Luang Prabang is a small but vibrant town in the heart of mountainous Northern Laos. Luang Prabang is located at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers and is one of the most popular destinations in Laos as most travelers use it as the first or last stop in the country before traveling to/from Thailand.
It’s one of the main stops on the backpacking trail in Laos so you’ll see a lot of backpackers and budget travelers here.
For a small town (around 56,000 people live here), there’s a lot to see and do. With dozens of temples, streets filled with French colonial architecture, a bustling night market, river tours, and waterfalls, it’s an easy place to get “stuck.” I came here for three days and spent a week here (and probably could have spent another week just hanging out).
You can spend your days relaxing by the river, in cafes, or at the nearby Kuang Si waterfalls (which are worth multiple visits). Or, take a cooking class and perfect the art of laap, meet the monks, and visit the Buddha Caves. The days pass by quickly here and you’ll be hard-pressed to get bored no matter how long you visit for. I meant to come for three days and ended up here for a week!
This travel guide to Luang Prabang will help you plan your trip, save money, and ensure you make the most of your visit.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Luang Prabang
1. Explore the Buddha Caves
The Buddha Caves (Pak Ou Caves) hold over 6,000 Buddha statues that the locals still use for worship. There are standing Buddhas, sitting Buddhas, reclining Buddhas — you name it! To get there you’ll take a scenic 25-kilometer (16-mile) boat trip up the Mekong River or you can take a songthaew (a truck converted into a shared taxi). From there, you’re able to explore the two main caves on foot. It’s about 20,000 LAK to enter the caves, and a shared boat costs 65,000 LAK round-trip (the boat takes two hours there and one hour to get back). If you’d prefer to book a guided tour, Get Your Guide runs tours that include Kuang Si waterfalls, admission to the caves, and lunch for 746,000 LAK.
2. Visit the Royal Palace
While the Royal Palace (Haw Kham) is no longer a royal residence, it’s a wonderful museum that houses many items of historical and cultural importance. The current palace was built for King Sisavang Vong in 1904, in French and Lao architectural styles. When the communists took over the country, the palace became a museum. Entry to the museum is 30,000 LAK. Make sure to dress conservatively and note that no photography is allowed.
3. Climb Mount Phousi
Mount Phousi is Luang Prabang’s highest hill. Climb up its 300 stairs for stunning views over the countryside and the Mekong River. There’s a golden Buddhist shrine named Wat Chomsi at the top that dates back to 1804, and a small concession stand for snacks and drinks. It’s an incredible spot to watch the sunset.
4. See the sunset along the Mekong River
Sitting back and watching the vivid sunsets over the Mekong River is one of the best ways to enjoy your time in Luang Prabang. The many restaurants along the riverfront offer plenty of opportunities to do so (the Riverside Sunset Bar is a particularly laid-back spot). Best of all, you can do this for free!
5. Trek to the Kuang Si Falls
Kuang Si is a giant waterfall that flows through the limestone-rich jungle and empties out into a series of three gently cascading pools. From the lowest one, each pool seems like a step on your way up to a holy temple. Legend has it that a wise man summoned the water by digging into the earth. Then a golden deer made its home under a rock protruding from under the new waters. That’s where the name Kuang Si comes from: “kuang” meaning deer, and “si” meaning dig. While it’s one of the most popular attractions in the area (avoid the weekends when it’s super busy), the Kuang Si Falls was one of the most breathtaking things I saw in Laos. Definitely do not miss this place. Admission is 20,000 LAK, and a tuk-tuk from Luang Prabang costs around 40,000 LAK.
Other Things to See and Do in Luang Prabang
1. Visit Wat Xieng Thong Monastery
Wat Xieng Thong Monastery (Temple of the Golden City) is easy to spot in Luang Prabang with its low-swooping roof and richly decorated gold exterior. Dating back to the mid-1500s, it was built by King Setthathilat and is one of the oldest monasteries in the city (it’s one of the few buildings not razed during conflicts over the centuries). There are detailed mosaics, sculptures of rare Buddhist gods, and elaborate wall carvings to admire as you explore. Admission is 20,000 LAK.
2. Witness the alms ceremony
At dawn, the monks come down Sakkaline Road to collect alms of rice from both villagers and tourists. You can easily locate the route for almsgiving by looking for rows of rice baskets and stools waiting for the alms-givers. It’s one of the most popular things to do in the city, and hundreds of people line up for it every morning. Just be mindful of taking photos as this is a religious ceremony and it’s not super respectful to shove cameras in the monks’ faces.
3. Visit Kuang Si Butterfly Park
Located outside of the city, this park contains sprawling landscaped gardens featuring lots of different orchids as well as thousands of butterflies living inside of a netted butterfly garden. Opened in 2014, there is also a natural fish spa and a small European-style bakery here. You can get there by taxi. Entry to the park is 40,000 LAK.
4. Take a Lao cooking class
There are a few different cooking classes available here where you can learn to cook popular dishes like laap (minced meat and salad) or mok pa (steamed fish) with some fun, interactive guidance from your chef. Most start with a visit to the market and include several dishes, ending with everyone feasting on the food they have just cooked. Prices vary but expect to pay between 250,000-400,000 LAK for a class.
5. Check out the night market
Located on Sisavangvong Road, the night market has a seemingly endless line-up of stalls selling souvenirs, food, and handmade goods. It’s one of the biggest night markets in the country and a great place to pick up anything you want. The traders here are generally a bit less pushy than elsewhere, and light haggling is advised (just don’t overdo it; an extra dollar won’t make or break your budget). Note that there are animals and animal products sold here. Avoid buying them (this includes furs, animals in jars/bottles, ivory, talons, etc.).
6. Visit Nong Kiew
The sleepy village of Nong Kiew is located a few hours from the city. The towering limestone cliffs surrounding the village are ideal for experienced climbers, and there are many hiking trails leading to nearby waterfalls and caves. The most popular trek is to the lookout at Phadeng Peak, which takes about two hours as you climb your way up above the clouds for views over the mountains. You can take the bus for 40,000-65,000 LAK. Spend a day or two here to really soak it in.
7. Take a cycling tour
If you want to get active and escape the city, try a cycling day tour. You’ll head to the countryside to learn about rural life as you visit small villages like Ban Nakham and the remote Ban Jannuau. Shop around, but most tours are around 500,000 LAK for a full-day tour.
8. Admire the Tad Sae Waterfalls
While not as big as Kuang Si, these waterfalls are still beautiful and worth seeing up close. Located just 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the city, you can bring a bathing suit and swim here. There are also elephant rides nearby but please don’t take part (it’s a cruel and abusive practice). You can get to the falls via boat for around 10,000 LAK each way. Admission is 15,000 LAK per person.
For more information on other destinations in Laos, check out these guides:
Luang Prabang Travel Costs
Hostel prices – There are a couple of decent hostels in Luang Prabang (and a lot of not-so-good ones, so be mindful when you book). A bed in a dorm room starts around 75,000 LAK per night. Private rooms start at 115,000 LAK. Free Wi-Fi is standard and many hostels also include free breakfast. Only a few hostels have kitchens.
Budget hotel prices – Hotels here are pricey unless you stay at a small locally-owned place, which generally costs 4000,000-900,000 LAK per night (these aren’t really on any online booking sites, however). For a two-star or three-star property, expect to pay over 1,000,000 LAK per night. For that reason, you’ll want to avoid online booking sites and either stick to hostels, use Airbnb, or book something local on arrival.
There are only a few Airbnb properties here. Private rooms start at 180,000 LAK per night (though they average double that if not booked early). Entire homes/apartments start around 425,000 LAK (but average double that). Since there are not a lot of options, book early to secure your spot (and save money).
Food – Most street food and cheap meals of local cuisine cost less than 22,000 LAK, especially in the night market where you can find things like barbecued meats, spicy papaya salad, and noodle soup.
If you want to splash out on a fancy meal, expect to pay around 150,000 LAK for a three-course meal with a drink.
Beer is very cheap here, costing around 14,000 LAK. If you want a latte or cappuccino, expect to pay around 30,000 LAK. Bottled water is around 5,000 LAK.
If you have access to a kitchen, a week’s worth of groceries costs around 250,000-300,000 LAK for basic staples like rice, pasta, produce, and some meat.
Backpacking Luang Prabang Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker budget of 300,000 LAK per day, you can stay in a hostel dorm, eat street food for your meals, enjoy the occasional drink, rent a bicycle to get around, and do a few cheap activities (such as visiting the Royal Palace). Add another 20,000-30,000 LAK to your daily budget if you plan on drinking more.
With a mid-range budget of 650,000 LAK per day, you can stay in a private Airbnb or private hotel room, eat out at some nicer restaurants, drink more, rent a motorbike to get around, and do more tours and activities, such as a cooking class and seeing the Kuang Si falls.
On a “luxury” budget of 1,800,000 LAK per day or more, you can stay in a nice hotel, eat at fancy restaurants, drink as much as you want, rent a motorbike and take taxis, and do whatever tours and activities you want. The sky is the limit!
Luang Prabang Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Luang Prabang is very inexpensive for travelers so finding ways to cut down on expenses can be challenging if you’re already eating street food, not drinking a ton, and staying in hostels. That said, here are some ways to save money even more in Luang Prabang:
- Travel during the off-season – Peak season tends to run from October through March. If you can land in Luang Prabang from April through September, you can usually find lower prices, especially when it comes to accommodation. This is the rainy season but the daily rainfall is usually brief.
- Rent a bicycle – While public transportation isn’t too pricey, renting a bike for a couple of days can get you around the city at your own pace. You can find them for 15,000 LAK per day.
- Stick to the local food – Western restaurants tend to be twice as expensive as the ones serving traditional cuisine. If you’re on a budget, eat what the locals eat — it will save you money!
- Enjoy free nature – Hiking and enjoying the sunset over the river is free. Soak up the views and save your budget at the same time.
- Don’t overdo it on drinks – One of the best ways to cut costs is the limit your drinking. A few beers here and there will quickly add up.
- Bring a reusable water bottle – The tap water in Luang Prabang isn’t safe to drink. To save money and reduce your plastic use, bring a reusable water bottle with a filter. LifeStraw make a reusable bottle with a built-in filter so you can be sure your water is always safe and clean.
Where to Stay in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang has lots of affordable accommodation options so you won’t be hard-pressed to find something within budget. My suggested places to stay in Luang Prabang are:
How to Get Around Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is a small town and you can get anywhere on foot. Transportation is only necessary when you’re visiting places outside of town.
Bike rentals – A bicycle is one of the most common ways to get around town. There are plenty of rental shops all over Luang Prabang. Your hostel/hotel may even have some available. Rentals are usually between 15,000-30,000 LAK.
For a motorbike rental, expect to pay around 75,000 LAK per day.
Tuk-Tuk – Short tuk-tuk rides around town start at 20,000 LAK. If you’re going a little further afield, like to the slow boat pier, you’ll pay closer to 50,000 LAK.
Taxi – The only time you’ll really need a taxi to get around is if you’re traveling to and from the airport. The standard rate for that journey is around 50,000 LAK for a shared ride.
When to Go to Luang Prabang
Between November to May is the best time to visit Luang Prabang. This is when the weather is consistently warm and dry, but it’s still cooler compared to the rest of the year. The temperature never drops below 15°C (59°F), and the average daily temperature sits around 25°C (77°F) This is also when Luang Prabang receives the greatest number of visitors, although it’s never really too crowded here (except for in the market and at the waterfalls).
March to May tends to be the hottest time of year, with temperatures as high as 40°C (104°F). The humidity is high during this time too, which can make it very intolerable for some people.
The rainy season is from June to September. Heavy rainfall occurs during these months (especially in August), and although it doesn’t last long, the Mekong River is prone to flooding. Some roads may become impassable due to thick mud, which is a pain if you’re trying to get out into the countryside or the mountains. On the other hand, you can take advantage of fewer crowds and better accommodation prices if you don’t mind the weather.
How to Stay Safe in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is a safe place to backpack and travel around. Pickpocketing is your biggest concern, especially in the night market. Keep your valuables close and out of reach at all times. You should always keep your passport (or a copy of it) on you as well, otherwise, you could face a fine.
Do not give money to child peddlers. You’re not helping a child in need by doing so. Often these kids are kept out of school so they can earn money in the streets. The minute you give one child money, you’re likely to be surrounded by many more. Politely decline and move on.
When people get into trouble here, it’s mostly because they’re involved with drugs or the sex industry. Laos is strict about punishment for these things so don’t do them. Don’t contribute to the negative side of tourism.
Solo female travelers should generally feel safe here. However, the standard precautions apply (never leave your drink unattended at the bar, never walk home alone intoxicated, etc.). For more tips, check out one of the many solo female travel blogs about the city. They can provide specific tips.
Be wary of people planting drugs on you. The scam involves someone planting drugs on you and then a police officer arresting you unless you can pay a bribe. For more information on scams, read this post about common travel scams to avoid here.
If you experience an emergency, dial 191 to contact the police.
When in doubt, always trust your instincts. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID, in case of an emergency.
The most important piece of safety advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Luang Prabang Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Agoda – Other than Hostelworld, Agoda is the best hotel accommodation site for Asia.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
- SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
- LifeStraw – My go-to company for reusable water bottles with built-in filters so you can ensure your drinking water is always clean and safe.
- Unbound Merino – They make lightweight, durable, easy-to-clean travel clothing.
Luang Prabang Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Laos travel and continue planning your trip: