Apr 17 2013

How long should I spend in Luang Prabang?

Published by at 12:18 pm under Luang Prabang


One of the questions we get asked regularly here at Travelfish.org is, “How long should I spend in Luang Prabang?” And it’s a reasonable question given that Luang Prabang is the most famous destination in Laos. How long you decide to spend in Luang Prabang depends on a few things, which we’ll try and unpick here.

Catch the ferry to the other side of the river and go for a bike ride. Luang Prabang looks different from here.

Catch the ferry to the other side of the river and go for a bike ride. Luang Prabang looks different from there.

Firstly, it depends on whether you’re coming to this part of the world just to visit Luang Prabang or if Luang Prabang is just another part of a much larger journey.

Secondly, it depends on the kinds of things you appreciate when travelling.

Thirdly, it depends on your style of travel.

The food in Luang Prabang is fantastic with a large range of restaurants to choose from.

The food in Luang Prabang is fantastic with a large range of restaurants to choose from.

If you’re visiting Asia just so you can soak up everything that Luang Prabang has to offer, to the exclusion of all other destinations, then you would obviously spend more time in Luang Prabang than the average traveller. This would generally mean a minimum of one week and topping out at moving there permanently, as many people have already done. Those coming to Luang Prabang specifically should think about spending time enjoying the cafe culture, the comings and goings on the Mekong, sitting down with local residents and learning about their lives and becoming a semi-regular around town. You’d really be able to slip into the Luang Prabang pace of life.

Lounging in a stylish cafe with croissant in one hand, coffee in another -- it's what Luang Prabang is all about for some.

Lounging in a cafe with croissant in one hand, coffee in another — it’s what Luang Prabang is all about for some.

For those visiting Luang Prabang as one of many stops on an Asian jaunt, the length of time spent here is predicated on the length of the entire trip, but a good rule of thumb is to allow more time in this city than you would any other town in Laos. The simple reason being is that there are so many things to do in Luang Prabang — cycling to rural villages, participating in cooking classes, visiting waterfalls… Luang Prabang is a centre of all things Laos and you get to do a great deal of things in a limited amount of time, making it a good use of your time.

Modern versions of classic Lao flavours are all the rage in Luang Prabang.

Modern versions of classic Lao flavours are all the rage in Luang Prabang.

Culture buffs are going to spend more time in Luang Prabang than those more interested in partying or doing typical backpacker things. Why? Because Luang Prabang leans towards catering for visitors with more money than the average backpacker and therefore offers more cultural activities. That said, it’s still possible to spin through the city’s temples on a bicycle for a day for little more than $5. Culture buffs will spend time visiting the innumerable temples, cultural shops such as Kopnoi, evening dances, helping children to learn English at Big Brother Mouse, cycling to the other side of the river to explore the rural outskirts of the district and visiting one of the many artisan villages making things from raw materials such as silk and metal. A typical culture buff could easily spend a week in Luang Prabang without getting bored.

One of the many local industries around Luang Prabang.

One of the many local industries around Luang Prabang.

Backpackers on the other hand often complain of Luang Prabang being boring and bland and shoot through in a couple of days. This is a generalisation, of course, but we have met a good number of budget travellers in the past who claim Luang Prabang just isn’t rustic enough for them. And in many ways this is true, as rural Laos this is not. Many backpackers move on after a few days of visiting the local waterfalls and a few of the temples in town.

The swimming area at Kuang Si Waterfalls is a perfect spot to cool off.

The swimming area at Kuang Si Waterfalls is a perfect spot to cool off.

The last contributing factor to determining how long you should stay in Luang Prabang depends on whether you’re the type of person that absolutely has to be doing something every single minute of every single day or not. If so, you’re going to spin through town in four or five days irrespective of anything else mentioned above. You can easily head to Kopnoi and take one of their free activity checklists and run through the list. The true beauty of Luang Prabang, however, is found in its pace of life. Simply running through a list goes against the grain of Luang Prabang and it may well be unfulfilling.

Kuang Si Falls are a popular spot with backpackers and older travellers alike.

Kuang Si Falls are a popular spot with backpackers and older travellers alike.

Temple junkies will get their fix in Luang Prabang.

Temple junkies will get their fix in Luang Prabang.

There really is something for everyone in Luang Prabang and the amount of time you spend there really does depend on these things. We recommend a minimum of two full days for travellers with not much time and two weeks for those wanting to soak up a bit of the local way of life.

Been to Luang Prabang and want to have your say? Let us know in the comments.

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10 responses so far

10 Responses to “How long should I spend in Luang Prabang?”

  1. Busylizzyon 17 Apr 2013 at 7:58 pm

    Not that I want to detract from your informative and accurate post … but what is the drink in the photo half way down? I’m trying to imagine what flavour it would be – it looks interesting!

  2. Adam Poskitton 18 Apr 2013 at 7:34 am

    @Busylizzy – it’s a watermelon chilli granita. Basically a watermelon slurpee with some chilli added. It was very nice. :)

  3. Normon 23 Apr 2013 at 9:13 am

    First of all I would like to say on behalf of my wife and myself how much we enjoy getting your newsletter. I have enjoyed this short trip with you but my question is “How long should I stay in Vientiane”

  4. Donon 24 Apr 2013 at 1:16 am

    I’ve been to Luang Prabang several times and each time I find something different to check out. The first time I went there, I flew from Hanoi and was blown away by how much more laid back Laos was compared to Vietnam. People would even slow down and let me cross the street without the fear of being hit by speeding motorbikes. The city is growing and I wish it was the same as my first visit almost a decade ago but it is still a great place to spend a week or two.

  5. Ivanaon 24 Apr 2013 at 1:28 am

    Hi Norm,

    Time is precious when you travel and it’s important to spend it well. While Vientiane is a nice city, there are many more exciting experiences to be had in other parts of Laos or Southeast Asia. There are plenty of great restaurants and spas, but there isn’t a whole lot in the way of activities and museums. Around 2-3 days is usually enough for most people to sample the flavor of Vientiane.

    Happy Travels

    Ivana

  6. Mark Slonekeron 07 May 2013 at 11:33 pm

    Vientiane is mostly a place for business, I go there often to work with PADETC, a Lao NGO, to develop their handcraft division. Ivana is right about the number of days if you’re on holiday. It doesn’t have the visual beauty of Luang Prabang or other spots, but there are quite a few interesting place to see, museums, temples, Buddha park, restaurants, etc. If you have a lot of time in SE Asia, it would be worth going through for a couple days. If you are seeing multiple countries and are short on time in Laos, you would be better to do all you time in Luang Prabang, there are interesting trips into areas around there where you can have intimate experiences of the culture.

  7. Ivanaon 12 Feb 2014 at 9:46 am

    Stayed in Luang Brabang one week, which was a bit long for us, but we had to stay there because of the health reason. Anyway, we liked the vibes of Vang Vieng more with all the mountains and river with kayaking around.
    We found out that even if Laos is considered undeveloped country, they are trying to develop in the path that maybe attracts tourists, but not always in positive way, i.e. overpriced restaurants, scams on transport and quite expensive accomodation compared to Thailand.
    Anyway, the nature in Laos is just beautiful and worth to visit !

  8. Sarahon 29 May 2014 at 9:23 pm

    Hi, my husband and I are considering adding Luang Prabang to the end of an 11 day trip in Vietnam. I am bringing a group of high school students over to VN and when we send them home we hope to add a little bit of travel on our own. However, we will be limited on time. We’re trying to fit in both Sapa and Luang Prabang. Would three days there be enough to get a good taste? What would you recommend doing in that time frame? We definitely want to see the waterfalls and some of the temples. Thanks for any advice!

  9. Adam Poskitton 30 May 2014 at 2:53 am

    Three days is enough time in Luang Prabang to see the temples, waterfalls and have a wander around town. The nice thing about Luang Prabang is its slow pace… Wake up, grab a bowl of soup, visit a temple, wander down by the river, grab some lunch, head back to your room for a nap before heading out before dusk to catch sunset. Making plans to go an do a lot of stuff in 3 days probably isn’t ideal, but depends on what you want from your visit.

    If relaxed, don’t make plans. If you must see the temples and waterfalls, be prepared to miss out on the relaxed vibe of Luang Prabang.

  10. Sarahon 31 May 2014 at 4:31 pm

    Thanks!

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