10 Must-Have Experiences in Luang Prabang, Laos
Top 10 Experiences to have on a trip to Luang Prabang, Laos
For such a small town, Luang Prabang has a lot to offer. From temple-hopping and silent cinema to sipping snake whisky and shopping at the night market, it’s hard to be bored, even if the town looks a little sleepy from the outside. Here, we share some of the coolest experiences that we recommend you to try when visiting Luang Prabang, Laos.
1. Visit the Royal Palace and the Phra Bang Buddha
If you only do one thing in Luang Prabang, you must visit the Royal Palace and the Haw Phra Bang Temple. This is the most important royal site in the city, and the home of the holiest Buddha in Laos.
Today, the old Royal Palace s now the Luang Prabang National Museum, and holds a fascinating collection of pre-revolution Lao royal artifacts, which are kept on display, preserving the lives of the late royal family.
The Haw Phra Bang Temple houses the Phra Bang Buddha, which is the city’s namesake. This holy artifact is considered the most sacred Buddhist relic in all of Laos, and is kept on the grounds of the Royal Palace in one of the city’s most beautiful temples.
2. Try Snake Whisky and pray at the Pak Ou Caves
Are you brave enough to sip on 100-proof Lao moonshine fermented with a preserved cobra??
If so, take a stop at the famous Whisky Village. A visit to the village is included as part of a package tour to the sacred Pak Ou Caves where old and damaged Buddha images are retired at a former royal meditation retreat.
Although the Whisky Village may not be exciting enough to visit on its own, when paired with a stop at the caves, it’s definitely worth the visit, if only for the odd experience that it is. The village has been making homemade lao-lao, or rice whisky, in the traditional style for hundreds of years… but try it at your own risk!
3. Learn about Endangered Bears and explore the Kuang Si Waterfall
The most popular half-day trip from Luang Prabang is a visit to the Kuang Si Falls, a sacred waterfall that is located just 30km outside of the city. The waterfall itself is immense and impressive, and is deeply steeped in local myth and legend.
Maybe even more interesting than the waterfall itself is the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center, which has a headquarters at the Kuang Si Forest Park. The Bear Rescue Center works to combat the illegal Asiatic black bear trade in Laos. These endangered bears are rescued and rehabilitated at Kuang Si. A visit to the Bear Rescue Center is free, and you can learn a lot about the brutal bear trade and the efforts of the Laotian government, as well as volunteers and NGOs, in fighting the industry and rescuing the bears.
Learn More: Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Center, Luang Prabang
4. Take a slow boat ride down the Mekong River
There are few experiences in Luang Prabang more relaxing than a slow cruise down the muddy waters of the Mekong River. You can hire a boat and driver from the Luang Prabang boat dock.
A river boat ride is part of the package when visiting the Whisky Village and the Pak Ou Caves, but you can also hire a driver to cruise you up and down the river at your own leisure. It’s even nicer with a cold can of Beer Lao in hand!
5. Join in the morning alms-giving ceremony
Every morning, before the sun rises in Luang Prabang, dozens of Buddhist monks, clad in their saffron robes and carrying nothing but their monk’s bowls, slowly walk the silent streets. These monks are partaking in the daily “sai-bat” or alms-giving ceremony. Devout Buddhist kneel on the side of the road, placing offerings of food into the bowls of the passing monks in exchange for a blessing.
Even if you are not Buddhist, you are welcome to witness, or even take part in this sacred ceremony. Just be sure to be respectful and follow the proper cultural behaviors.
6. Learn about Laos’ tragic past at the UXO Museum
Though today a seemingly happy and peaceful country, Laos has a difficult and tragic past. During the second half of the 20th century, Laos became the battleground of the “Secret War” between Eastern and Western powers. It was rarely reported. During this time, Laos became the most heavily bombed country in the history of the Earth. Today, there are still many times more bombs left unexploded in Laos than there are people. Every year, many people are killed and injured by these explosives.
Learn more about the tragic situation and what various NGOs are doing to try to help matters at the Luang Prabang UXO Museum. I highly recommend visiting this heartbreaking but important museum, or the COPE Center in Vientiane. Both museums will give you an in-depth look at the current situation surrounding UXOs in Laos and what is being done about it.
Learn More: Visit the COPE Center in Vientiane
7. Take a walk at Night Market and grab a cheap buffet dinner
Want to pick up some souvenirs? There’s no better place than the Luang Prabang Night Market! Every night, the main road in town comes alive with the bustle of a busy market. You can buy everything from Beer Lao t-shirts and Buddhist amulets to silk scarves and eco-friendly bamboo straws. You can even purchase traditional hill tribe handicrafts and amazing one-of-a-kind artwork.
The Night Market is also one of the cheapest and most fun places to eat dinner in Luang Prabang. The famous Night Market Buffet has a huge selection of organic vegetarian dishes to choose from. Just pay a few thousand kip, and fill up your bowl with as much food as you like. Best served with an ice-cold glass of Beer Lao!
If you are craving a little protein, grilled meat is also cooked to order, costing extra.
8. Have an unforgettable movie night
There is no cinema in Luang Prabang, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a movie night out!
Stop by the Sanctuary Hotel every evening for a free screening (they ask that you do purchase a small snack or drink) of the 1927 movie Chang.
This is an incredible experience. If you think such an old movie will be boring, I can guarantee you that it’s not at all. Chang, which follows a family living in a small village on the border between Thailand and Laos, is one of the world’s first documentaries. This silent movie has a loose plot based around the village dealing with threats of rampaging elephants, leopards, and tigers, but really it’s an awesome look at traditional family life.
The movie is about an hour long, and it’s super fun, especially if watched with friends. I can’t recommend it enough! In fact, it kind of kicked off an interest in me for looking up a bunch of old silent films to watch.
9. Go Temple-Hopping in the old town
If there’s one thing that Luang Prabang is known for, it’s the city’s amazing UNESCO World Heritage temples. Luang Prabang has dozens of temples, each one unique.
Luang Prabang is considered to be the holy city of Laotian Buddhism, and you can’t turn your head in Luang Prabang without seeing at least another temple or two.
Learn More: Top 10 temples to visit in Luang Prabang
10. Chill out by the river with a few glasses of Beer Lao
All of that temple-hopping is sure to make a traveler thirsty! Cool off at Utopia, a river-front restaurant, lounge, bar, and the coolest place in the city.
Everyone who visits Luang Prabang eventually ends up at Utopia. It’s a cool and breezy place to pass a few hours over a cold beer (or iced coffee) and a snack.