The Take-Your-Time Itineraries: Essential Luang Prabang

The UNESCO World Heritage City of Luang Prabang is ideal for those with no cause to hurry. But if all you really have are a few days, these Luang Prabang itineraries will give you that sense of taking your sweet time in this heritage city without missing the highlights.

Start early in the day and explore the old quarter on foot or by tuktuk. Visit two of the most intricately decorated Buddhist temples, Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham and Wat Xieng Thong. You might spot replicas of the Emerald Buddha while temple hopping.

Wat Mai_6527_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Walk towards the riverside and find a spot for a leisurely lunch. Afterwards, tour the National Museum for a feel of the city’s royal roots.

Haw Pha Bang_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Grab a pastry and coffee at one of the many cafes.

Joma Bakery cafe 194 Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Catch the drumming at Wat Sen at 4pm and find out the legend behind this tradition. As the sun makes its descent from the sky, walk up Mt Phou Si and relish the golden sunshine before the light disappears behind the mountains.

View from Mt Phousi 315 Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Head down to the night market to view local crafts and souvenirs.

Night market_6603_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

While you’re there, check out the streetside buffet around the corner.

Lao buffet food_6617_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Wake up well before dawn to observe the almsgiving to the monks , who receive their ration of sticky rice and other food items from devotees.

Almsgiving_6499_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Grab a bite at the morning market, where fresh produce and locally made goods line the alleyways. Mid-morning, board a boat for a Mekong river cruise to Ban Xang Hai (whisky village) and Pak Ou Caves, home to thousands of Buddha images.

Pak Ou Cave 208 Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

The roundtrip, including lunch either on board or at the village across the caves, will take four to five hours.

Ban Xang Hai weaver_6638_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

End the day on a high note at the gorgeous Kuang Si Waterfalls. Swimming is not allowed at the main falls, but it is permitted on some of the other levels. Watch your step as it can be slippery.

Kuang Si waterfalls_6665_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Enjoy a sit-down dinner at one of the fine dining restaurants set in heritage houses. Laap, the traditional Lao meat salad, should be on the menu.

Lao cuisine 268 Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao
Get your apron on at a Lao cooking class, where you will be introduced to the unconventional flavours of Lao cooking. Learn to prepare local specialties such as herbed fish wrapped in banana leaf.

Lao cuisine 265 Luang Prabang Laos_Abby Yao

Explore the old quarter on foot, passing by temples along the way. If you only have time for one temple, make it Wat Xieng Thong, completed in 1560.

Wat Xieng Thong_6549_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Luang Prabang is set in the leafy northern highlands of Laos, where the weather can be pleasantly cool. Climb Mt Phou Si through the back entrance for a wonderful view of the city.

View from Mt Phousi 233 Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

After sunset, shop for souvenirs at the night market. You won’t miss these pop-up cards in the form of landmarks, including Laos’ very own Pha That Luang and Patuxai, both in Vientiane.

pop-up cards at night market_6607_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Be at the National Museum once it opens at 8am to tour the former royal apartments and ceremonial hall.

National Museum_6479_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Few people know that Laos is the most bombed country in the world, per capita. Cluster bombs left over from the Vietnam War still kill hundreds every year. The dark side of Lao history is told through displays at a film screening at UXO Laos Visitor Center.

UXO Lao_6689_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

It’s time to create! Try your hand at bamboo weaving, silk weaving, or dyeing at Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Centre after lunch at the airy Silk Road Cafe overlooking the Mekong.

dyes at Ock Pop Tok_6568_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Discover how natural dyes are extracted from plants and bring home your one-of-a-kind piece.

Ock Pop Tock weaving centre 288 Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

If you want something simple and fun, opt for bamboo weaving to leave enough time to chill and enjoy your surroundings. Another option is Hmong batik, which is taught by a master artisan.

Hmong batik Ock Pop Tok_6576_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Witness Lao storytelling in Garavek’s 30-seater performance space. Later, indulge in Lao barbecue or grilled meat and seafood. There’s so much food to try in Luang Prabang.

barbecue_6726_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Early starts are made of these: watching almsgiving to the monks at sunrise and opening your eyes to the assortment of everyday goods traded at the morning market. When you’re ready to take it slow, hop aboard a slow boat to Pak Ou Caves and the whisky village.

Mekong River 311 Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Climb 10 minutes up hundreds of steps to the dark Upper Cave, where you’ll need a flashlight to see the Buddha images.

Ban Ou_6643_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Ban Xang Hai’s lao lao (whisky) isn’t the kind of liquor you have back home.

Products for sale at Ban Xang Hai village248 Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

If you make it back to land early, check out the Kuang Si Butterfly Park. If not, head straight to the refreshing waters of Kuang Si Waterfalls, a Luang Prabang icon. Have a picnic or a dip surrounded by lush forest.

Kuang Si_6676_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao
Trace the royal roots of Luang Prabang at the National Museum, formerly a royal palace.

Wat Mai bas reliefs_6529_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Make your way to the riverside, passing through historic temples such as Wat Mai, Wat Sene, and Wat Xieng Thong.

Wat Sen_6540_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Have a relaxing lunch by the river. While waiting for your meal, snack on river weed and rice crackers and dips.

Lao cuisine 270 Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Over 300 steps will take you to the summit of Mt Phou Si for a memorable sunset view. It gets crowded, so secure a spot well before the sun goes down.

Mt Phousi 368 Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Once you make it back downhill, the night market await. Among the items for sale are these souvenirs made from bombs.

bomb souvenirs night market_6614_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

At daybreak, monks walk single-file down the streets of Luang Prabang, where the faithful offer food to make merit. Should you wish to make offerings, dress modestly and observe proper decorum.

monks 186 Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Continue your day at Wat Aham, known for its guardian spirits, and Wat Visoun, famous for its ‘watermelon stupa’.

Wat Visoun_6621_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Open your eyes to the ethnic cultures of Laos at TAEC (Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre). Their half-day workshops will give you a glimpse of the crafts of the ethnic groups.

When your tummy starts grumbling, head over to Khaiphen restaurant, run by Peuan Mit, a social enterprise that trains young Laotians in the F&B industry.

If you’d like to help the children of Laos, drop by the Friends Visitor Center to support the Lao Friends Hospital for Children, which provides free medical services.

See the sunset from a different vantage point—on the water. A dinner cruise is also a chance to see traditional dances and maybe even attempt them yourself.

Traditional dance 324 Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Feeling energetic today? Include kayaking on your Pak Ou Caves/Ban Xang Hai trip upstream.

River kayaking, Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Pak Ou Lower Cave_6650_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Products for sale at Ban Xang Hai village258 Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Watch bears at play the Free the Bears section before you go up to Kuang Si Falls. These rescued bears have found a safe home here.

Bear Rescue at Kuang Si Waterfalls330 Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Option A: A full day covers Ban Phanom (weaving village), the grave of the renowned French explorer Henri Mouhot, and Tad Sae waterfalls, a wonder during the monsoon months.

Lao sinh_6703_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Option B: Across the Mekong, explore Chomphet district, renowned for its simplicity. Add temples to your plan, as well as Ban Chan (pottery village) and Green Jungle Flight, where you can traverse the canopy on a rope course or via zipline.

Hoi Khua Green Jungle Flight_6718_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao

Option C: Luang Prabang was the capital of the Lan Xang kingdom, the Land of a Million Elephants. Elephants in the wild now number less than a thousand, and working elephants are limited to camps. Interactions vary, but most still offer elephant riding. If you are looking for an ethical experience, MandaLao’s half and whole day experiences would be best for you.

Elephant camp_6661_Luang Prabang, Laos_Abby Yao
Congratulations for having more time than most travellers! Follow the four-day itinerary above and stay overnight at a Hmong hilltribe homestay, or go well off the beaten track to Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi, tiny towns that are yet to be touched by modernity as we know it.

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