Luang Prabang (meaning Royal Buddha Image) is a city in north-central Laos that is considered to be the spiritual capital of the country as it is an ancient city that is very religious. It consists of 58 villages, of which 33 belong on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list as the Town Of Luang Prabang. There are so many interesting facts about Laos in general, so do read up on the country before heading here.
While Luang Prabang is very popular among tourists these days, it still remains relaxed and not too overcrowded. The city is home to various temples and other religious buildings, waterfalls, museums, restaurants, bars and traditional food markets. It has a mixture of modern and traditional elements, which makes the city more attractive to tourists.
You can easily spend weeks in Luang Prabang. However, if you have only a limited time, this itinerary will let you know the best things to do while you are there. During the day, you will visit the most beautiful temples, taste the best traditional food and see real natural beauty. While this itinerary was created with backpackers in mind, it is still fully suitable for anyone who wishes to explore this ancient city.
Luang Prabang has more than 30 traditional religious buildings within its small city. Religious buildings (temples) are important to Luang Prabang's history and have a big impact on the local people's lives. For example, every morning it is possible to hear chanting and see monks walking from one temple to another.
It is possible to dedicate a couple of days to visiting all of the temples. However, this itinerary’s first day covers only the most unique and beautiful temples in Luang Prabang. Of course, if you have some spare time after exploring the recommended temples, feel free to take a look at the other ones. Also, take into account that not all the temples allow visitors to enter inside them and some of them close earlier than others, so you will only be able to adore them from outside.
That Pathum (formal name), also known as That Mak Mo, is the oldest temple (stupa) in Luang Prabang. It was built in 1503 and nicknamed the ‘Watermelon’ Stupa due to its roof’s oval shape. Its actual name means The Stupa of the ‘Great Lotus’. It is located in the Wat Visounnarath temple, so people also tend to call it the Stupa Wat Visounnarath. The entrance is free of charge. Do dress appropriately when visiting religious sites, such as temples and stupas, in Laos.
The second stop on the itinerary is Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham, which is simply called Wat Mai or Wat May. This temple is the most richly decorated Buddhist temple in Luang Prabang. It was built in the 18th century and to this day remains one of the most visited and important temples in the city.
Wat Nong Sikhounmuang is well-known for its 5-headed dragon sculptures on its front steps. Also, the design of the temple is full of the smallest details that make it even more unique. It was built in 1729 and is one of the biggest and the most beautiful temples in Luang Prabang.
Wat Xieng Thong is also known as the Golden City Temple and is considered to be the most beautiful temple in Luang Prabang. It was built in the 16th century and has served as the main temple of the city. Today, Wat Xieng Thong holds annual festivals and welcomes thousands of tourists each year. You will need to purchase entrance tickets and cover your shoulders once again. Do carry around a scarf with you, or you might need to pay for a shoulder cover, so be aware.
On your second day, you will head out of the city to visit the most beautiful and relaxing places, such as Kuang Si Waterfalls and Pak Ou Caves. You will also have a chance to get up close and personal to Asiatic bears at the Bear Sanctuary (Rescue Centre) and try traditional street food at Luang Prabang’s famous Night Market.
Kuang Si Waterfalls and Pak Ou Caves are within close distance of Luang Prabang city and can be reached by local buses, minivans or rented motorbikes/cars. It is recommended to avoid the local buses and take minivans (for tourists) as they are quicker. Or, rent your own means of transport, such as a motorbike, but do drive carefully and wear the helmet that is given to you. Also, there are entry fees, so be prepared to pay for the above places in order to enter them.
Pak Ou Caves complex is only 25 km north of Luang Prabang and can be explored on your own or with a group of other travellers. The complex dates back thousands of years and is popular due to its more than 4000 Buddha icons. It has two caves, Tham Ting and Tham Theung, which serve as shrines for the river spirit and Lord Buddha.
Kuang Si Waterfalls is located about 29 km outside of Luang Prabang. The Falls are about 50 m high and can be hiked up (will take about 40 minutes each way). The most amazing thing about Kuang Si Waterfalls is that you can swim in its natural turquoise water swimming pool. So don’t forget to pack your swimwear!
Go back to the entrance to Kuang Si Waterfalls and visit the Bear Rescue Centre. There is no entrance fee as it is run by a charitable organisation, so make sure to purchase some gifts from the centre’s gift shop instead to give back. At the centre, you will be able to see 38 beautiful moon bears (Asiatic bears) that were rescued from poachers. Spend some time at the centre just roaming around and watching the beautiful bears playing around.
Luang Prabang Night Market is famous for being a ‘foodie paradise’ and is held every night from 5 PM. Basically, the market has everything: from fabric stalls to never-ending street food stalls. Also, the night market is probably the cheapest place to buy some clothes, souvenirs and try delicious Laos food that is freshly prepared in front of your eyes. Make sure to try some fruit bowls, bbq meats, noodles, an Asian version of baguette sandwiches and bakery. Beyond, if you are craving some western food, you will find a couple of stalls that sell various types of western food.
You are going to spend your last day exploring unique and very interesting locations in Luang Prabang, which will allow you to get to know the city even better. This day is going to start off with an exciting boat ride from downtown Luang Prabang to Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden, which is where you will have a chance to see rare plants. After, you will visit the Royal Palace Museum and Heuan Chan Heritage House Cultural Center, which offers visitors various types of hands-on activities. Your final stop of the day will be the fascinating Mount Phousi as it has the best sunset viewing point in Luang Prabang and is considered to be a sacred mountain of the city.
Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden can be reached by boat from downtown Luang Prabang, which is conveniently included in the Botanical Garden admission fee. The Botanical Garden is a massive relaxing garden filled with palm trees, bamboo, orchids and other rare plants. The most popular area in the garden is called the Ethno-botanic Garden, which is where you can learn about Lao people's relationship with plants, their gardens and what kind of herbs they use to produce natural medicine. After exploring the garden, take a minute to sit down at the café to relax.
The Royal Palace Museum once served as the residence for the famous King Sisavang Vong, but in 1995, it was converted into a museum. You will have a chance to explore the various parts of the palace, including a royal chapel and quarters, exhibition hall and see a statue of the late King. While exploring, spend more time at the exhibition hall where you will see the crown jewels of Laos, royal religious objects, weapons, statues, screens and paintings.
Heuan Chan Heritage is a traditional house that was converted into a museum and cultural centre. Once there, you can participate in various types of hands-on activities related to the local people's lives, such as cooking traditional food, making traditional crafts, etc. Even if you don’t spend any time participating in any activities, you can sit down in the garden café and relax. Also, it is a highly recommended place for having lunch!
Your last stop in Luang Prabang is a 100 m hill in the middle of the old town, which is called Mount Phousi. It is the highest hill in the city and offers a majestic landscape of the temples, surrounding mountains and river. While this itinerary only mentions Mount Phousi, there are four other spots you can watch the sunset from in Luang Prabang as well.
Be prepared for a little bit of a sweat as the only way to reach Mount Phousi is by taking its 300 steps up and down. At the top, you will find a famous shrine called the Wat Chomsi, so take a minute to appreciate it.
After that, grab a nice spot and wait for the sunset as according to the locals and tourists, Mount Phousi is the perfect spot for it. Don’t forget your camera, too!
Also, don’t mind the signs that say that the mountain closes at 6 PM (those signs are for the shrine) as it can still be climbed after sunset hours.
This article was first published on Jun 9, 2019 14:15 UTC.
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