This post has been created from content I took when I visited Laos in February 2020, before the COVID-19 Pandemic had started restricting travel. I am currently not travelling anywhere and I recommend others should consider all factors before travelling anywhere themselves.
The former royal city of Luang Prabang sits at a ‘T’ junction of 2 major rivers in Laos, the Mekong and the Nam Khan! Being surrounded by huge mountain ranges that are covered in greenery (or maybe not if you go in the dry season like I did!) this really is one beautiful part of this country that you definitely can’t miss visiting!
One thing that immediately stuck out for me in this beautiful city, was just how much it retains so much of its impressive colonialist French architecture. UNESCO shares my admiration for this detail too and they keep it looking its best, even having initiatives like restricting heavy goods traffic from entering the city!
So you can get the most out of a visit of your own to Luang Prabang, in this post I am sharing with you 5 things that you need to experience when you come here! In addition at the end of the post I will also provide some practical information for how to get to Luang Prabang and some tips for visiting this incredible mountain city!
#1 – Take a walk over the Nam Khan river on a hand crafted bamboo bridge!
At the junction of Soukkhaseum Road and Kingkitsarath Road sits the infamous bamboo bridge of Luang Prabang! The bridge is the property of a local family that build and maintain it and it is held together just with rope and some good construction techniques.
Although it feels a bit rickety at first when you start crossing it, rest assured its completely safe to use! Bamboo is an incredibly strong natural material and is also one of the main reasons why is it used in construction in its native areas! Most building sites in SE Asia and other areas of the world it it grows use it for scaffolding.
If you really want to see the bridge then you will need to time your visit right to Luang Prabang, as this incredible handcrafted bridge only sits in the water for around 6 months of the year and that’s predominantly through the dry season! After the dry season the bridge is taken down and stored because during the wet season the water level is simply too high for it to be safely used.
In order to maintain the bridge and keep it safe, the owners of it charge tourists 10000kip (just under £1!) to cross it and return (remember to keep hold of the ticket you are given!), which is pretty fair in my opinion! The bridge is strictly for foot passengers only, so bikes and motorcycles have to use the permanent road bridge which is just down the road!
The bridge is not the only attraction to this area of the city, on the other side of the river in the photo is ‘Dyan Sabai’, a really nice open air restaurant that sits alongside the river and offers some really good food choice, in a Japanese/Asian style floor seating.
#2 – Trek to the top of Phou Si Hill for a stunning lookout over the city
Rising up from the Luang Prabang streets is the sacred Phou Si Hill. Local legend says that this hill was once home to a powerful Naga (which is a creature half human and half cobra!) Today it is one of the most visited sites in Luang Prabang, with masses of people climbing its 300ish steps everyday to visit the temple found at the top!
You start climbing the mount from the street level with its steps starting just off Sisvangvong Road. To visit the very top of the hill it costs around 20000kip (around £2) which is paid at a booth half way up the hill. There are also toilet facilities and some drink sellers located around this area too! As this is a ticketed site, it means that it is not available to visit 24 hours a day, however it is open long enough for you to see the sunrise and sunset from the top of!
This is definitely not a hill to be climbing if you have a mobility issue! With a lot of steep steps and unsteady ground, even those that are pretty solid on their feet will need to be careful climbing up to the top and back down again!
Something else to remember is that this is a sacred site, so be mindful that a level of respect needs to be paid when at the top of the mount and inside the temple up there! Despite it weirdly being available to buy around the ticketing area, it is not advisable to drink any alcohol at the top as it can attract negative attention from locals, something that we witnessed happening to some other tourists at the top!
#3 – Take a wander through the main night market!
Starting at the cross roads of Chao Fa Ngum Rd and Sisvangvong Rd and stretching all the way down to the Royal Palace is the Luang Prabang night market! The road is closed to vehicles by police at the time the night market is getting set up, which is around 6pm and then gets packed up again around midnight.
What I really like about this night market is the public square that it is situated next to that has loads of good street food sellers and bars, in addition to all that there is also a large stage with authentic Lao dancing and musicians performing throughout the evening. One thing I also noticed is that a lot of the stuff that is on sale through the market is completely handmade, some of it is even made right in front of you, on the street!
The night market does get pretty crowded later on into the evening and it can be a bit time consuming to get through if you literally just want to get down the street! There are other side streets you can safely walk down though to save a bit of time. In my opinion the market is well worth spending a couple of hours at even if you are not a big shopper!
#4 – Observe the giving of the alms
The giving of the alms has been a long standing tradition in Lao Buddhism and it happens every morning on the streets of Luang Prabang around 5am.
The ceremony takes place predominantly along Phothisarath Road as well as soon smaller streets, Buddhist Monks dressed in their bright saffron coloured robes walk the streets receiving offerings (alms) from Buddhist locals. As Monks are not allowed to make direct physical contact with non Monks when accepting something, instead it is placed in a cauldron like container which they carry with them down the road.
Taking photos and videos of the alms giving is allowed as it just takes place on the public streets and it is even somewhat encouraged by the locals, however I personally didn’t want to take any out of more respect. This is the main reason why there are no photos of my experience on this post!
There has plenty of horror stories over the years of tourists getting in the way and being just completely disrespectful to the monks during the proceedings. Some tourists seem to forget that this isn’t just a bit of entertainment for their benefit, this is actually how the monks receive the food that they live off and survive on. My favourite YouTube travel vloggers Kara and Nate shared this experience when they visited Luang Prabang and their video shows exactly how it can be, you can see that clip by clicking on this link.
The giving of the alms is a very unique experience and one that I do encourage people to try and make the effort to see in person (even though you have to get up before the crack of dawn!), but if you do go to see it, remember to observe in a respectful way!
#5 – Take a trip out to the Kuang Si waterfalls and Tat Kuang Si Rescue Bear Centre!
Although the Kuang Si waterfalls are not strictly in the city limits of Luang Prabang, they are a very popular attraction that pretty much all visitors to the city go to and are about a 40 minute tuk-tuk ride out west of the city.
I had a driver for the day that waited for me up near the falls while I was up there, but realistically you could very easily just get a ride up to the falls with any tuk tuk driver on the street and then renegotiate a ride back to Luang Prabang when up there and ready to head back!
At the foot of the waterfall grounds is a ‘tourist centre’ which has loads of shops, places to get a bite to eat, toilets and also a car park. Although the falls are not free to enter, it only costs 20000kip (around £2!) to get into the grounds, which is paid right at the entrance. For somewhere that is really popular with tourists and attracts pretty much no locals, I was really surprised that it was so cheap to visit!
Once you at the waterfalls it is quite clearly signposted that the biggest waterfall you cannot swim in as it is part of the protected area (everywhere that you can’t access is clearly signposted and fenced or roped off!), but you are able to swim freely in the 2 lower pools, which are down river from this. There are a few trails that also head off from the falls into the forest, but eventually meet back up with the main area!
In addition to some picnic benches put by the water, there are some wooden huts where you can get changed into your swimming gear! The only thing I couldn’t seem to find was any kind of place to store your stuff when you go in the water, so if there are a group of you visiting it might be wise to take it in turns watching the groups gear!
On the way back down to the entrance, be sure to pop by the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre. At first this ground can resemble something of a zoo and it was what I first thought it was, but don’t worry the centre is here to support Asian Black Bears that have all been rescued from horrendous conditions elsewhere in the country and its here they are in a safe environment and live happy lives!
As well as allowing visitors to see the bears in a safe habitat, at a small centre you can find out more about the species they look after here and buy merchandise to financially support their on going work!
For more information on the Bear Rescue Centre and what other work they do, please follow this link to their site.
For this day trip I would strongly recommend bringing with you to Kuang Si waterfalls..
- Swimming gear and a towel
- Drinking water and some small snacks
- Bug spray (there were loads by the lower pools!)
- Decent walking shoes if you are planning on walking around some of the paths
Apart from the bug spray I found that you could actually buy all of this stuff in the shops around the car park if you forgot to bring any of it.. even swimming gear!
Some addition information for your visit to Luang Prabang…
Additional information for visiting Laos in general can be found on a post I previously wrote, you can find that here
There are many overland routes that you can take to get to Luang Prabang from other places in Laos and the neighbouring countries. Although some of the distances between places in Laos are relatively short, the countries mountainous terrain and really poor road quality makes driving times incredibly long!
The way I actually arrived into Luang Prabang was by flying with LaoAirlines from Pakxe, which is in the far south of the country. Upon landing at Luang Prabang airport it was just a case of collecting my bag and walking out of the building (as it was a domestic flight) and to get from the airport to where I was staying in the city centre took about 15 minutes in a minivan. Luang Prabang operates as a domestic and international airport and so you are able to get a visa on arrival if you require one.
At the time of writing this post, there is a huge Chinese funded high speed rail project under construction throughout the country with the intention to connect mainland China with as far as the Laos capital! This project will eventually make some of these long drives obsolete as a lot of the construction (which I could see when I was there) is tunnelling straight through the mountain ranges!
Where To Stay
During my stay in Luang Prabang, I stayed in Treasure Hotel on Norrasan Road. At the time I stayed it was around £25 a night and that included a really good breakfast! The rooms were great, it had a small pool and a very ‘informal’ bar in the reception (BeerLao for £1)!
The hotels location was great for me as it was just a couple of blocks back from the main street on a quiet side street, this also meant that the morning I went to go and watch the alms ceremony, I didn’t need to get up as early!
For reviews and to even book a room click here
Although under the current circumstances we can only dream of where we want to visit, when things do start to open up and long haul travel starts again, Laos and specifically Luang Prabang should definitely up high on that list!
South East Asia is a part of the world that is just moving at a 100mph, but Luang Prabang really is an exception to that with its zen and chilled vibe, its definitely somewhere you could spend a week or more!
Have you been to Luang Prabang or are thinking of visiting in the future? let me know in the comments below!