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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
By Adam Poskitt