What to see and do in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is a tiny but charming town that left us speechless for its beauty. UNESCO heritage site since 1995, the town offers many interesting attractions ranging from Buddhist temples, old colonial buildings and vibrant markets to hiking trails in the lush jungles leading to amazing waterfalls and limestone caves. Luang Prabang can be easily visited on foot, and our suggestion is to take your time to enjoy this marvellous town and its best sights.
- Read our Luang Prabang travel guide!
Our favourite attractions in Luang Prabang
1. Royal Palace
Built in 1904 over a much older palace, this building was the former Royal Palace, King Sisavang Vong and his family’s residence during the French colonial era. Nowadays, it’s a museum where you can enjoy the history of Laos and its Royal family. It’s quite small, and it exhibits many items of historical and cultural importance, including the king’s elephant chair and an old cars collection. Here, in one of the Royal Palace rooms, is also displayed the Phra Bang (it means means “delicate Buddha”), the mystical national emblem of Laos. It is a statue 83 cm high, covered in gold leaf, and the most sacred and culturally significant Buddha image in Laos. The Royal Palace Museums is surrounded by a spacious garden where the beautiful How Phra Bang temple is located.
2. Tak Bat (the alms giving ceremony)
Tak Bat is one of the most popular attractions in Luang Prabang and a longstanding tradition in Laos Buddhist culture. At dawn, the monks depart from the temples heading to Sakkaline Road and all the side streets to collect alms of rice, fruit and local snacks from both locals and tourists. You can find the best location by looking at the many baskets and stools placed along the road. This charming ceremony is an authentic spiritual tradition dating back to the 14th century.
3. Wat Xieng Thong
It’s said to be the most beautiful temple in Laos and the most revered in Luang Prabang. Surely, it’s our favourite! Wat Xieng Thong is also called ”the temple of the golden city” and was built in 1560 by King Setthatirath. The temple highlights are a stunning and elaborate “tree of life” mosaic, carved walls, rare Buddhist deities, and a 10-metre-tall funeral carriage. After visiting the temple, you can rest or stroll in its beautiful gardens.
4. Phousi Hill
Phousi Hill stands at 100 metres above sea level, and it’s the most popular place in town to see the sunset. Before getting to the top, you have to climb 300 steps through beautiful shady trees, small temples, stupas, and old Buddha images. From the summit, you can enjoy a 360° panoramic view across the city, its many temples, and the surrounding landscape. Here is Wat That Chomsi, an old temple built in 1804 during the reign of King Anourouth.
5. Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham
Built in the late 18th century by King Anourout, only a few minutes walk from the Royal Palace, Wat Mai is one of the biggest and important temples for Laotian of Luang Prabang. It served as a temple for the Royal family and sheltered the Phra Bang image for a long time. Each year, during the Lao New Year, the Phra Bang is shown for 3 days in the temple’s courtyard to the faithful that purifies it by pouring water in a sort of procession. Also, it was the residence of the highest Lao Buddhist dignitary, Pra Sangkharat.
6. Local Market
If you like to see Laotian’s life, you can’t miss the local food markets. The most beautiful markets are the “Morning Market” that lies along the streets on the Royal Palace’s left side and the ”Posi Market”. The Morning Market stalls sell a great array of products from the jungle around, and “very exotic” for travellers like us. Here, you can find fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, and odd foodstuffs like ox-blood (proposed in gelatinous cubes), bats, snakes, grilled insects, caramelised pork’s head, and different leaves and plants that are used for cooking the traditional dishes. The market is very active, from 6.30 am to 9 am.
Posi Market is located inside and around a building on the way to Kuang Si Waterfalls and sells a great variety of fresh products. We visited Posi market during the trip to Kuang Si, asking the tuk-tuk driver to stop there for a quick visit (30minutes).
7. Night market
The night market (5 pm to 9.30 pm) sets on Sisavangvong Road, in front of the Royal Palace. The many stalls sell tons of souvenirs and street food, but you can also find Chinese and Vietnamese products among the handmade craftsmanship. Anyway, it is a nice place where you can stroll during the night and buy some souvenirs.
8. View the sunset along the Mekong River
Luang Prabang is situated in a quiet corner of the Mekong river, so, after a tiring day visiting the many attractions, you can enjoy the beautiful sunset from one of the many restaurants along the riverfront.
9. Kuang Si waterfalls
Surely, Kuang Si waterfalls are one of the popular attractions in the area of Luang Prabang. They are a beautiful series of waterfalls cascading into turquoise pools, surrounded by tropical jungle and where you can meet the cute Asian bear. Remember to bring your swimming suit to have a refreshing bath in some of the pools! The waterfalls are located 30 km from Luang Prabang (1 hour and a half by tuk-tuk). The tour takes the whole morning.
Kuang Si Butterfly Park: Situated before the Kuang Si waterfalls’ entry, the Park is a project that started in January 2014. Its mission is to create a research centre to study Laos butterflies, host plants and preservation because of Laos’s environmental issues. It contains huge gardens and orchids, with thousands of butterflies living inside of a netted butterfly garden. There is also a natural fish spa and a small European style bakery on site.
10. Pak Ou Caves and local villages
Situated 25 km north of Luang Prabang, along the Mekong river, the caves house thousands of Buddhist icons and statues. The entrance to the caves is situated on a vertical cliff in the middle of a luxuriant jungle. The caves are separated over two levels, and they’ve been a pilgrimage location and worship for over 500 years. You can catch the boat to reach Pak Ou along Khem Khong. The tour lasts the entire morning.
Alternatively, it’s fascinating to book the tour through the local operators because they offer the trip including the visit of interesting villages like Ban Xanghai, where you can witness the traditional method of making lao-lao (the local rice wine) and Ban Phanom, which is famous for its handwoven textiles.
11. Wat Wisunarat (Wat Visoun)
Wat Wisunarat was built by King Wisunarat, who ruled Laos from 1501 until 1520 and dates back to 1513. It’s fascinating because it is the oldest Buddhist temple in Luang Prabang and represents Lao temple architecture’s earliest style. Next to the temple, is an unusually shaped stupa that resembles (or it’s supposed to) a lotus flower. The stupa was designed by the wife of King Wisunarat. Inside the Wat is still possible to see religious artefacts and interesting items related to Buddhism and the royal family.
12. Tad Sae Waterfall
We didn’t visit this waterfall because the right period to do that is the rainy season (especially August to November), but we saw many beautiful pictures that amazed us. Tad Sae is similar to the most famous Kuang Si waterfall, but it has many more water pouring streams over unique limestone formations where you can also go for a swim. Tad Sae is only reachable by boat.
How to visit the attractions
Obviously, in Luang Prabang and its surroundings, there are other temples, markets and interesting villages (like the weaving village of Ban Na Ngan, the villages of Ban Xang Khong and Ban Phanom or the pottery-making village of Ban Chan) that you can visit, so go straight to the tourist information centre (Kitsalat road corner with Sisavangvong road), get your city map and start your trip! Also, for adventure and nature lovers, the local agents arrange cycling tours, mountain trekking and villages overnight, kayaking and rafting. We spent 2 full days in Luang Prabang, but we would have stayed more!
The main attractions in town can be visited on foot, renting a bicycle or catching a tuk-tuk. Alternatively, you can book a private tour with a local tour operator or easily look for it using the web platforms like Viator.com and GetYourGuide.com, where the local operators advertise their trips and activities in Luang Prabang.