20 Fun Things to do In Luang Prabang, Laos
As soon as I heard that my friends Jen and Leigh were going to be in Luang Prabang for a few days on their year-long trip around the world, I immediately booked my plane ticket to Laos. Firstly, I miss Jen and Leigh. Secondly, last year, I spent a few days in Luang Prabang and quickly fell in love with this sleepy little Laotian town on the banks of the Mekong and Nam Khang rivers. Thirdly, I also uh accidentally left Laos last year with about $150 USD in Laotian kip, which is impossible to change outside of the country. So not only did I have emotional reasons to go back to Luang Prabang, I had a financial incentive to do so as well!
Where to Stay in Luang Prabang
When I traveled to Luang Prabang last year, it was more of a vacation so I stayed in a relatively luxurious hotel (for Laos), The Mekong Riverview. This time around, given that I am on the road for an extended period of time, I took a more budget-like approach and stayed at the friendly Mekong Charm Hotel. I’d recommend both properties for different reasons. The Mekong Riverview was just so COZY…great beds, great linens, lovely furniture and a wonderful restaurant overlooking where the Mekong and Nam Khang rivers come together. The Mekong Charm is right down the street from The Mekong Riverview and is very nice but the beds are harder and there’s a more limited (but still nice) breakfast menu. There’s also no, uh, white wine. (There is beer in the minibar though.) What’s great about Luang Prabang though is that it is really a fairly small place so for the most part, you can’t go wrong with any decently rated hotel on the peninsula. Luang Prabang is also amazingly walkable, which I love.
Once you are settled in at your hotel, there is no shortage of restaurants and things to do in Luang Prabang. You can easily see everything in Luang Prabang in just two or three days, but if you like the slow pace and want to fit in more massages, I recommend staying five days to really experience everything Luang Prabang has to offer. After my 2nd slow visit, here are some of my recommendations for fun things to do in Luang Prabang:
Climb to the Top of Mount Phousi
Right in the middle of town, you’ll find steps heading up to Mount Phousi. This is a great place to watch the sunset, watch other tourists, or just watch planes land and takeoff from the nearby airport. It gets a little crowded at sunset so just plan accordingly. Perhaps bring some snacks with you to enjoy an impromptu picnic when you get to the top. This is one of those things to do in Luang Prabang as soon as you arrive so you get the lay of the land.
Take a Sunset River Cruise
Long-term readers will know that I am a sucker for a boat cruise. There are a few organized boat cruises in Luang Prabang that take you out onto the Mekong to watch the sunset. Usually one cocktail is included in your cruise. Maybe some small snacks too. You can also organize private boat cruises…there will be no shortage of guys offering you a private one hour boat cruise as you walk along the waterfront on the Mekong side. Last year, I did a full dinner cruise but I think a sunset cruise followed by dinner in town is just as nice. This is one of the more super chill things to do in Luang Prabang. Book a sunset cruise in Luang Prabang.
Check out the Night Market
Every evening, the main drag of Luang Prabang fills up with vendors selling Lao clothing, bags, pillow cases, blankets and other local products. Some of it is pretty cool and some of the vendors have some pretty great stuff. (Try to find the Lao whisky guys if you can.) The market can get a bit crowded at times — the street just isn’t wide enough — but it’s one of those great things to do in Luang Prabang if you are looking for souvenirs. It’s also just a nice walk before or after dinner.
Get Many Massages
There are a few places in town offering traditional Laotian massage. I’ve tried both Hibiscus and Silver Naga and like both although I would say the massage accommodations are pretty basic. You will likely find yourself in a shared room situation akin to Traditional Thai massage. The massages are pretty cheap though so personally, I really can’t complain! (It’s fair to say though that this won’t be a luxury experience. Keep your expectations low.)
Take a Cooking Class
If cooking is your thing, definitely take a cooking class to experience Lao ingredients and typical dishes and learn about Luang Prabang from a local. Make sure you take a class that includes a visit to the Morning Market for more of an insider’s view on the market! Take a cooking class in Luang Pabang.
Visit the Morning Market
If you’re into food but not up for a cooking class, head down to the morning market each morning to see all the local produce. There are also a few places with street food and snacks for sale. This is definitely a working market so be cognizant that people are trying to go about their daily business here and don’t be too obnoxious with your camera. It’s a great place to see real life in a city that is continuously changing given tourism.
Visit Wat Xiengthong
There are a number of temples dotted along the Luang Prabang peninsual but Wat Xiengthong is probably one of the bigger ones. For a small entrance fee, you can visit the Wat and wander around the grounds. I took this photo inside one of the temple buildings. If you take a river cruise, there’s a particular good photo opp of the stairs leading up to the temple from the river so definitely be on the lookout for that. Visiting all the temples on the peninsula is one of the top things to do in Luang Prabang and a great way to spend a few hours.
Offer Alms to the Monks
Every morning at 5:30 am, the local monks weave in long straight lines through the streets of Luang Prabang, collecting alms from the local people. It is a beautiful and peaceful procession, although unfortunately, the experience can sometimes be ruined by tourists trying to get the perfect shot. If you can avoid those bozos, this is a really one of the most beautiful things to do in Luang Prabang. Talk to your hotel or guesthouse about how best to prepare for your morning almsgiving. (You should ideally be prepared to give alms.) Take a morning almsgiving and market tour in Luang Prabang.
Go for a Nice Long Walk and Grab a Coffee
If you are into walking, Luang Prabang is an amazing place for it. The streets are well-paved and even when you can’t walk on the sidewalk, the traffic is pretty light. The architecture is so beautiful and the city is just so so chill. I would do 10,000 steps easily every morning, just doing a lap and a half around the peninsula. There are a few cute coffee shops along the way if you need to keep up your energy. I recommend Saffron and Le Cafe Ben Vat Sen.
Go for a Bike Ride
Much like walking, Luang Prabang is honestly perfect for bike riding. It’s really flat and there isn’t much traffic. Most hotels have free bikes you can use or on the main street in Luang Prabang, there are a few places that rent bicycles. Just make sure to ride WITH traffic, not against it. If your hotel does not rent bikes, head up to the main drag and you’ll find a number of places with day rates for bike rentals. Pick up some snacks and drinks during your ride and have yourself an impromptu picnic along the riverfront and watch the boats go by. (Which I should really include as an individual item on my “Fun Things to Do in Luang Prabang” list.
Try All the Different Types of Beer Lao
Honestly, this should be #1 on the list!! After you’ve gotten your exercise, it’s time to DRINK ALL THE BEER. Beer Lao, the national beer of Laos, comes in many different “flavors” so one of the more fun things to do in Luang Prabang is try to find — and drink — them all. In addition to the original, Gold, and Dark Beer Laos, there’s now a White, Hoppy, and Amber. There’s also a unicorn beer called “LangXang” that I’ve read about but have yet to find. We had a good time in Luang Prabang, trying all the Beer Laos. You will too!
Drink all the Belgian Beer at Maolin Tavern
If you are a bit tired of all the Beer Lao (95% of Laotian beer is Beer Lao), head to the Maolin Tavern on Luang Prabang’s main street for a great selection of Belgian beers and unlimited Lao peanuts. (If you don’t see the big bowl of peanuts on the counter, ask! Sometimes they will even warm them up for you.) Hopefully the Maolin Tavern still has some Belgian beer left because we may have drank it all… The wifi here is also rather good and I saw more than a few people working from here during my stay.
Cross One of The Two Bamboo Bridges (Or Both!)
The first thing I thought when my friends asked me to meet them for dinner on their first night in town was “They’re going to make me cross a bamboo bridge again aren’t they?” I crossed one of the bridges last year all by my lonesome and scared myself senseless. Honestly, you’ll be fine BUT it’s just a little frightening. (And uh this is a good reminder: GET TRAVEL INSURANCE.) Note you will have to pay a small fee to cross each bridge, which pays for the bridge maintenance. Given that these are bamboo bridges, I think we can all agree that a maintenance fee is a good thing.
Bamboo Bridge by the Mekong Riverview: If you cross the bamboo bridge in front of the Mekong Riverview Hotel restaurant, once you get to the other side, go left and walk to the end. You should find a few benches overlooking the Mekong and if you’re lucky, a family will be set up there selling Beer Laos. In general, this is about all there is to do on this side of the bamboo bridge but what’s not to like? Beer with a view! Great stuff. There are also signs for a craft village but it wasn’t much when I last visited in 2019.
Bamboo Bridge by the Saynamkhan Hotel: If you cross this bamboo bridge, you can have dinner at the very lovely Dyen Sabai on the other side. Note the stars up from the bridge are a little steep on the opposite side of the river are a little steep. Dyen Sabai gets pretty crowded in the evenings so you may want to call ahead and make a reservation. The food is great and so is the service.
Learn about Lao History at Garavek
Every night at 6:30, the small Garavek Theatre runs a short production of traditional folktales and legends which together tell the story of Luang Prabang. It’s a very simple set up…an actor, a musician, and a small audience, but if you are looking to learn more about Laos, it’s one of the more cultural things to do in Luang Prabang. Garavek is very conveniently located on the peninsula so there are no shortage of eating and drinking establishments for after your show.
Hang out with the Beautiful People at Utopia
Utopia is a lovely bar with outdoor seating overlooking the Nam Kham river. There are low chairs and tables and lots of bean bag chairs scattered about. There are even morning yoga classes. It’s a great place to just chill with some snacks and drinks. Personally, I prefer Utopia during the day because it’s a bit more relaxed. Evenings get really crowded with the backpacker and expat crowd and there may be a lot of drinking involved. The menu is a mix of local food and Western food if you’re hungry although we tried a pizza and can’t really recommend them.
Go Bowling at Luang Prabang’s Bowling Alley
I’m not kidding. If you are looking to go bowling OR if it’s 11:30 pm and all the bars in town are closed, ask a tuk tuk driver to take you to the bowling alley. Note that if you go late night, every backpacker in Luang Prabang will probably be there with you. You can also try your hand at archery which makes me a little nervous because alcohol and arrows are a bad combination! I can’t find a website for the bowling alley so check out the TripAdvisor reviews here. This is definitely one of the more random things to do in Luang Prabang but good if you need a late night!
Take a Class at Ock Pop Tock
Ock Pop Tok is a great shop with all sorts of traditional Lao fabrics. They offer occasional classes and will even sometimes organize private classes if you are interested in learning more about their work. At the very least, you should stop by here to buy some souvenirs but if you’re really into fabrics, see if you can do a class. They have classes that range from a half day to three days and they’ll even pick you up by tuk tuk if you need it!
Visit Kuang Si Falls
I visited this waterfall last year by myself and LOVED it. So peaceful and beautiful. This year, there were 50x the number of tourists but if you’re up for a short drive, it’s still one of the most lovely things to do in Luang Prabang. I recommend packing a picnic and enjoying it either at the midway point or going all the way up to the top and enjoying your picnic there. If you forget to pack a picnic, there are plenty of vendors selling food and snacks in the parking lot to the waterfall and there’s a restaurant with a nice outdoor terrace at the midway point of the waterfall. I’ve visited the falls through a private tour and on a group tour and I much preferred the private experience…this way, you can spend as much or as little time at the waterfalls as you’d like and you’re not jammed into a van with 12 other people. If you’re looking for one of the best things to do in Luang Prabang, this is it BUT go early!!! Book a private tour to Kuang Si Falls.
Get Some Buffalo Ice Cream at Laos Buffalo Dairy
On your way to (or from) the waterfall, there’s a nice roadside stand serving buffalo ice cream calls Laos Buffalo Dairy, a socially-responsible enterprise consisting of a commercial dairy and production facility to make products such as yogurt, cheese and ice cream for local and overseas customers. If you have time, you can also take a tour of the farm if you’d like.
Enjoy Dinner & Give Back at Khaiphaen
Khaiphaen is a social enterprise restaurant in Luang Prabang. They train marginalized young people to work in the restaurant industry. We had a great meal here and really enjoyed the experience. They are also very kid friendly. You can read more about the organization and the work it does here on their main website.
OK, I think those are all my tips for fun things to do in Luang Prabang! If I think of anything else, I will update this post. If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment below.