Photo: Shopfronts in Savannakhet, Southern Laos.

Have only one day in Luang Prabang? Oh boy, do we feel sorry for you; sometimes travellers stay for a week and still feel like they have more to see. But if you're in a rush, or you were too busy relaxing and have suddenly run out of time, here is Luang Prabang packed into one day. Rent a bicycle and go.

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Wat Sene, one of Luang Prabang's many magnificent temples to be explored.

Rise early – really early – to watch tak bat, the morning alms ceremony. Instead of flocking to the main street where the tourist-turned-paparazzi seem to outnumber monks 10 to one, try observing the procession on a small side street or head to a neighbourhood outside of the centre like Ban Thatluang or Ban Mano. You will see fewer monks but it will be a peaceful, positive experience.

Time for a breakfast bowl of noodle soup. The local favourite is Luang Prabang's version of khao soi: rice noodles topped with minced pork, tomato, fermented soybeans and chili. You can also slurp up a delicious bowl of khao piek at Xiengthong Noodle (on the main street close to the end of the peninsula), or Lao pho at stalls near the morning market. A bowl of noodle soup costs 10,000 to 20,000 kip. Take a quick stroll through the morning market.

Lao pho is always served with a plate of herbs, greens and plenty of chilli
A hot, delicious bowl of Lao pho is always served with a plate of herbs, greens and bird's eye chillies.

Ready for some temple hopping? The Royal Palace Museum and the Ha Pha Bang temple, home of the sacred Prabang statue, are worth a look even if just from the outside. A visit to the museum is 30,000 kip and will only take half an hour. If you feel pressed for time, quickly ride through the grounds and head to the back for a peek at the last royal family's collection of classic cars.

Cycle or wander through the town's charming side streets, admiring the fusion of French colonial and Lao architecture, taking in scenes of local life. Stop at any of the temples; you'll find the highest concentration of them are on the main street.

Wat Xieng Thong, located at the end of the peninsula, is not to be missed.
Wat Xieng Thong, located at the end of the peninsula, is not to be missed.

The absolute must is Wat Xieng Thong, one of the most important, beautiful and architecturally significant wats in all of Laos. Built in 1560, it was the site of coronations and other royal ceremonies. Take note of the stunning glass mosaic tree, gold stenciling and ornate carvings. Entrance fee is 20,000 kip. Both men and women should be appropriately dressed.

From Wat Xieng Thong, you aren't far from several great lunch or afternoon tea options. Why not try a French cafe like Le Banneton or Le Cafe Ban Wat Sene for a baguette sandwich and an #OMG worthy dessert.

Yes please.
Chocolate truffle cake. Yes please.

It's certainly tempting to linger at the cafe over a coffee, fruit shake or an ice cream -- and we give you permission to take a break or go shopping -- but if you have a half an hour you could squeeze in a visit to the Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre at the base of Phosi Hill. This small museum gives you an overview of Laos' four most well known ethnic minority groups, a window into the country's rich diversity.

For sunset in Luang Prabang, you have many options – maybe too many. We recommend getting out onto the Mekong for a sunset cruise. Or if you want to learn more about life in Laos, drop by Big Brother Mouse to meet young Lao people and help them improve their English conversation skills; in turn you'll gain insight into Lao culture. Sessions are informal. Just drop in between 17:00-19:00 for a chat. The centre is located in Ban Wat Nong, close to Wat Nong Temple.

On your way to dinner, walk through the night market and buy local handicrafts like hand-woven scarves, bags, jewellery, toys and hard-to-resist puffy elephant slippers.

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Cushion and duvet covers made by Hmong women, decorated with hand-stitched reverse appliqué.

For authentic Lao food, choose one of the restaurants we recommend here. If it's not too hot, try a Lao barbecue, called sindad.

Finally time for a nightcap, and in Luang Prabang, there's something for everyone. For people watching, go to Tangor, Opera or Dao Fa on the main street. For a nice glass of wine, Chez Matt has a good selection. For conversation and cocktails, head to Icon Klub. Backpackers flock to lively Redbul Bar, Lao Lao Garden, Hive and Utopia, all within a few drunken steps of each other. If you want to experience something truly local, take a tuk tuk to popular beer bars like Star Beer, Yensabai, Dao Fa Nightclub or Full Moon Karaoke.

By law, bars and restaurants must shut by 23:30 in Luang Prabang. As you learned from waking up for the morning alms, locals start their day extremely early and the curfew is in place so tourists don't disrupt local life. There's no shame in going to bed at this point. But if you're really not ready to call it a night, you have one option: bowling. Drivers will be waiting outside the bars to corral you into their tuk tuks and maybe you'll find yourself bonding with new travel buddies over bowling and beer.


More itineraries

Where to go, how long to stay there, where to go next, east or west, north or south? How long have you got? How long do you need? Itinerary planning can be almost as maddening as it is fun and here are some outlines to help you get started. Remember, don't over plan!


Burma

Burma lends itself to a short fast trip with frequent flights thrown in or a longer, slower trip where you don't leave the ground. There isn't much of a middle ground. Ground transport remains relatively slow, so be wary about trying to fit too much in.


Cambodia

Roughly apple-shaped, you'd think Cambodia would be ideal for circular routes, but the road network isn't really laid out that way. This means you'll most likely find yourself through some towns more than once, so work them into your plans.


Indonesia

How long have you got? That's not long enough. Really. You'd need a few lifetimes to do this sprawling archipelago justice. Be wary of trying to cover too much ground - the going in Indonesia can be slow.


Laos

North or south or both? Laos is relatively small and transport is getting better and better. Those visiting multiple countries can pass through here a few times making for some interesting trips.


Malaysia

The peninsula is easy, with affordable buses, trains and planes and relatively short distances. Sabah and Sarawak are also relatively easy to get around.The vast majority of visitors stick to the peninsula but Borneo is well worth the time and money to reach.


Thailand

So much to see, so much to do. Thailand boasts some of the better public transport in the region so getting around can be fast and affordable. If time is limited, stick to one part of the country.


Vietnam

Long and thin, Vietnam looks straightforward, but the going is slow and the distances getting from A to B can really bite into a tight trip plan. If you're not on an open-ended trip, plan carefully.


The region

This is where itinerary planning really becomes fun. Be sure to check up on our visa, border crossing and visa sections to make sure you're not trying to do the impossible. Also, remember you're planning a holiday -- not a military expedition.