A sample itinerary for a first–time visit
Published: 2nd December, 2018
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.
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.
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.
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 stencilling 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.
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 Mount Phou Si. 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.
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 Maolin Tavern on the main street. For cocktails, head to Icon Klub, Sugar Cocktail Bar or 525. Backpackers flock to lively Redbul Bar and Utopia, all within a few drunken steps of each other. To experience something truly local, take a tuk tuk to popular beer bars like 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.
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you'll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
Our top 10 other sights and activities in and around Luang Prabang