In a nutshell
What was once the capital city of Laos, Luang Prabang is now a must-see destination for spiritual and adventurous travellers alike.
Why go to Luang Prabang
Famous for its ancient Buddhist temples, including Wat Xieng Thong which dates back to the 16th century where Laotian Buddhism was born, Luang Prabang a UNESCO World Heritage site filled with history, charm and friendly monks.
Luang Prabang is best known for its early morning monk sightings. They walk through the streets collecting their alms (food for the day) and visitors from all over the world are encouraged to watch or donate. There is proper etiquette to consider, though, if you would like to participate.
In addition to dozens of sacred, religious sites, Luang Prabang sits on a beautiful part of the globe, right at the crossing of the Mekong River and Nam Khan. It’s home to waterfalls, mountains and lush jungles. Adventurers can enjoy trekking, mountain biking, kayaking and soaking in all the natural beauty there is to offer in this ancient Laotian city.
When to go to Luang Prabang
The best time to visit Luang Prabang is between October and February when weather is consistently warm and dry. Laos has two seasons, wet and dry, so if you visit outside of these months the country is prone to lots of rain. If you visit during the rainy season, expect storms in the afternoon, but it will still be pleasant to visit. Try not to visit between March and May, though, because the city is covered in lots of smog due to their slash and burn agricultural practices.
Where to stay in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang offers upscale hotels, boutiques, bed and breakfasts, villas, hostels and homestays. No matter what your budget, there’s bound to be a great place for accommodation in Luang Prabang, whether you’re a backpacker or looking to live in the lap of luxury.
Where to eat in Luang Prabang
The ancient city’s French history comes alive at L’Elephant Restaurant, offering delicious high-end French cuisine.
For Laotian food, it’s important to keep in mind that the cuisine varies tremendously based on your region. Here in Luang Prabang, sai oua is a local sausage specialty. There’s also a classic khao soi noodle soup that’s a must try.
Blue Lagoon is another great East-meets-West eatery, set in a romantic garden. Another great high-end restaurant to check out is Maison Souvannaphoum Hotel. It’s set in the former residence of a Lao Prince and serves up a mix of Laotian and Thai food.
The city plays host to some good coffee, shops, too, as well as cooking schools for those who want to try their hand at making their own Laotian food. For those on a budget, the Vegetarian Buffet at the tourist night market serves a gigantic plate of vegetarian food for LAK10,000 (which is a little more than USD1). Backpackers swear by its deliciousness and cheap price.
How to get around Luang Prabang
You will be able to walk around most of the city by foot. If you get tired, though, or would like to cover more ground, your best bet is to rent a bike for anywhere from LAK15,000 to LAK30,000 (USD1.8 – USD3.6) per day. You can rent from various shops or some guesthouses.
Alternatively, and more expensively, you can rent your own motorcycle for about LAK120,000 a day (USD14.5 USD). Just getting around Luang Prabang is possible via tuk-tuk. Foreigners are charged LAK20,000 per ride (USD2.4).
One thing to note is that navigating the city can be rather confusing. Locals use village names (not streets) to navigate, and each small village is typically named for the wat it’s near.
How to get to and from Luang Prabang
To get to Luang Prabang, you can take a plane, bus or boat.
Planes to Vientiate (the capital of Laos) leave around 3 times a day and cost USD75 one way with Lao Airlines. You can also fly to Phongsali or Xieng Khuang, too.
In general, there are lots of flights from other popular South East Asian cities, should you choose to use aviation.
Luang Prabang has an international airport and visas are available on arrival. It’s very close to town and a tuk-tuk ride from the airport shouldn’t cost you more than USD5 (LAK40,000).
If you’d rather take a bus, it’s cheaper although a longer journey. Local busses tend to be crowded and travellers who suffer from motion sickness are not recommended to take this route. But, some of the plusses of taking a bus are the views and it’s low price.
If you plan to go further north from Luang Prabang, you have to take a bus as there are no planes that go direct in this direction. Luang Praang has two main bus stations, one for traffic going north and the other for traffic going south.
The third option for travel which is often the most popular and also scenic is to cross the border via Chiang Khong in Thailand to Huay Xai. From there you can take a boat through the Mekong and enjoy the countryside. A slow boat will take 2 days with an overnight stay in a small village. Instead, you can take a luxury cruise with Luang Say Cruises. These cost between USD200-USD300 but include air-conditioned cabins.
Is Luang Prabang safe?
Luang Prabang is very safe to visit. One warning is to heed caution with Lao speedboats. You have to wear a helmet on these and it’s not recommended to ride because they are rather dangerous. They are, however, far faster than the slow boats and still offer gorgeous views, so the adventurous travellers should proceed with caution when using the speedboats.
There are no strong dangers in this spiritual city, other than some typical cautions that travellers should pay attention to when traveling throughout South East Asia and the world (such as children who may try to sell you something on the street, being careful of your nice belongings).