Luang Prabang’s Top Attractions
Buddhist Temples & Sites
Examine the elaborate décor under a long sweeping roof at Vat Xieng Thong at the tip of the city’s peninsula. Built in 1560, during the early Lane Xang era, the “Golden City Monastery” stands as Luang Prabang’s most historically significant temple. Inside the sim, designed in classic Luang Prabang style, you’ll find relics belonging to the early kings.
Inspect Luang Prabang’s oldest operating temple, Vat Visounnarath, built in the early 16th century during the reign of King Visoun. Located near the Old Nam Khan Bridge, “Vat Visoun”, like Vat Mai, represents the earliest Luang Prabang temple architecture featuring multi-tiered roofs. The temple was refurbished in 1898.
March to the top of Mount Phousi for a postcard view as the sun sets behind the mountains along the Mekong. The stairs to the 100-metre summit stop at Vat Tham Phousi overlooking the Nam Khan River, while Vat Chomsi stands at the top with the best panorama in town. Start the climb at Sisavangvong Road across from the Royal Palace Museum.
Construction started on Vat Mai in the late 18th century adjacent to today’s Royal Palace Museum (National Museum) on Sisavangvong Road. Many locals consider the temple among Luang Prabang’s most aesthetically beautiful, and it is a popular photo-op for tourists.
Board a Mekong Riverboat and ship off on the classic Pak Ou Caves cruise. Book your own trip at the city pier (08:00) or join a tour and navigate the waters to the riverside cliff caves filled with thousands of small Buddha images. The lower cave is a short climb from the dock, and the upper cave and its Buddha statues take a 50-metre climb up steep stairs. The voyage also stops at Ban Xang Hai (Whisky Village).
Arts & Culture
Investigate Luang Prabang’s past at the Royal Palace Museum (National Museum), once the residence of King Sisavangvong. Built in 1904, the architecture blends traditional Lao with French styles, and it displays relics from the area’s ancient history with rooms maintaining their royal furnishings. The garage holds a collection of classic cars owned by the royal family. The museum is on Sisavangvong Road across from the entrance to Mount Phousi. It is open daily from 08:30-11:00 and 13:30-16:00.
Climb into Lao culture at the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre (TAEC), which merges a museum with a boutique. The TAEC displays, preserves, and interprets the arts and lifestyles of the county’s diverse ethnic population. The museum shop promotes and sells fine handicrafts created by ethnic artisans. TAEC sits atop of a hill off Kitsalat Road, around the corner from Sisavangvong Road
Learn all about Lao textiles and handicrafts at Ock Pop Tok’s Living Crafts Centre. A guide takes you on a free tour to see the skilled artisans and silk-weaving wizards at work. Stroll through the Mekong Riverside garden where they grow the plants used to make natural dyes. Living Crafts Centre is near the Phosy Morning Market, about 10 minutes southeast of the main tourist area.
Experience a supermarket of surprises at Phosy Morning Market, with aisles of gastronomic challenges. Try grilled insects, dried bats, toasted crickets and worms, and bee larvae. You’ll find forest-picked leaves and organic vegetables for local dishes. Located on the main road south of town, the market action starts at 07:00.
Browse for the best in “Handmade in Luang Prabang” crafts, garments, and woven lifestyle accessories at the Luang Prabang Artisans Shop & Café. Set in a quiet old home just off Sisavangvong Road, the shop offers goods exclusively produced by members of the Luang Prabang Handicraft Association. While there, you can sit in the lawn and enjoy a refreshment and light snack.
You’ve hit handicraft heaven at Luang Prabang’s narrow, stall-crammed Night Market along Sisavangvong Road. Look for products with the “Handmade in Luang Prabang” label to ensure it’s local. Ethnic groups from other provinces also offer crafts in the venerable strip brimming with hawkers. Beware of manufactured imports. The Night Market opens in the early evening.
Avoid the Night Market bustle and guarantee your handicraft purchase was handmade in Luang Prabang, by heading to the Ban Phanom Weaving Centre. Ban Phanom textiles once supplied the royal family, and weavers today use many of the same techniques and patterns. One of the weavers will show you the silk-making process and work a loom, before you shop in the relaxed atmosphere of the large store. Ban Phanom is about 5 km east of town near the Nam Khan River.
How do locals make the rugged sa (mulberry) paper you see around town being used for menus and printed displays? To unravel the mystery, visit Ban Xang Khong about 2 km north of town on the Mekong River road. They also weave traditional textiles.
Watch the locals forge steel farming tools and knives the old fashion way at Ban Hat Hian (Blacksmith Village). These smithy families have been plying this craft for generations. You can purchase the finished products.
Take a downriver boat ride for about 10 minutes to Ban Chan (Pottery Village) across the Mekong. The small village of about 300 makes pottery, bricks, and terracotta tiles from clay they find nearby. You can watch them mix, process, shape, and fire their creations including small animals, vases, and ash trays. Negotiate for the item you like.
Visit a village dedicated to making Lao whisky. Ban Xang Hai (Whisky Village) presents a maze of stalls offering samples and selling the whisky they distil. Bottles of medicinal booze is on offer to cure ailments. You can even find very sweet Lao wine. Ban Xang Hai is on the Mekong about 30 km north of Luang Prabang City and a popular stop on the boat ride to Pak Ou Caves.
A favourite treat among Lao folk is dried and fried riverweed with chillies and spices. It may sound odd, but rather tasty, and you can watch locals make it at Ban Muang Kham (Riverweed Village) on the way to Pak Ou Caves. Be sure to buy a pack of this appetising snack.
Lao people live on rice, and Living Land, known for its organic vegetables, has opened the Living Rice Farm. Watch and learn the process of planting and harvesting organic rice in a paddy backed by a mountain landscape just south of Luang Prabang Town. Living Land supports the local community and helps educate children from disadvantaged families.
Don’t miss the Garavek Traditional Story Telling Theatre. They tell the selection of traditional Lao stories in English, with musical accompaniment on a khene (bamboo mouth organ). You learn the folklore version of the origins of Mount Phousi and the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers. Listen to encounters involving legendary trickster Xieng Mieng and Fa Ngum, the first Lane Xang King. Performers at the 30-seat theatre in the city’s historic area tell tales nightly from 18:30-19:30.
Enjoy an evening at the Royal Ballet at the National Museum. The troupe of 60 masters performs the sacred Phra-Lak Phra-Lam, the Lao version of the ancient Ramayana poem, which was once banned in Laos. You can take in the ballet on Mon, Wed, and Sat at 18:00 (October to March) or 18:30.
If you brought the kids, take them to the Children’s Cultural Centre for a puppet show and traditional Lao performances. They’ll partake in a baci ceremony and watch the “Epock” puppet show with hand-carved entertainers. Dance shows round out the entertainment, and the program changes, depending on the day.
The Nava Mekong sets sail daily at 17:00 on a Cultural Sunset Cruise. The comfortable vessel motors downstream to a village, where Lao dancers perform traditional sets including the royal ballet, folk tales, and legends. The boat returns at 19:00. The price is $30 per person.
Nature & Conservation
The Kuang Si Butterfly Park sits about 300 metres before the fames falls, and presents the perfect environment for the colourful broad-winged insects. You can spot several species as you walk through the butterfly’s natural habitat, while learning about their life cycle and role in the ecosystem. The park aims to create a research centre to research and preserve Lao butterflies and their environment, and educate local school children on their conservation. Enjoy refreshments at the park’s café set in nature.
Catch a glimpse of the endangered Asiatic Black Bear at the Bear Sanctuary at the entrance to Kuang Si falls. “Free the Bears” rescued the 20-plus resident bears from poachers and traffickers, and now the bears live in sizeable and safe enclosures, with trees, simple toys, and tire swings. An elevated viewing platform, built near the natural habitat enclosures, allows visitors to observe these rare animals.
Plan on spending time at Kuang Si Waterfalls, one of Luang Prabang’s main attractions. Follow the trail as it climbs alongside the 3-tier falls with numerous turquoise pools to the main cascade that drops 60 metres in a cloud of mist. You can swim in marked areas and enjoy a picnic with food from stalls at the entrance. The falls are about 30 km south of Luang Prabang Town. Transportation and tours are readily available.
Watch the waters of a Nam Khan tributary pour into limestone bowls spread throughout a forest at the Tad Sae Waterfalls. Visit during Green Season (June-Oct) when the falls when they are their fullest, and take a dip in one of the ponds. Tour operators offer trips to, and treks around, Tad Sae, located about 18 km southeast of Luang Prabang Town near Ban En Village.
Fly over a forest on a zip line, cross a rope suspension bridge, and tackle other obstacles at Nahm Dong Park. The 4-hectare recreational nature park and farm also raises organic fruits and vegetables as well as flowers about 10 km from town on a mountain near Ban Xieng Mouk Village. You can enjoy a snack or meal at their restaurant at a small waterfall.
Take a stroll through a flower garden or dive into an adventure activity at Hoi Khua Waterfall. The natural recreation area covers 20 hectares about 15 km south on town in Chomphet, and offers jungle walking, camping, net crossing, a rope course, zip line, and a restaurant.