How to Spend 3 Days in Luang Prabang, Laos
What Luang Prabang lacks in size, it makes up for with enriching cultural experiences, stunning natural surroundings, and flavourful cuisine. People may say you can explore the entirety of this small town in a day before heading to nearby (and larger) cities in southeast Asia, but even after three days, I never managed to run out of things to do. Here’s how to fill your time in Luang Prabang, Laos, to experience the best this UNESCO World Heritage Centre town.
Mount Phou Si - Image: Theresa Christine
Mount Phou SiImage: Theresa Christine
Witness or Participate in Morning Alms
Sai Bat, or morning alms, happens between 5 and 6am, and it’s a Buddhist tradition worth waking up early for. Groups of monks in saffron robes pass quietly through the town with large bowls at their hips, accepting gifts of food for the day. Locals and tourists alike kneel on the sidewalk and offer their gifts, while others watch the process. While I liked the chance to get one of the quintessential photos people hope to get in Laos, I made sure to keep a respectful distance from the monks, remain quiet, and wear appropriate clothing. If you’d instead like to participate in Sai Bat, you can purchase some sticky rice from the morning food market or speak to your hotel or dedicated Flight Centre Travel Concierge about arranging the experience.
You’ll also notice many Buddhist temples sprinkled throughout the city which you can explore from sunrise to about 5pm. The same kind of guidelines for Sai Bat go for paying a visit to a temple - be respectful, remain quiet, and wear clothing which covers your shoulders and knees. You’ll encounter about 30 temples in the town so visit as many as you can, but be sure to make a point of going to Wat Xieng Thong. Built in the 1500s, it has an array of structures, including shrines, pavilions, and residences, and wandering around its premises lets you experience living history.
Morning Alms Luang Prabang - Image: Theresa Christine
Morning Alms Luang PrabangImage: Theresa Christine
Visit the UXO Visitors Center
Did you know Laos is considered the most heavily bombed nation in the world? During the period of the Vietnam War, the United States military dropped over two million tons of ordnance in Laos. Afterwards, about 80 million unexploded bombies (or cluster bombs) remained, and the country still feels the effects today from the bombs dropped decades ago. This isn’t a joyful part of history to explore, but I found a visit to this single room museum informative, eye-opening and an absolute must for anyone visiting Luang Prabang.
UXO Visitor's Centre - Image: Theresa Christine
UXO Visitor's CentreImage: Theresa Christine
Walk Up Mount Phou Si (or Phousi Hill)
For just 20,000 Kip, you can get the best views in Luang Prabang, although the journey to get to the top of Mount Phou Si is just as rewarding. Aside from two Buddhist temples, I also encountered many elaborate gilded shrines and statues. Be sure to walk down the opposite end from which you came up to view everything the hill has to offer.
Mount Phou Si relics - Image: Theresa Christine
Mount Phou Si relicsImage: Theresa Christine
Learn More About Laotian Culture at the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center
Tucked away and perched on a hillside, this museum gave me a much better understanding of the Laotian people. Through permanent and rotating exhibits, it immerses visitors in the living culture of four of the main ethnic groups of Laos: Akha, (H)mong, Tai Dam, and Kmhmu. My favourite parts of the museum involved listening to audio or watching video from traditional ceremonies from each of these cultures.
You’ll also find the best selection of handmade souvenirs here as well. Most visitors think the night market is the spot to shop for handmade items, but many of the vendors sell imported items. The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center has a wide variety of fair-trade handicrafts produced in Luang Prabang, so buying from here helps support the local people.
Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre - Image: Theresa Christine
Traditional Arts & Ethnology CentreImage: Theresa Christine
Take a Dip at the Kuang Si Waterfall
Tourists from around the world will plan to visit Kuang Si Waterfall, so I left my hotel early to get there before the crowds which typically start to roll in around 10am. I went solely for the photo opportunities (as well as the black bear rescue which rests along the trail), but when I saw those gleaming blue waters, I couldn’t resist putting on my swimsuit and jumping in. It felt perfectly crisp and refreshing and is the ideal way to cool off from the heat and humidity of Laos.
Kuang Si Waterfall - Image: Theresa Christine
Kuang Si WaterfallImage: Theresa Christine
Go on a Sunset Cruise Down the Mekong River
Every sunset I witnessed in Luang Prabang surpassed the previous one; fiery colours filled the sky like an acrylic painting with delicate pinks and rich oranges. The best place to see the sunset, though, is on the sunset cruise from Mekong Kingdoms. I got to sit back, relax, and cruise down the Mekong River with a glass of wine in hand, waving hello to the fisherman boating by and enjoying the sight of lush flora by the riverside. Our boat ended up in the perfect spot, so we could see the sunset reflected in the river before heading back for the night.
Mekong River Cruise - Image: Theresa Christine
Mekong River CruiseImage: Theresa Christine
Visit the Ock Pop Tok Living Craft Centre to See Local Weavers at Work
Women-founded and run, Ock Pop Tok means “East Meets West” in the local language. They prioritise fair trade and sustainable business practices, hiring local artisans to make silk and help items for sale in their shops, as well as provide workshops and classes for those who want to learn more about the process of weaving. There are a couple stores in the central area of Luang Prabang, but just 2 kilometers away at the Living Craft Centre I was able to tour the premises and see women at work on the looms. Aside from amazing handmade souvenirs, there’s also a delightful cafe where you can grab something to eat or drink.
Ock Pop Toc - Image: Theresa Christine
Ock Pop TocImage: Theresa Christine
Make a Stop at Laos Buffalo Dairy Farm
I liked getting to tour the only buffalo farm in Laos because of what it does for the local people of Luang Prabang. Essentially, the Laotian people can loan their buffalos to the farm for birthing and milking and earn a cut of the profits from their products. A tour gives you the chance to see all the animals on the premises, which also includes pigs and rabbits, and I had the chance to milk a buffalo myself. Be sure to grab a few things to eat at the end of the tour - I personally loved the mozzarella and seasonal ice creams.
Laos Buffalo Dairy Farm - Image: Theresa Christine
Laos Buffalo Dairy FarmImage: Theresa Christine
Spend an Afternoon at Utopia
Nestled in an area with a number of hostels, this restaurant has a funky vibe and relaxed atmosphere. Grab a seat at one of its outdoor tables, or you can lounge in its bean bags or soft reclining floor cushions. Since you can easily walk around Luang Prabang, Utopia gives you a chance to rest your feet and grab something delicious to snack on. You’ll find a little bit of everything on their menu, from vegetarian-friendly cauliflower wings to smoothies, and you can’t beat the views over the river.
Utopia - Image: Theresa Christine
UtopiaImage: Theresa Christine
Dine at Manda de Laos
Manda de Laos has possibly the most magical setting for a meal, with sultry lighting and a peaceful UNESCO classified lotus pond. It has an excellent selection of wines as well as Laotian food from all regions of the country. Make a point to try the refreshing banana flower salad to start, which is possibly the best you can find in Luang Prabang!
Manda de Laos - Image: Theresa Christine
Manda de LaosImage: Theresa Christine
Grab a Nightcap at 525 Cocktails & Tapas
A few blocks away from the main street, 525 Cocktails & Tapas serves innovative craft cocktails and food made with local ingredients. Staff here will happily help you choose a drink (or whip up a bespoke creation based on what you like), and I appreciated how the menu incorporated some of the unique flavours of the region, like lemongrass. It also offers food, including desserts, making it a perfect stop off at the end the night.
Streets of Luang Prabang - Image: Theresa Christine
Streets of Luang PrabangImage: Theresa Christine
Where to Rest Your Head
I called the Avani+ Luang Prabang Hotel my home during my stay in Luang Prabang, which has a convenient location right near the main artery in town. The street can get surprisingly busy in the evening, but the hotel is designed to be a little haven away from the hectic main drag. In the daytime I’d slip through the front doors to find some peace in between sightseeing. Whether I rested in my room or soaked a little in the luxurious outdoor pool, I always left feeling recharged and ready for more exploring in Luang Prabang.
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