This list of the top six best things to do in Luang Prabang will help you get the most out of a short visit to this scenic former capital of Laos which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995.
While this city of 50,000 is a popular stop off point on the backpacker trail through Southeast Asia, thanks to the involvement of the UNESCO team and a lack of a rush to exploit their surroundings from local businesses, Luang Prabang remains largely unspoilt.
So with that in mind, it’s probably best to book your tickets now before all that changes and the big Western outlets move in. If you are planning a trip here then hopefully these top attractions and things to do will help you see the best of this city even if you are not here for long.
Morning Alms Ceremony
The best way to start your day in laidback Luang Prabang is to aim for an early start and get out by dawn in order to watch the monks lining up to collect their alms for the day. As the sun rises and sets at pretty much the same time each day with little variation, the happenings usually kick-off at about 6am so prepare for an early start if you want to catch this spectacle.
While the activity of giving food and other offerings to the monks might have once been the sole preserve of the locals, it is now a majority tourist sport, with visitors to the town often outnumbering the locals in the queues to make merit. At one time it was enough to watch but now everyone wants to experience traditions like these themselves. This means the daily morning alms ceremony in Luang Prabang can be a bit of let down if you are expecting to see a local custom in action. However, starting your day this early is a good idea as it gives you much more time to explore the rest of this quaint little city.
Kuang Si Falls
These impressive waterfalls are the number one tourist attraction in Luang Prabang as voted by this on Trip Advisor and once you’ve visited this site it is not hard to see why.
While they are located about 30 km outside of the city, they are close enough to travel there by the scooters which can easily be hired in the town for a small fee; just remember to wear a helmet. The journey to the falls is an easy ride and is an ideal way to take in the beautiful scenery leading out of the town towards your destination.
Once at the falls you can enjoy cooling off in the lagoons which are filled with stunning turquoise-blue waters. There is even a rope swing for the more adventurous visitors to use to make their entrance into the water. If that isn’t enough, there is also a bear rescue centre close by which gives you the chance to see some wildlife, albeit in captivity. Nearly everyone we’ve spoken to that has visited these falls has marvelled at them, despite seeing many others in the region such as the waterfalls at Kanchanaburi and other sites in Thailand. These really are standout falls and a must see for visitors from countries that are not home to swimmable lagoons and waterfalls.
Some visitors recommend avoiding the Kuang Si Falls on the weekends and public holidays due to the influx of locals so bear than in mind when planning your trip. Also the water levels can drop significantly during the dry season so check with other backpackers in town before making the trip during that period.
Golden City Temple / Wat Xieng Thong
I know you will most likely be templed-out after your travels through Southeast Asia but you should visit at least one while in Luang Prabang, and this is your best bet. Over 500 years old, this temple is still in use and is used as a home and place of worship for local monks. There is a small fee to enter which is understandable as it probably needs extra-maintenance thanks to its popularity with tourists.
There is splendid art work to see here and the designs of the buildings are something you probably won’t see in many other temples around Laos and its neighbours. While it won’t be the standout attraction in Luang Prabang, unless you’re fresh off the plane, it is worth seeing for some great picture opportunities and to see the monks going about their daily business. It’s also a great place to relax in quiet and peaceful surroundings if you want a bit of downtime, other tourists permitting.
Tad Thong Waterfall
These falls are about 6km out of town so not too far and part of the journey can be taken on foot through the jungle on a recently re-opened paved path. You could even make use of one of the low cost bike rental services and cycle here to save time while still being able to take in all the sights and sounds of the jungle. While it’s no match for Kuang Si Falls, its proximity to the town makes it a good substitute if time is limited.
You won’t get the exquisite turquoise waters here, but it’s less crowded thanks to a lack of interest from locals and other travellers, so it’s more likely to be a better experience for those with an aversion to crowds. There is also a local café here so it’s the perfect place to stop off for lunch or dinner on an action packed day exploring Luang Prabang on a short visit to the city.
UXO Laos Visitor Center
UXO are unexploded ordinance and this small one-room museum aims to convey to visitors the problems that the 100,000s of bombs that were dropped on this country during the 60s and 70s continue to cause to this day. As Laos holds the dubious honour of being the most bombed country in the world, thanks to the anti-Vietnam war effort, combined with its status as the world’s 49th poorest country, you can see why this remains a problem to this day.
For those reasons it is worth spending an hour or so visiting this small visitor centre to get a sense of what the country is dealing with on a daily basis. The price of admission is free but there is an opportunity to make a donation to the cause. While it can be tricky to find, it’s only a short distance from the centre of Luang Prabang. See the location on Google Maps here.
With the day coming to a close, why not join the throngs of visitors ascending on Mount Phousi to watch the sunset. You will have to pay a fee to climb the steps of this mountain but once you reach the top you will be rewarded with a sometimes spectacular view of the city.
If the weather is cloudy or overcast then obviously don’t expect a high level visibility and the crowds can sometimes be too much for those wishing for some peace and quiet while they watch the sun go down. But if you are lucky you will be privy to some amazing views and stunning photo opportunities of the city of Luang Prabang from atop the mount.
Things to do with Kids in Luang Prabang
While most children will relish the chance to swim in a real waterfall over at the Kuang Si Falls, not to mention the bear centre there, there is one purpose built attraction kids will love and parents will be thankful for:
This place serves as a pre-school during the week but is open to all after 3pm and all day on the weekends, making it the perfect place for your little ones to run off some steam. It’s a short walk from the centre of town so should be accessible to anyone staying in Luang Prabang and they will even look after your nippers for the whole day if you’ve had enough of them.
The Playground in Luang Prabang has all the classic activities you could wish for including a trampoline, zip line, swings, a jungle gym and even a baby pool. As it only opened in 2013, it is still all in great condition. Parents and hungry kids will enjoy the home cooked food and the onsite café.
La Pistoche Swimming Pool & Bar
If you are staying somewhere without a swimming pool, this private complex could be a good opportunity to let your kids cool off with a quick dip. It’s probably best to avoid coming in the early evening as it does service as a bar with a party atmosphere but during the earlier part of the day it should be ok. It’s not a kid’s attraction in Luang Prabang per se but it is worth knowing about.
Unfortunately those are the only things to do with kids in Luang Prabang we know of so if you know of any more, please leave a comment at the end of the page.
Hopefully you’ve now got some top attractions to add to your Luang Prabang travel itinerary. While Luang Prabang might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it is definitely worth a visit and many visitors choose to stay on for longer than expected in this enchanting place.