mainly of backpackers.
The bowling alley is one of the few places in Luang Prabang where you can grab a drink after the strict 23:30 curfew and is best reached by taking a tuk tuk. The bowling alley is located on the outskirts of town. You might want to pre-arrange the fare with the driver to wait for you or alternatively you could pick one up from the Mount Phu Si base where tuk tuks tend to wait to ferry ‘bowlers’ home.
Mountain Biking is a great way to experience the beautiful Luang Prabang countryside with one-day tours taking you round the old town, across rivers, through rural villages and past stunning mountains. Beginners are welcome on most of the one-day trips. More adventurous riders might enjoy a more challenging tour on a special off-road route to remote villages, exploring the rural side of Luang Prabang, crossing four rivers en route.
Kayaking & Rafting
Luang Prabang is a fantastically located for rafting and kayaking, with some tours also adding in some trekking. Some choices of excursions including a trip starting north of Luang Prabang before heading to the Ban Huay Lo Khmu village then down to a Hmong village in Ban Mok Chung before travelling to Pha Peung where you be the guest of the Hmongs overnight.
We have an energetic kayaking trip where you will see local tribes going about their daily river life, passing dramatic mountains along the way before taking on the intermediate level rapids, also paddling adventures that take you down rapids with a two-day kayaking trip which includes cliff jumping into the refreshing Nam Xeuang River and a night with some of the survivors of the Second Indochina War at a Khmu hill tribe village. We also have a gentle easy river ride for those who prefer a slower pace with a half or full-day kayaking down the Nam Khan River.