The small town of Luang Prabang situated in northern Laos was recommended to us by a traveler and friend from Aveiro, who described the place as ‘magical’.
On our first day after a night of torrential rain, we woke up with the mission to find a proper bakery to eat breakfast in. As an old French colony, Luang Prabang was set to have at least a good baguette somewhere.
Much to our surprise, as we stomp along the red brick sidewalks, we noticed that there were no noisy motorbikes passing by and no other tourist in sight. All we could hear were birds chirping from the lush gardens and a handful of locals on bicycles going about their day. As our harried walk became a wandering stroll, we caught ourselves whispering to each other as if even the sound of our voice could disturb that morning tranquility.
After a month of being hyperstimulated in Vietnam, this slow pace of life felt like a cultural shock!
Luang Prabang weather
The dry season is from October to April and the wet season from May to late September. The coldest months are December and January (17ºC).
The air is humid and hot with temperatures reaching the 35ºC during the warmest months. Rain often falls during the night and early mornings resulting in sunny afternoons.
Check the weather forecast here: Accuweather/luang-prabang
Moving around town
Luang Prabang is fairly small so walking and cycling are the best options as they’re both silent, non-invasive and cheap. Plus, almost every hotel has bicycles to rent.
WHAT TO DO IN LUANG PRABANG
Walking through the Old Quarter
Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so if there’s a place you’d enjoy getting lost, this is it. There’s beauty anywhere you look: whether it’s the gold trims from a temple reflecting the sunlight, a well-tended little alley, or a group of friendly monks—it’ll be common to bump into monks.
The Alms giving ceremony
Every morning as the sun rises, hundreds of monks from the 33 temples in Luang Prabang walk through the streets gathering food for their daily meal. Locals offer them rice, fresh fruit, and snacks while kneeling quietly roadside.
This ancient ceremony goes through various parts of the city, but a popular spot is the intersection of Soukkaseum and Sakkaline streets.
What not to do at the Alms Giving ceremony:
Be respectful and for the love of Buddha, do not disrupt the ceremony just because you want a cool Instagram photo!
Understand that the Alms giving is a Buddhist tradition dating back to the 14th century and a revered ritual for Laotians that tourism has started to corrupt. On account of becoming a famed tourist attraction, the procession is declining into a tourist trap.
We believe that even having the chance to participate in it, travelers should avoid the tours and remain at a suitable distance. For more on the subject of responsible traveling read the post: Travel Etiquette—Good tourists vs Bad tourists.
Yoga Class in Utopia
The zen and peaceful atmosphere of the town will put sun salutations on your to do list. Luckily, yoga and meditation classes are easy to find around Luang Prabang: Utopia has 1-hour yoga classes that take place on a little terrace overlooking the Nam Khan River.
Classes start at 7:30 AM from Monday to Friday, cost €4, and are suited for both yogis and first-timers.
For more information visit: www.luangprabangyoga.org
(Nuno being the teacher’s pet)
Royal Palace Museum (Haw Kham)
The 20th-century building where the royal family lived is now a national museum housing many historical items such as art, the king’s collection of cars, and offerings to the Laos monarchy.
The museum opening hours are 8:00 AM to 11:30 AM and 1:30 PM to 4:00 PM.
Closed on Tuesdays.
Admission fee is €3,07
Kuang Si Falls
Getting there was an adventure on its own and we wrote an entire blog post about it: Getting to the Kuang Si Waterfalls.
Watching the sunset from Mount Phu Si
Since every sunset we’d seen in Luang Prabang was breathtaking, we were curious on why the ones from Mount Phu Si (according to the entire internet) stood out as the best. So we paid €2,13 to access the top of the hill and after 20 minutes of panting and sweating up the stairs, we met with 80 other tourists waiting for it.
We realized that up there on the summit, is not all about the sun going down, but the privilege of enjoying a 360º view of the landscape as it happens.
Tips: Go at least a couple of hours before the sunsets to visit the temples along the way, and reserve a nice spot at the top—it tends to get crowded up there.
If it’s a cloudy day, don’t even bother climbing those stairs.
Every evening from around 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM-ish, the entire Sisavangvong street is closed off to vehicles and occupied by vendors aiming to sell their handmade products to tourists. If you’re looking for a souvenir, you’ll find an extensive collection of handicrafts such as textiles, paintings, bags, jewelry, and paper lanterns.
For more of an authentic Laotian experience, head towards Wat Phonxay or the Royal Palace. Next to it, along a couple of side-streets, will be the morning market. It’s mostly a food market where vendors set up on the ground stacks of fresh fruit, dried squid, spices, ant eggs, frog legs, and fish from the Mekong.
Tip: Go early.
Unlike many other Asian street markets, vendors won’t call you out to buy their wares so you’re set to have a more enjoyable and less awkward experience.
Crossing the bamboo bridge
There are two bamboo bridges over the Nam Khan River that you can cross for €0,54. These bridges are built in 10 days every year during the dry season and torn down during the rainy season.
Explore the other side of the river and find your private spot to watch the sunset. They can be as epic as the ones from Mount Phu Si.
Life chose him to cross the bridge first: we played rock-paper-scissors and he lost. ✊✋✌ lol #portuguesespelomundo #travelgram #instatravel #bbctravel #travelstoked #travel #planetgravy #beautifuldestinations #bestintravel #neverstoptraveling #lonelyplanet #welovetravel #worldingram #traveladdicts #Laos #Lao #luangprabang #bamboobridge
There’s a humble and endearing quality about the temples in Luang Prabang. They’re not as grand as the ones you might see in Thailand, but they feel alive and just as special. Like we mentioned before, there are 33 active temples in LP and most are free to enter. We recommend:
That Chomsi on the top of Mount Phu Si.
Wat Ho Pha Bang near the Royal Palace where you can see the Pha Bang sculpture that gave the town its name.
Wat Xieng Thong, one of the most visited temples in Luang Prabang. Entrance fee: €2,13
Wat Wisunarat, one of the oldest temples around with a huge collection of Buddha images inside. Entrance fee €2,13
Tip: leave the visit for later if the temple is being used for meditation or other religious activities. Use common sense and dress appropriately for Wat visits.
Pak Ou Caves
The Pak Ou caves have been a Buddhist holy site for more than 300 years. The shrines are inside a limestone cliff, located about 25 km outside of Luang Prabang. Inside the caves are more than 4000 Buddha statues, but you’ll need a flashlight to see them all.
It’s only possible to reach the site by boat on a rather long ride (1h30) considering the short distance. However, the slow pace of the trip is perfect for laying back and enjoying the view.
Boat ride fee: €7
Pak Ou Caves entrance fee: €2
WHERE TO EAT IN LUANG PRABANG (BUDGET FRIENDLY FOOD)
Lao Sandwiches and fruit shakes
In the central town square are about 10 stalls selling Lao sandwiches with different filling options including vegetarian. You can’t leave Luang Prabang without eating one along with a fruit shake. We ate one a day during our 13-day stay.
Tip: As the food is not refrigerated and the average temperature is 29ºC, avoid the mayo. 😉
If you’re into all you can eat buffets, this is your street. Located between the tourist information center and Indigo House Cafe is an alley filled with food stalls and a communal style sitting area. Fill your plate with all the food you want for €1,70 excluding meat, and enjoy! (meat is an extra €1,70)
Tip: The earlier you arrive, the more options you’ll have.
For dessert have some tropical sliced fruit from one of the vendors at the start of the buffet street. To this day, it’s still the sweetest and juiciest fruit we’ve ever had.
It’s the most fun meal to share with friends on an outdoor restaurant like BroTher House. For €2.70 a person, you’ll get sprouts, eggs, meat, tofu, noodles, mushrooms, and greens for everyone to cook on a bbq hot pot.
Breakfast at Joma
There are two Joma Bakeries in LP: one sucks, the other is great.
The great one is located right by the Nham Kam River, on Kingkitsirath Road behind Wat Sene. It has comfy indoor and outdoor spaces, the staff is friendly, the coffee is excellent and the air conditioning is always blasting. The only downside is the touristy prices, but they have special deals on bread and cakes from the day before.
Oh, and it had the fastest wifi connection we managed to find in Luang Prabang!
Luang Prabang average daily expenses (for 1 person)
Water bottle: €0,28
Bicycle rental: €1
Yoga class: €4,26
Bus from Dien Bien Phu (Vietnam) to Luang Prabang: €20,15
If you have any questions or some extra info to share, please leave it in the comments below. Thanks!
(Cover image by Xiquinho Silva)