The unique UNESCO town Luang Prabang of Laos may be less visited than other Laos cities, but it has so much to offer. From temples and museums to hikes and markets, Luang Prabang has something for everyone. Make sure to give yourself a few days to ensure you can visit as many attractions as you can. Here are a few of the must-see things you need on your list.
KUANG SI FALLS
Kuang Si Falls is one of the most popular attractions around Luang Prabang for a reason. With the water flowing over rocks and into three levels of pools, you are sure to be impressed by the stunning views. Just a 45-minute drive from the city centre, the picturesque falls are not the only attraction. You will also find a bear sanctuary where Asiatic black bears, an endangered species, are enjoying life roaming around enjoying life cage-free along with a butterfly sanctuary.
When you get to the falls, you can continue to hike up on the right side and pass the pools more crowded by tourists to the top for a stunning view of Luang Prabang. On your way down, after soaking in the view, be on the lookout for a hidden path. This path will take you to the “secret pool”. While it may not be completely deserted, it will have a fraction of the people compared to the main pools. Enjoy a dip in the calm waters to cool down before heading back to town.
There are two main markets in Luang Prabang, one more geared toward locals with the other more for tourists. For a true local experience, wake up with the sun and head to the morning markets. Here you will see locals shopping around for their food for the day. You will encounter many things for purchase from live fish and insects to bats and oxblood.
On the other hand, visit the night market and you will find inexpensive street food (make sure to go hungry, you’ll want to have room to try as much as you can!), beverages and souvenirs. You will find many stalls with paintings, t-shirts, trinkets and other handicrafts.
Visiting both morning and night markets will give you a good feel of the local and more touristy sides to Luang Prabang.
ROYAL PALACE MUSEUM
Spend an hour or two learning about Laos history in the Royal Palace Museum. This former royal residence is now a museum full of photos, artifacts and artwork perfect for learning about Lao culture and history. The museum is surrounded by a beautiful garden which is free to visit while the museum itself has a small entrance fee.
TAD SAE WATERFALL
Only reachable by boat, the Tad Sae waterfalls are a close second to Kuang Si. Though not as high, it has many more streams of water pouring over the limestone into large pools that you can swim in. There are many trails to hike and explore around Tad Sae so be prepared with shoes you can do some walking in. If you are going to take a dip in the pools, bring along a swimsuit but try to dress modestly to be respectful of the Lao culture.
Located in the middle of Luang Prabang, there are over 300 steps up to the summit of Mount Phousi. At the top, you will find a temple, golden stupa and Buddha’s giant footprint. To avoid crowds, make the trek up at dawn for panoramic sunrise views rather than at dusk for the sunset. There are two separate sets of stairs, one on the road running along the Nam Khan and the other across from the Royal Palace Museum.
TAK BAT (ALMSGIVING CEREMONY)
The early wake-up call is worth it to experience Tak Bat, the almsgiving ceremony. Monks line up oldest to youngest in their orange robes carrying bowls to collect offerings.
Luang Prabang is one of the best places to witness this longstanding daily tradition of Laos Buddhist culture. Arrive early and purchase offerings at the market prior to the ceremony as to not disrupt once it has started. Traditional snacks, rice and fresh fruit are all common gifts. Follow the locals by kneeling to present your offering and make sure to be respectful of the ceremony and turn off your flash to take photos.
PAK OU CAVES
Where the Mekong joins the Nam Our River set in a dramatic limestone cliff you will find the Pak Ou Caves. Containing over 4,000 Buddha icons, these caves have been considered spiritual places for centuries. Tham Ting and Tham Theung are the two caves to visit. Tham Ting is the upper cave that has some light, unlike the lower Tham Theung cave which is pitch black so don’t forget your torch! Visiting these caves will also give you a chance to see Luang Prabang from the river, an alternative perspective.
Need a hostel in Laos? Check out Mad Monkey's place in Luang Prabang
Article by Alex Rottler