Luang Prabang is a city to completely fall in love with. It is one of the most beautiful cities in Southeast Asia for sure. The city clearly shows that Laos used to be a French colony with its mix of European and Asian architecture. The unique combination of French and Asian influences makes Luang Prabang stand out from all other places in Laos. Did you know that the entire old center is on the World Heritage List of UNESCO? Luang Prabang was absolutely the highlight on our Laos trip. These are the 10 reasons why we fell in love with this city!
Backpacking Luang Prabang: the 10 best things to do
#1 The old center of Luang Prabang
The maze of the old town has a wonderful vibe. Everything in Luang Prabang is relaxed and every street is equally beautiful. We have walked endlessly through the pretty streets and along the river banks. The many temples, colonial houses and colourful details will keep you fascinated. And another big plus: there are so many restaurants and stalls with good food. So there is also enough motivation for some nice breaks!
#2 Wat Xieng Thong
Wat Xieng Thong is perhaps one of the most beautiful temples in all of Asia. The monastery consists of several temples. The highlight? The beautiful mosaics! The colourful figures against the red background are fascinating. The animals, houses, trees and human figures cover entire walls.
#3 The street food and food markets
From French crêpes with Nutella and baguettes to Asian dishes. In Luang Prabang, there is always something to eat. There are many street food stalls on the street, but the food markets are also highly recommended. The morning market is a vibrant place with exotic fruit and more meat varieties than you can imagine. The night market is the place for souvenirs and smoothies, crêpes and snacks.
#4 The many monks and Tak Bat
There are many monks living in Luang Prabang that it is almost impossible not to meet them. They are also hard to miss in their orange robes of course. Especially unique to experience, is the Tak Bat ritual in the early morning. The monks then walk in a line through the streets of Luang Prabang to their temples. Along the way, they collect their meal from the locals who put rice balls in their bowls. Please note: these offerings are for locals only. Stay at an appropriate distance and if you really want to participate in the ritual, only do so under the guidance of a local. If you want to take photos, at least do it without a flash.
Tip: go to the streets of Th Sakkarin and Th Kamal, where you will see most monks passing by.
#5 The Laos barbecue
The Laos barbecue – or Laos soup or Laos hotpot – was a big hit with us. It is best way of Asian shared dining! Unlike hotpots in other countries, it has a sort of grill in the middle on which you can grill vegetables, meat and fish. At a restaurant, you’ll be seated at a barbecue table. It has a bucket of coal in the middle on which the barbecue will be placed. You’ll get all sorts of food baskets: vegetables, noodles, and eggs for soup and vegetables, meat and fish for the grill. Sounds pretty much like any other Asian hotpot, except for the grill which makes locals recommend it as a barbecue! And if you want to experience this Laos meal, you are in the right place in Luang Prabang. It is the place in Laos where you’ll notice a barbecue restaurant at every other street. Make sure to try it at least once! And maybe take a Laos barbecue home with you like we did.
Tip: at Dyen Sabai – just across the bamboo bridge – you can enjoy your Laos hotpot with a view over the river and Luang Prabang! The bridge is removed every year for the rainy season, so you will only be able to use it from June to November.
#6 The green area and the beautiful Mekong
You may expect big avenues and impressive high-rise buildings from a big city – especially in Asia. But not in Luang Prabang! This old, colonial city has none of that. It is a green oasis on the famous Mekong River. The background of beautiful mountains, the green surroundings and the big river give Luang Prabang a unique atmosphere.
#7 The temples on the Phu Si hill
In the middle of the city lies the Phu Si hill. It is a must to climb to the top by one of the two stairs. The view is beautiful! On the way up you will pass many temples. With a bit of luck, you will find a young monk looking for a chat. Many young monks come here late afternoon to meet tourists. They like to practice their English with you and you can learn something about their lives by speaking with them.
#8 The sunset over Luang Prabang
The most popular moment to climb the Phu Si hill is during the sunset. The sight of the setting sun on the river and the mountains is phenomenal. Unfortunately, that is also a huge draw for tourists. So don’t think you’ll be the only one on the top. When we were there, it was so busy that we could hardly walk around.
#9 Grab the boat to the Pak Ou Caves
Go the Pak Ou caves by boat! In half an hour you can travel across the Mekong to these caves filled with Buddha statues. Hundreds of images are placed here in every single corner of the cave. It is a somewhat touristy trip and the caves are not very big, so don’t expect to much of it though. A second time in Luang Prabang, we would skip the boat and take the canoe or kayak to the caves instead.
#10 The Kuang Si waterfalls
You can visit many waterfalls in the area around Luang Prabang. But especially popular are the Tat Kuang Si waterfalls. You can swim, climb the waterfall and visit a butterfly garden here. We skipped this waterfall during our visit to Luang Prabang, but the stories and photos are amazing. During a second visit to the city, we would definitely go here.
What else would be on our wishlist? Besides the waterfalls and the canoe or kayak trip? One of the many cooking courses!