Ultimate Luang Prabang Travel Guide 2019
There are plenty of sights in Luang Prabang. Despite its small size, there are already 32 Buddhist temples in the city, the Royal Palace, which now hosts a national museum, Phu Si Hill with a magnificent view of Luang Prabang and the surrounding area. Not far from the city, there is one of the most beautiful waterfalls - Kuang Si Falls. In Luang Prabang, you can also witness an interesting old tradition - the giving of alms when the dawn breaks (5.30-6am). Even we got up this early to witness this unusual sight.
Temples in Luang Prabang
The Royal Palace Museum
This museum in Luang Prabang (also known as “Haw Kham” or "Golden Hall") was once Laos’ Royal Palace. There's also a royal car museum with a fairly small collection: 5 cars, 1 boat, and 2 palanquins. Laos once was a monarchy from the 14th century to 1975, with Luang Prabang being capital so it’s a good reason to visit what used to be their Royal Palace. Nowadays Laos is a Communist state known as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.
Open daily from 8 am to 11:30 am and from 1:30 pm to 16.00 pm with the fee entrance 30k kip. The nearby Wat can be seen for free.
Wear long sleeve clothes or rent a cape for 5000 with a 50,000 kip deposit.
No photography is allowed inside the museum and you must leave your bags in the lockers near the entrance. No bags allowed, so you must leave yours in lockers provided near the entrance
Remove your shoes before entering the museum.
Wat Xieng Thong
The entrance fee is 20,000 kip, but outside of the entrance, you can take a picture of it for free. And there are several wide open entrances from different sides, which we used to just take pictures.
Renowned for its roof, this temple is one of the most richly decorated in Laos. It is open daily from 08:00am to 05:30pm
Considered to be one of Luang Prabang's oldest operating temples, Wat Wisunarat, is, however, a reconstruction built from stone in 1898. The original dated back to 1513 and was built from wood.
Wat Wisunarat is not a shiny and brightly decorated temple unlike the others in Luang Prabang. Wat Wisunarat is the place that gives off the vibe of ancient times and history.
The giving of alms or The Tak Bat
The Early Morning Monks’ Alms Walk in Laos is an ancient tradition that has once been mysterious, and now became just way too touristy. In order to participate in the ritual, it is necessary to wake up very early and stand on the main street at 6 am. Please treat monks with respect and don’t interfere in their ritual. Some tourists act rude by pointing cameras straight into monks’ faces which doesn’t help to preserve this ancient tradition at all.
Phu Si Hill
Directly opposite the Royal Palace begins the staircase that will lead you to the top of Phu Si hill.
At the very top of the hill, you can see a stupa or Wat Phou Si and a breathtaking view of the city and the surroundings of Luang Prabang. If you follow another staircase down from the hill, then along the road you can see Buddha statues, and particularly seven of them (by days of the week), and all the Buddhas sit and lie in different poses.
Many tourists love to visit Phu Si Hill at sunset, which we don’t advise to as it is way too crowded! You can climb Phu Si Hill early in the morning and see the sunset from any café along the water,
The cost of visiting Phu Si Hill: 20k kip
Lemongrass sauna and massage
A hidden gem among travelers frequenting the downtown area. Jim had visited here last time he was in Luang Prabang and has been talking about it to everyone since then. It’s not visible from the main road, so you’ll have to follow signs or find it on your map. Do take the chance to go inside the lemongrass sauna as it’s formed the traditional way with a fire underneath the sauna with lemongrass. It’s only open from 4:00 p.m. until 10 p.m. due to that reason. Follow it up with one of the cheapest but best massages you can receive in all of Luang Prabang, not to hard or too soft.
Night market of Luang Prabang
The market is open on the main street of Sisavangvong every day from 5:00 p.m. till 10:00-10:30 p.m. No traffic is allowed on the street during this time which completely transforms it: numerous tents with souvenirs and clothes appear out of nowhere. The selection of the souvenirs is good, the quality is nice too. We decided not to buy anything as we didn’t have extra space in our bags, otherwise, we would have brought gifts for home. Also the market is aimed for tourists, so it is overpriced.
Food night market in downtown Luang Prabang
A popular place to have dinner in Luang Prabang is the evening market with food. The market opens at sunset in one of the narrow alleys between the tourist information center and the Wat Mai Monastery. If you walk on Sisavangvong St. you will not miss it for sure.
We could not resist the gastronomic temptations that are offered on the market and we had dinner here for a couple of evenings. Luang Prabang’s evening market is the best one we have seen in Southeast Asia so far -with a large variety and amazing tastes!
Some food prices in Luang Prabang at the night market:
🐟Grilled fish - 30k kip and more, depending on size
🍚Rice - 5k kip
🍆Vegetarian plate - 15k kip
🍻Beer - 12k kip for a big Beer Lao
🍹Fruit shake - 10k kip
Cheap eats on the food court
Food court is located on Sisavangvong Street, opposite the tourist office (information center).
You can find pretty cheap sandwiches there, from 10k to 20k kip depending on filler. A good selection of breakfast food too. A food court works from early morning until late evening. Also, you can buy bottled drinks and fruit shakes.
Best coffee places in Luang Prabang
Canadian owned coffee shop with multiple locations in Laos and Cambodia. Offering a wide variety of hot, cold, and frozen specialty coffees. From croissants to soups and sandwiches it has it all. Outdoor seating, and a well air conditioned first floor and quiet second floor you’ll have all the types no matter if you’re there to be social or get some work done on a solid running WiFi system
By far one of the best iced lattes you can get while visiting Luang Prabang. With a full body flavor and velvety finish you can’t really go wrong. With the old french/laos feeling inside, free wifi and warming decor you’ll find yourself spending a few hours getting your work done here.
Day trips from Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is especially famous among visitors for it’s waterfalls and for a good reason! Not only does it have one of the coolest falls we’ve seen in our lives, but TWO OF THEM!
Kuang Si Waterfall
As for us, Kuang Si Falls is the most beautiful waterfall in Laos, and one of the most beautiful in the world. The waterfall is located in the park Tat Kuang Si, 30 km from Luang Prabang. There you can not only enjoy the beauty of the Falls and climb to the top of the mountain where Kuang Si starts, but also swim in the clear turquoise water, and watch Asian bears at the entrance to the park. It is Free the Bears initiative that placed more than 20 Asian black moon bears in the park reservation after rescuing them from the illegal wildlife trade.
How to get to Kuang Si Waterfall?
Rent a bike
Renting a bike in Luang Prabang is not cheap, but every year there are more and more rental options, and prices are becoming lower. So far you can rent an automatic bike in Luang Prabang for 120,000 kip (~ 15 dollars) + a couple of dollars for gasoline. The road is okay almost all the way, only with some segments being in bad condition. We decided to rent a bike not to depend on anyone in terms of transport.
Pro tip: go there as early as possible, we advise to be there at the opening time (8 am). You can have breakfast right near the entrance to the Tat Kuang Si park.
This way you will avoid the crowds and will be the first people to go up to the waterfall. Make sure to go till the end of the path till you reach the biggest waterfall and take pictures while there is nobody there. Then you can start making your way down.
Also you can hike up to where the waterfall takes its start and you will discover that not too many people choose to do that.
Go by minivan
The price for a minivan ride to a waterfall is 45k kip (~ $ 5.5) per person back and forth. A minivan waits for tourists at the waterfall for 3 hours and takes them back to their hotels.
Minivans to the Kuang Si waterfall from different tour companies depart several times a day. The one schedule we saw was: 11:00, 12:00 and 13:00.
Go by Tuk-tuk
A tuk-tuk ride from Luang Prabang to the waterfall and back will cost around 150k- 200k kip (~ 18-25 dollars) for the whole tuk-tuk. If there is a company of at least 4 people, then it will be an inexpensive ride.
Note: it's pretty chilly in the morning to drive on the motorbike or ride in the open tuk-tuk, so take something long sleeve with you.
Tad Sae Waterfall
Tad Sae is less obstructed by tourists than Kuang Si and is more popular with locals. The cool part is that you can can climb numerous pools in ‘stairs’. Admission fee to the waterfall is 15k kip and we found it to be well worth visiting as climbing the waterfall was a lot of fun!
How to get to Tad Sae?
It’s all the same as getting to Kuang Si: you can rent a motorbike, negotiate the price for a tuk-tuk, or book a van in advance. The only exception is that after you arrive to Tad Sae, you will have to catch a boat over to the entrance of the waterfalls, which costs 10k per person.
Elephant riding in Tad Sae
Unfortunately, when you visit Tad Sae you will see elephants repeatedly carrying tourists on their backs. As always, we encourage tourists DO NOT RIDE THE ELEPHANTS BY ANY MEANS!
Go on a tour with Tiger Trail
We chose to have a one day trek to the local villages including Hmong village and had a chance to interact with the locals, and learn about their household, and lifestyle. We had a lunch in one of the villages surrounded by farm animals which was a lot of fun! On the way back we visited a majestic Tad Sae waterfall which is less popular than Kuang Si, but not less beautiful at all! We got a chance to swim in the waterfall too.
This is definitely not an experience to miss. When you think of conservation, you think about wellness, fairness, and comfort to animals. When you talk about Mandalao you bring all of these elements to the next level. Not only do they make these Elephants feel at home and bring happiness to the daily lives, but they form a sense of community all around them. The take everything into account when it comes to the environment, such as all the property around the conservation. The locals growing plenty of food in which can be purchased by the conservation to feed these beautiful creatures and while at the same time helping the locals make a living.
We had a brief moment to meet with one of the owners and he was so eager to know about our experience and what we thought about Mandalao as a whole...Nothing better than seeing someone so passionate and in love with what he's doing! We will definitely be returning next time we return. Learn the full story
Where to stay in Luang Prabang
Budget - Moukdavan Guesthouse - Located in the center of it all this budget guesthouse will give you everything you need when passing through. It’s clean double bed private room, hot water, wifi, and location are perfect. Note: it can get a bit noisy at times but nothing too crazy. If you’re a couple looking for an affordable place for a few nights this is for you as it’s only $14 a night.
Mid-Range - Magic M Guesthouse - Do not be afraid by the reviews on google and tripadvisor as they were for the old property that was here. It’s now under new management and believe us when we say the rooms are very nice and the staff went over the top for us. It’s located in a very quiet part of town with good wifi and it’ll only cost you about $28 a night.
Luxury - Sanctuary Hotel Luang Prabang - One of 3 amazing properties they have in Laos! This property sits on a lotus pond which offers you all the peace and tranquility you need. The suites have wonderful balconies to enjoy your morning coffee, and the restaurant here is more than you can ask for. The average night will cost you around $100 USD for a standard room.
Are you not insured for your next trip?! Don’t make the mistake so many people have made in the past, and find a package deal that’s right for you! We trust only one company when it comes to travel insurance and that’s World Nomads.