Luang Prabang was one of those kind of places I fell in love with straight away. From it’s laid back riverside vibe and stunning sunsets to it’s old world feel and cute cafes, I definitely could have spent longer here than 5 days I did. So if you’re planning a visit to this ancient city and wondering how you should fill your days, here are 8 of the top things to do in Luang Prabang.
1. Mandalao Elephant Conservation
There are plenty of elephant sanctuaries around Luang Prabang you can visit. But none are quite like Mandalao Elephant Conservation
. Although still a new company, Mandalao are already starting to make a difference with how elephants are treated in Laos. At their own camp, their 9 elephants have been rescued from mostly the logging industry with the end goal being to rehabilitate them back into one of Laos’ protected national parks. And their ethos is simple: visitors who come are there for the elephants, not the other way around. So there’s no riding, no tricks, no chains, no hitting with sticks. You can the idea. They offer a variety of either half day or a full day tour where you will take a jungle trek alongside the elephants, help feed them, interact with them and observe them just being themselves. We chose to do the New Beginnings trek with a family of 3 elephants including baby Kit! It really was an amazing experience and the highlight of my time in Luang Prabang.
2. Kuang Si Falls
Another one of the top things to do in Luang Prabang is to visit the Kuang Si Falls.
Best known for the beautiful blue colour the water turns during dry season, the area is made up of a series of pools, falls and jungle treks ideal for an afternoon of hiking and swimming. They lie around 30 km outside of the city, so you’ll need to get either hire a scooter or get a tuk tuk there. We visited right at the end of rainy season, so the pools weren’t their famous blue colour. Nevertheless, the water was very clear, and there was still an area where it was safe enough to swim. By going at this time of year, we also got to see the falls in full flow which was really spectacular. If you are reasonably fit, make sure to do the 30 minute hike to the very start of the falls too. At the top, there’s a network of little wooden bridges which allow you to walk across the water just before it crashes down the cliff face. Very cool to see, although slightly scary!
3. Mount Phousi at sunset
The stunning 360 views from at the top of Mount Phousi
make climbing it another one of the top things to do in Luang Prabang. It’s 100 meters and a lot of stairs to the highest point, but once you’re at the top you’re rewarded with a fantastic view of the city and river below and mountains beyond. For the best view, head up there just before sunset, when the sky furls into a hue of orange and pink. Though be warned, this is also the busiest time of day, so don’t expect the most peaceful experience. However if you stick around until just after sunset, the crowd thins out pretty quickly, and you can watch the city lights begin to sparkle with a little more tranquillity. Also bear in mind that the locals consider Mount Phousi to be sacred so make sure you cover your shoulders and knees whilst you’re there.
You can’t go to Luang Prabang without going to Utopia
. Whether you like it or not, there’s a good reason why this backpacker hangout features in every travel guide and blog you read. Utopia is the epitome of chilled. A really laid back place to do anything from catching up on work and watching Netflix on your Ipad to swapping stories with fellow travellers. Located right next to the river, with part of its seating area actually overhanging the bank, nestle yourself on the cushion filled floor with anything from a Beer Lao to a healthy smoothie in hand. The food here doesn’t disappoint either with a menu of both western and Asian dishes, all at reasonable prices too.
5. The Night Market
The Night Market
in Luang Prabang generally seems to be geared towards tourists. Nearly all the stalls sell either jewellery, baggy pants, sarongs, bags, purses or Lao Beer vests. You get the idea. It’s a great place to go for some serious souvenir shopping, but if you’re after daily essentials you’re probably best waiting until Vientiane.
Although compared to other markets we’d been to, there’s not that much street food. But the few stalls dotted around that sell the best fruit shakes and snacks! Make sure to look out in particular for stalls selling Laotian coconut cakes. They are absolutely amazing and make a great treat alongside some late night shopping/mooching.
6. UXO Visitor Centre – Alternative thing to do
The modest UXO Visitor Centre
is a great place to learn about the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War and the lasting effects of it even today. During the war around 270 million bombs were dropped on Laos due to its geographical proximity to Vietnam. Yet even today an estimated 80 million unexploded ordnance are still present in Laos with people dying and being injured every year from UXO accidents. The centre also gives you an insight into the ongoing work of the Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Programme. They help to decontaminate the land and teach rural villages around the dangers of UXO. It’s a very eye opening exhibition and is definitely one of the top things to do in Luang Prabang from both a historical and educational perspective.
7. Explore the cafe culture
Luang Prabang is filled with cafes galore. It was once part of French colony after all. And exploring a few of them is a must when you’re visiting the city. I enjoyed a lot of seriously good coffee in Luang Prabang, but my favourite cafe had to be Saffron Coffee.
All of their coffee is supplied by northern Laos farmers, so by buying from them you are supporting the local area. Plus it was perfectly placed right on the riverfront too!
8. Temple hopping
Luang Prabang is home to lots of beautiful temples, so deciding which ones you want to visit can be difficult. The good thing is most of are within easy walking distance of each other and are free to enter too. If you can’t visit them all then spend an afternoon temple hopping on Luang Prabang’s far penisula area. Include visits to Wat Xiengthong
, Wat Sensoukaram
, Wat Sene
, Wat Mai
, Haw Pha Bang
and Wat Khili
It goes without saying that there are many more top things to do in Luang Prabang that what I’ve listed above. But hopefully its enough for you to start planning your own trip to this wonderful city. Have fun!
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