Asia,  Destinations,  Laos

10 fun things to do in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is a historic city in Laos that’s a popular stop on the backpacker trail, partly because it’s the ending point for the slow boat trip down the Mekong River and partly because it’s got lots of cute French-style buildings, good food, and interesting historical sites to see. It’s also an UNESCO World Heritage site!

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I visited Luang Prabang for several days last fall and have put together a list of ideas for things to do during your own visit. Most of these can be done in two days, so if you only have a short time to visit then you can still have a fun experience in town.

Attend a Garavek Storytelling session

Garavek is a traditional Laotian storytelling project where a musician and a storyteller present a selection of local folktales, legends and myths in English! It’s a really cool way to experience Laos history and entertainment AND actually understand the stories that they’re telling. The show is in an intimate theater setting and lasts an hour, starting from 6:30pm.

Cost: $5 USD and you can buy drinks for an additional charge.

Climb Phousi Hill

Golden Buddha statues sitting on a mountainside in Laos.

One of the most popular hikes to do in the area, as the hill is literally in the center of town. Legend has it that the mountain was ripped from the tip of the Himalayas by the Monkey King as a gift to the Luang Prabang queen. Now it’s a famous Buddhist temple with statues and art strewn throughout the walkway.

Get up as soon as you can, as soon as the sun rises! Otherwise it’ll be just too hot and uncomfortable up there. I started hiking up around 5:30am and managed to sweat all my liquids out by the time I got back down. Ugh.

Beautiful views, though! The top of Phousi Hill has a 360* panoramic view of Luang Prabang, so it’s worth going if you want to get a birds-eye view.

Cost: 20,000 kip / $2.50 USD entrance fee + 300 stairs.

Go on a river cruise

The Mekong River flows through China, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, shaping the livelihoods and histories of millions of people. If you didn’t get a chance to take the slow boat cruise from the Thailand border, get a glimpse of the Mekong’s majesty with a dinner cruise in Luang Prabang!

Cost: Varies, as you can go basic or luxury, but normally around $20-70 USD.

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Shop at TAEC Boutique and the night market

A shopfront with bright yellow paneling.

TAEC Boutique is the shop for the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre, where all the goods are made by local peoples and 50% of every sale goes back to the artists. It’s a great place to pick up high quality souvenirs, including clothing, bags, gifts, and decor.

The night market happens every night in the center of town from 5:00 pm onward, and it has the usual mix of local street food and cheap souvenirs. Reasonable prices compared to other night markets in Southeast Asia, and the food is great!

Take a day trip to Kuang Si Waterfall

A series of small waterfalls with blue-green water.

This is a very popular day trip for people staying in town, especially when it’s hot and the waters are open for swimming (which is most days!). If you want to spend several hours enjoying the falls and swimming, then book a tuktuk to take you out and grab lunch at the nearby restaurants while you’re there. Otherwise, a half-day trip booked through your hotel would be good enough– you get picked up and dropped off in an air conditioned mini van, and left at the falls for about 4 hours.

Cost: 20,000 kip / $1 USD entrance fee. The a/c van transit was 90,000 kip / $4.32 USD for a return trip.

Eat laap and sticky rice

A plate of laap with a small container of sticky rice and a half-drunk glass of beer on either side.

Two of the major food groups in Laos! 😉 Laap (larp, laab, lahp) is a minced meat and herb “salad,” usually pork, beef, chicken or even fish, flavored with lime, garlic, fish sauce, mint leaves, spring onion and toasted rice. It’s delicious, and well worth trying out.

Sticky rice is glutinous soaked overnight before cooking, and you eat it with your hands– pinching off a small amount at a time. It’s served in a little bamboo basket as a side dish to the rest of the meal.

You can find this meal all over Laos, and in a variety of prices and styles in Luang Prabang in particular. I got my laap and sticky rice at Bamboo Tree Restaurant for 150,000 kip / $7.33 USD including a beer. Yum!

Book a tour with Elephant Conservation Center

An Asian elephant stands amongst greenery in Laos.

This is the most expensive experience on this list, and technically it’s not even in Luang Prabang– but it was the highlight of my Laos visit and I highly recommend checking it out. You get to go stay at the Center and learn all about their conservation and re-wilding efforts for the Asian elephant in Laos! I wrote about my experience at the Center here if you want to know more and see pictures.

The Center will pick you up from the Luang Prabang post office and drop you off again at the end of your stay. You can also go visit their office in LP if you’d like to know more about the Center.

Volunteer an afternoon of English speaking practice

Big Brother Mouse is a book publisher in Laos that hosts English conversation sessions between local school kids and volunteers! They host volunteers every weekday and ask for a contributions of $10 USD for fuel/food costs. Learn more about the volunteer program here.

Go bowling after dark

This is maybe the most popular after-hours activity besides the night market; it’s a little difficult to get to because the bowling alley, Luang Prabang Bowling Alley, is located about 4km from the center of town, but you can grab a tuk tuk or shared taxi with other backpackers and get out there for some fun.

The bowling alley is open until 2:00 am and costs 40,000 kip for one game per person.

Watch the monks’ morning alms ceremony

A line of petitioners sitting with offerings while monks in bright orange robes walk down the sidewalk. A handful of tourists with cameras stand close to take photos.

Every morning starting around 5:30 am or 6:00 am (depending on the time of year), the monks walk down the main street and receive alms. This is called sai bat, or Morning Alms.

This is an important ritual and it’s important to be respectful to both the monks and the locals participating in it. Be sure to read the guidelines for appropriate behavior before you go.

Thanks for reading! What fun things have you done in Luang Prabang?

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Anastasia is a former librarian turned digital nomad. She's been traveling the world full time for two years and has visited 18 countries so far! Just Gone Wandering is a travel resource for solo female travelers on a backpacker's budget-- or slightly more-- and highlights amazing places to visit as well as providing tips and tricks for traveling smart and frugal. Read more...

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