Luang Prabang is quickly becoming one of the must-visit destinations in Southeast Asia, and for good reason. Situated on the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, it is home to gilded Buddhist temples, French colonial architecture, local markets and a fantastic dining scene. Outside of the town there is more to explore and Luang Prabang is somewhere that warrants four or five nights, so you can soak up the surrounding countryside. Here, travel specialist Bethany Preston fills you in on the best things to do in and around the town.
Come 5pm every evening, the main street through the town transforms into a colourful night market, with stalls selling everything from paintings and sculptures created by local craftspeople, to delicious cakes and fluffy pancakes. Particularly poignant are the trinkets made from the metal of the bombs dropped on the country by the USA, during the so-called ‘secret war’ of the 1960s and early 1970s. Laos became the most bombed country per capita in history during the war, and the souvenirs represent the local population taking back control over a traumatic part of their past.
Local and colonial architecture
The town of Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage site, thanks to the co-existence of local and French colonial architecture, and we really recommend spending some time exploring the town on foot. Wat Xieng Thong is a beautiful temple to visit, and climbing Mount Phousi at sunset is a must for the epic views of the Mekong and surrounding countryside. The other side of the Mekong is home to many traditional Lao houses, also protected by UNESCO status.
MandaLao Elephant Conservation
In our opinion, this is one of the best elephant experiences you can do in Southeast Asia. It really focuses on an ethical experience, and educating people about the beautiful elephants. The experience is very natural and you’ll walk through the stunning jungle with the elephants and their mahouts. The elephants roam freely through the forest and often end up on the banks of the Nam Khan river, the perfect way to cool off after their trek.
The dining scene in Luang Prabang is fantastic, with interesting local Laotian cuisine, French-inspired bakeries and some high-end international restaurants. If you are looking for a taste of the local food, visit Tamarind, where the team guide you through their incredible menu and help you select their favourite dishes. Michelin-starred restaurant Paste Bangkok has recently opened a new restaurant in Luang Prabang, so if you’re after a beautiful fine-dining experience, make sure to reserve a table here!
Being on the confluence of two major rivers, a river cruise in Luang Prabang is a must! Much of the country is forested, and taking a river cruise out of town allows you to see this for yourself. You can do daytime or sunset cruises and you can also enjoy a trip 15 miles upriver to the Pak Ou Caves, a shrine dedicated to Buddha.
If you’re keen for a longer trip, start your holiday in Thailand and take the Luang Say Cruise down from the border with Thailand to Luang Prabang. The cruise is over two days and one night, and overnight you will stay at The Luang Say Residence in Pak Beng, which offers lovely authentic accommodation with views over the Mekong. During the cruise itself, you see some incredibly impressive landscapes and make stops at local villages along the way, giving you the chance to see parts of Laos that few others see.
Kuang Si Falls & local buffalo farm
A visit to Kuang Si Falls is a great way to spend a morning and we’d really recommend getting there before the crowds arrive. The main falls are incredible, but below this are a tiered group of beautiful pools, surrounded by forest, which are perfect for swimming in. For the more adventurous, you can climb to the top of the falls, admiring the beautiful views along the way.
On the road between Luang Prabang and the Kuang Si Falls is the Laos Buffalo Dairy, which sounds like a strange tourist attraction but it’s a wonderful place to visit on the way to or from the waterfalls. It’s the first and only dairy in Laos and they do a brilliant job of supporting the local community by taking care of their buffalos. You can do a tour around the farm and also visit the café to sample some of their amazing produce, which even includes buffalo milk ice-cream!
Get off the beaten track at the Rosewood
The Rosewood Luang Prabang offer some amazing off-the-beaten-track experiences, which give guests the chance to see parts of the surrounding area that other visitors don’t see. You can mountain bike through parts of the surrounding forest, spend time with local Khmu hill tribes, or visit local artisans and experience traditional textiles or pottery crafting.