The ancient town of Luang Prabang situated in northern Laos, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Considered by many travellers and writers as being the heart of Laotian culture, the tiny town is encircled by mountains and is 700 metres above sea level at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers. Here visitors are subjected to an inflamed economic bubble that does not apply to the rest of the country. Being Laos' premier tourist destination and (arguably) Southeast Asia's most beautiful spot, ironically tourists will pay more for the innate pleasures of eating, drinking and sleeping than they would in the country's capital city Vientiane.
Luang Prabang was the ancient royal capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom until King Phothisarat moved the administrative seat to Vientiane in 1545. Regardless, it has continued to overlook Vientiane as the destination of choice with its amalgamation of crumbling French architecture, glistening temples and extensive natural beauty. Even the hardest of hearts would have a struggle not to warm to the place. The town's entire historical section is dedicated to tourism, with everything from former royal palaces to over 33 Wats (temples), on the tourist trail. This former Royal capital still remains the main centre for Buddhist learning in Laos and is the perfect location for spiritual contemplation.
Cascading waterfalls, scaling peaks and the milky-brown waters of the Mekong River provide ample opportunity to swim, climb and sail your way through Luang Prabang. It is only as recent as 1989 that Laos opened up to tourism and the country that had previously been cut off from the rest of Southeast Asia developed a small but steady economy, based on tourism and regional trade. This small and gentle town where most locals are asleep by 22:00 is now one of the richest and most visited provinces in Laos. It's one of the few places where you feel that this is the genuine article and one that retains its unique ambiance.
Luang Prabang Attractions
For reasons that are soon become apparent, Luang Prabang is often described as the 'Jewel in Laos Crown'. Even though the town is well and truly on the tourist trail, it has nonetheless managed to preserve its natural splendor and inherent charm, exuding a missed-out-on-modernization vibe.
The majority of the city's sights can be reached on foot, so getting a map and making your way to the many temples (33 to be exact) is a good way to soak up the surroundings and observe the way of the Lao people, and the large monk community. The wonder of the ancient temples is apparent at first glance; the gentle and unassuming nature of the locals, given the chance, will also leave a lasting impression.
Alms Giving Ceremony in Luang Prabang
The UNESCO World Heritage City of Luang Prabang is the perfect place to see one of the most sacred Lao traditions, the Buddhist Alms Giving Ceremony. Despite being a highly revered ritual for locals, visitors are encouraged to be involved as long as a level of respect is maintained throughput’s.
Alms giving takes place daily as the sun rises, beginning on the main street of Luang Prabang before spreading out to all the side streets. You should buy your offerings (usually food) in advance and arrive with plenty of time to spare as it’s considered very offensive to disrupt the ceremony once it has commenced.
Follow the guidance of the locals by kneeling down ready to give your offering to the monks; most common gifts include rice, fresh fruit and traditional sweet snacks. The idea of the alms giving is for the Buddhist monks to make merit and also to collect food for their one meal of a day.
Alms Giving Ceremony Highlights
As the sun rises in Luang Prabang around 200 Buddhist monks depart from their various temples to gather their daily meal. The tradition of alms gathering dates back to the 14th century, yet still today locals wake early to prepare the food for the monks and wait quietly by the roadside to give their gifts. Although the main purpose is for locals to give alms to the monks, you will also notice small children kneeling with baskets in the hope that the monks will share some of their alms with them so that they can take food back to their family.
This daily ceremony is both peaceful and spiritual and gives you a wonderful opportunity to experience an ancient Lao tradition. The procession is quite lengthy and therefore not suitable for very young children or those who cannot sit quietly for more than a few minutes. If you are taking photographs it is best to step back from the front of the line to avoid causing offence. If you are not making an offering maintain an appropriate distance and do not under any circumstances get in the way of those making an offering. Visitors should also remember to be there before the monks arrive and never ever to follow the procession.
Ban Phanom near Luang Prabang
Ban Phanom is a village steeped in traditional textile making with all families in the village working their looms to provide goods for sale at the night markets. The woven products were once supplied to the royal family and weavers today use the same techniques and patterns, resulting in a distinctly old-fashioned look. Cotton and silk materials with a range of coloured threads are intertwined to produce a shimmering effect whilst silk is added to create a pattern.
Some of the families work from their own small workshops with the whole village operating as a co-operative supplying to a handful of manufacturers. Prices are open to negotiation and very affordable, you will need to bargain and expect not to pay the first price offered. In addition to shopping and enjoying a cultural experience, the area around Ban Phanom makes for a great place to take a bike ride and to explore some ancient remote temples.
Close to the Phon Phau Temple, the village of Ban Phanom makes a popular tourist stop and is similar to the villages of Luang Namtha and Sam Neua as there you can observe the female textile makers at work on their looms, dyeing and then weaving. Years ago Ban Phanom was the village of choice for royal textiles, with each reigning monarch continuing to use village weavers as their preferred suppliers.
The village itself is rich in history and offers a fantastic insight into an ancient art that is still very much alive today, thanks to tourism. Many sightseers visit the village, so it can get quite busy, especially when coaches arrive between 09:00 and 10:00, so avoid these times and you'll probably experience a much more relaxed trip. If you’re interested in buying some textiles as a souvenir then it’s definitely worth visiting here instead of buying at the night market.
Elephant Village Sanctuary near Luang Prabang
Close to the banks of the Nam Khan River, the Elephant Village Sanctuary (also known as the Elephant Park Project) works towards providing a peaceful future for rescued Lao elephants. Starting by saving the elephants from often brutal logging work, they are then given a home in the jungle where they can rest and recover. Some of the elephants at the sanctuary are disabled and are offered a chance of rehabilitation with an onsite fulltime vet to help those in need.
The village is located in a lush river valley which is on a long government lease so long as the sanctuary opens its doors for tourists to see the programme. Excursions are offered through Tiger Trail Outdoor Adventures and include elephant riding and a mahout experience with anything from a half-day to a two-day tour. Whatever trip you book will go towards ensuring the existence of this sanctuary benefiting both animals and the 40 staff employed from the local villages that would otherwise be most likely without work.
The Elephant Village Sanctuary offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience to get really up close and personal with these magnificent creatures. A one-day mahout tour includes basic mahout training in how to control an elephant, a one-hour elephant ride through the jungle and also a trip to the Tad Sae waterfall located close by.
This experience can be extended into two days with the additional opportunity to bathe ‘your’ elephant in the Nam Khan River plus an evening ride to take the elephant to their jungle home. There is also a full day elephant excursion which includes trekking the ‘Train of Falls’ - the natural mountain stream that provides the water to the Tad Sae Waterfall.
If you’re feeling more energetic you can also combine your trip with a bike ride where you cycle from a forest temple through villages to the sanctuary before stopping by the waterfall, or with three hours kayaking downstream following your elephant ride. All tour programmes include lunch and refreshments plus accommodation where applicable.
Elephant Village Sanctuary
• Location: The Elephant Village Sanctuary is situated in the village of Xieng Lom 15km southeast of Luang Prabang close to the Nam Khan River.
• Remarks: Proceeds from your visit will help support the elephants (with nine rescued from logging work and given a new home at the park so far). The sanctuary is private with no support from any other organisations so it really does depend on the help of visitors to continue in operation and offer a similar happy future for more elephants.
Kuang Si Waterfall near Luang Prabang
Kuang Si (Xi) Waterfall is the biggest in the Luang Prabang area with three tiers leading to a 50-metre drop into spectacular azure pools before flowing downstream. The pools also make great swimming holes and are very popular with both tourists and locals. You can change clothes for swimming at the wooden huts located close to the entrance.
The pools also have cascades of up to five metres high with deliciously cold water due to the shade given by the surrounding lush tropical jungle, if you don’t fancy a swim then you can relax in the shade and watch others having fun jumping in and out of the water.
There are trails allowing you to climb up to the top where you can see the stream feeding into the falls and enjoy some more natural pools. Remember to bring the correct footwear as the trails can get slippery and are certainly not recommended for children or the frail.
Luang Prabang Library
The Luang Prabang Library is a wonderful place to visit and offers the chance for you to give something back to the children of Laos. Many of the children here will be lucky if they ever get to even hold a book which is literally an unaffordable luxury for poor families and schools. In many of the villages, schools themselves are a rarity.
The library works towards providing reading materials to kids in some of the more remote areas by operating two library boats which deliver books to 75 different villages along the Mekong. The boats can only operate due to donations with just $2US buying a book. However if you were to increase that donation to the region of a few hundred dollars, then you will also get the opportunity to pay for fuel and teaching on the boat for a couple of weeks and the chance to get on board and see how your money is being spent.
Mount Phousi in Luang Prabang
Rising 150 metres above the centre of town, Mount Phousi cuts a distinctive figure on the Luang Prabang skyline. The hill is popular as a place to watch the sun rise or set over the Mekong River. From the summit you can enjoy a spectacular 360 degree outlook across the city and its many temples, and out over the surrounding landscape to the mountains in the distance. Count on spending a couple of hours for the climb and descent, with several stops to see the temples, rest under the shady trees and admire the magical views.
There are hundreds of steps to negotiate, but the climb is gentle enough for anyone who is in reasonable health. For a complete experience, go up Mount Phousi on one side and use the other set of steps to make your way down again. You can pray and make offerings at several temples along the way. Next to Wat Chomsi at the top of the hill you can buy flowers to offer for blessings, as well as caged birds.
The Laos believe that if you set a bird free you will enjoy good luck and happiness in the future. The most popular time to visit Mount Phousi is in the late afternoon, in time to watch the sun set over Luang Prabang and the surrounding countryside. It can get quite busy at this time of day, however.
• For a far more peaceful experience, try getting up early to catch the sunrise from the top of the hill, but be aware that it can be hard to get clear photographs of the view until the heat of the sun has burnt off the early morning mist.
• The Thanon Phousi staircase consists of 355 steps that zigzag up to the summit, but it is well paved and offers several resting places along the way.
• Halfway up the hill is the Wat Tham Phousi shrine, which features a big-bellied Buddha nestled in a grotto and a reclining Buddha.
• At the top of Mount Phousi is the golden Wat Chomsi, which was built in 1804.
• Bring a bottle of water to drink as you climb up the hill, and also a hat and some mosquito repellent. You can also buy drinks and snacks at the peak.
• There is a modest admission charge.
• Opening Hours: There are no set opening times, but it is best to visit Mount Phousi during daylight hours. You will have no problem making your descent in the evening after viewing the sunset, however.
• Location: Mount Phousi rises above the centre of the old town of Luang Prabang, and is situated between Thanon Sisavangvong and Thanon Phousi. From its peak you can look out over the entire city and beyond, with the Mekong River to the north and the Khan River to the south and east.
• How to get there: You will find a set of steps leading up to the top of Mount Phousi opposite the Royal Palace Museum on Thanon Sisavangvong, and another entrance on Thanon Phousi, near the Hive Bar.
Pak Ou Caves near Luang Prabang
One of the most respected holy sites in Lao; Pak Ou Caves have a history dating back thousands of years. Packed with over 4,000 Buddha icons, the caves, a shrine to the river spirit and Lord Buddha, are set in a dramatic limestone cliff at the point where the Mekong joins the Nam Ou River. There are two caves to visit, the lower cave called Tham Ting and the upper cave Tham Theung, both boasting miniature Buddhist figures that are mostly made from wood.
Positioned about 50 feet above the river, Tham Ting filters in some light but a torch is required for the absolutely pitch black Tham Theung. The upper cave is home to the majority of the Buddha statues and you will need to find your way in darkness to the thousands of hidden icons. The statues are believed to have been left in the caves by local people for hundreds of years.
Pak Ou translates to ‘mouth of the Ou river’ with the first cave entrance of Tham Ting being very visible from the water; the higher cave is accessed by stairs. The Buddha images in the Pak Ou Caves assume a variety of positions, from meditation to peace and nirvana (the reclining Buddha). Both caves are shrines to Buddha, offering places of worship with the largest image in Tham Ting being a popular place to burn incense and offer prayers. The smaller cave is the more peaceful, with glimpses of the Mekong providing a breathtaking backdrop.
The caves are a very popular pilgrim site for locals and get very busy during April when the Lao New Year is in full swing with locals washing and attending to the images. The caves are not far from Ban Xang Hai village, famous for its wine production and for the making of Lao wine earthen jars; it is a great side trip where you will get the chance to try locally produced whisky and wine.
Royal Palace Museum in Luang Prabang
Set in a spacious, well-tended garden just off one of Luang Prabang’s main boulevards (Thanon Sisavangvong), you will find the fascinating Royal Palace Museum, which is also known as Haw Kham. The museum is well worth a couple of hours of your time if you want to learn more about Lao history and culture.
Although the current main building dates from the early 20th century, the exhibits stretches back several centuries to trace the turbulent past of the Lane Xang kingdom and the colonial era, through to the present day. Originally the residence of the king, the museum was designed in the French Beaux-Arts style, with many tasteful accents of traditional Lao culture.
When the communists came to power in 1975, they took over the palace and sent the royal family to re-education camps. The palace was converted into a museum that was opened to the public in 1995 after careful renovation, and remains in good condition. The grounds contain a number of other buildings including a new exhibition hall and a chapel (Haw Prabang), and a statue of King Sisavangvong. You can take excellent photos of the museum compound from the Mount Phousi steps that descend to Thanon Sisavangvong.
Tad Sae Waterfall near Luang Prabang
The cascades of Tad Sae offer really great photo opportunities as the water teems over the multi-levelled rocks into the pools below. There are steps leading into the largest pool making swimming access really easy. The pools are very popular with locals and it’s best to dress modestly like them, especially if swimming. There are public toilets and changing facilities at the waterfall and also a restaurant with a small resort attached nearby.
Most locals bring something to sit on and enjoy a picnic close to the falls where there are also a few waterwheels. The waterfall is located about 20km away from the centre of Luang Prabang but it’s definitely worth a trip during rainy season, outside of this time the falls are pretty dry and most likely will prove disappointing. The waterfall is located close to the Ban Amen village on the Nam Khan River. It’s a ten-minute boat ride from there to Tad Sae.
The Living land Company near Luang Prabang
The Living Land Company is a community-run organic farm supplying fresh vegetables, herbs, salads and rice to hotels and restaurants in Luang Prabang. Visitors can take a trip to the farm and try their hand at being a farmer with an opportunity to grow rice and enjoy a beautiful Lao-style house overlooking rice terraces and the organic vegetable fields. The farm aims to offer an alternative to the current slash-and-burn farming methods which result in unusable land following harvest.
Being organic there are no chemicals used and the Living Land Company follows a strict policy of composting and crop rotation to ensure the continued use of the land which ensures it remains fertile. Struggling local families are invited to work on the farm where there are also student scholarships in place. The families benefit hugely from the income in an area that provides very little in the way of work, and the eating establishments in Luang Prabang reap the rewards of superior tasting fresh chemical free produce for their guests.
The whole family can enjoy time spent at The Living Land Company trying their hand at traditional Lao rice farming methods. You’ll be taught about ancient rice harvesting and planting methods and also all about threshing and winnowing rice. Alternatively you can combine time at the farm with a cooking lesson given by a hotel’s head chef creating clay-pot soup, curry paste and sticky rice steamed in a huat kao basket. The class takes place in a picturesque open-air wooden pavilion in the middle of the vegetable fields with grazing buffalo and rolling hills close by.
Wine is also included in the lunch which starts with a tour of the farm. The Living Land Company organic farm stretches over two hectares cultivating all manner of herbs and vegetables including beetroot, mint and mustard with an additional eight hectares of rice paddies. There are future plans currently underway to add a flower and a fish farm to the company.
• Location: on the Kwang Xi waterfall road
• Remarks: The Rice Experience programme can be booked direct via your hotel and will usually take only one morning but you may be able to stay longer if required.
The cooking class and combined farm trip is arranged separately via the Amantaka Resort. All bookings include pick up and return to your hotel.
Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang’s Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre is dedicated to the preservation and celebration of the many ethnic groups existing in Laos both today and in the past. This cultural display of arts and lifestyles reflect a very diverse ethnic population.
Permanent exhibitions feature traditional textiles and clothing, jewellery, religious artefacts, handicraft tools, baskets, photography and household objects.
The museum offers visitors a rare glimpse into the life of Laotian people giving a greater understanding to their richly diverse culture with quotes, photos and videos bringing the exhibits to life. Located in a restored heritage building, it is the only non-profit museum in Laos solely committed to interpreting and preserving the lives of the country’s ethnic groups.
The centre is small in size but packed with interesting and informative pieces which are organised to an international standard. The museum shop operates on a fair-trade basis by providing local craftsmen and women with an opportunity to sell their hand-made goods with a stock of around 500 products supporting a number of families across Laos.
Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre
There are over 400 exhibits documenting the life and times of 30 ethnic groups at the Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre all supporting Laos’ varied cultural heritage. Reconstructions of domestic existence deliver a unique insight into everyday life alongside displays of religious and ceremonial items. Permanent exhibitions include the subgroups of the Akha people which feature a headdress comprising more than 300 pieces of antique Indochinese silver. The Kmhmu display portrays bamboo basketry in a Kmhmu home featuring baskets and back strap looms.
Special exhibitions at the museum are well worth a visit and often showcase ceremonies and rituals such as the recent “From Courtship to Kinship: Wedding Celebrations of Laos’ Ethnic Groups”. Displays at the Courtship to Kinship exhibit included the wedding crown of Kim Di Mun which was crafted from human hair and pure silver, superb documentary-style photography and detailed explanations of the customs and rituals added to the depth of this acclaimed exhibition.
Wat Long Khoun in Luang Prabang
Resting close to the river on the banks of the Mekong, Buddhist temple Wat Long Khoun has long and historically significant connections to the Luang Prabang royal family. Also known as the ‘Monastery of the Happy’ the temple once served as a sanctuary for those seeking spiritual rejuvenation including any new king who would retreat to the Wat for three days cleansing and meditation prior to his coronation at.
Wat Xieng Thong.
Wat Long Khoun is typical of local Luang Prabang architecture of the 18th century with two single level sections; the front part however was extended in 1937 as instructed by the then-reigning King Sisavonvang. This section is more elaborate in style and features gilded columns and intricate wood carvings.
The older part contains Jataka murals which still retain some of their original vibrancy telling the story of the 547 lives of Lord Buddha. The murals also feature local myths and legends incorporating Buddhist morals of kindness and the importance of giving. Unfortunately, revolutionary vandalism in the 1970s and damp weather resulted in some damages to the murals.
Wat Wisunarat (Wat Visoun) in Luang Prabang
Dating back to 1513 and the reign of King Wisunarat (Visoun), Wat Wisunarat is Luang Prabang’s oldest temple and was once home to the Prabang Buddhas. The history of the temple is colourful with it being originally crafted from wood before being burned by Black Haw riders in 1887. The Black Haw riders were part of the Black Flag military rebel group led by a Chinese commander at the end of the 1880s. Post invasion, it was rebuilt using stucco and brick and retains some original pieces including a stupa that was created in 1503 along with some other small Buddha icons although many were stolen during the Haw raid.
Over the years the temple has also acted as a Museum of Religious Arts and as such now homes an array of religious artefacts and precious items relating to both Buddhism and the royal family. The temple is a celebration of early Lao architecture with wooden windows reflecting the Wat Phou Temple in the South of the country coupled with stucco work that is classic Luang. Restoration work was carried out in 1895 and then again in 1932.
The Wisunarat temple is home to a small selection of richly gilded Buddhas and some ancient stones dating back to the 15th century. The stones were donated by Prince Phetsarat following the Black Haw bandit invasion. The Haw left with most of the priceless Buddha images made from jade, gold and precious gems by breaking open the stupa. Prior to invasion, Wat Wisunarat was once home to the revered Pha Bang Buddha from 1507 to 1715 which can now be viewed at the Royal Palace Museum.
One of the temple’s most unique features is its unusually shaped stupa designed by the wife of King Wisunarat to be a lotus flower but referred to by locals as ‘the watermelon stupa’. Another distinguishing highlight is the European-style roof which slopes in a manner not usually seen in Laos. This is largely due to the French architects who helped with the rebuilding in the late 1980s. The temple is still functioning today and is open to visitors with plenty of information available about its fascinating history.
Wat Xieng Thong in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is renowned for Buddhist temples of outstanding beauty with Wat Xieng Thong an outstanding example. A symbol of great historic importance, this magnificent masterpiece is characteristic of the Luang Prabang style and features an elaborate tree of life mosaic, intricately carved walls, rare Buddhist deities and a 12-metre high funeral carriage. Also known as the ‘Golden Tree Monastery’, Wat Xieng Thong acts as a gateway to Luang Prabang as it is strategically situated close to where the Mekong joins the Nam Khan River.
This site is famous as the location for the coronation of Lao kings and as an important gathering place for significant annual festivities. The original temple was created in 1560 under the royal instruction of King Setthathirath and narrowly missed invasion on several occasions, nevertheless time took hold and much-needed remodelling took place during the 1960s. The temple still remains in its original form with repairs undertaken to the roof, and gold leaf gilding and gold lacquering restoration added to the walls and entrance.
Luang Prabang Shopping
Much like Vientiane, Luang Prabang trades in handicrafts, art, textiles and jewelry. Be sure to explore theNight Market on Sisavangvong Road and shops in the Old Chinese Quarter. The numerous gift shops around the town are good for picking up couture-style textiles and quaint household objects.
For fresh produce like meat, vegetables and herbs, drop into Phosi Market. Note that the market culture of Laos, unlike more raucous Thailand, is devoid of the hard sell so don't expect badgering and bartering to the same degree.
Ban Lao Natural Products
Ban Lao is a fair trade shop selling handicrafts, textiles and fashion accessories. The design is a fusion of traditional and modern styles – all handmade from natural materials or natural dye. There’s also a small exhibition space for ikat textiles and other crafts by select local and international artists. The shop is located on the Mekong riverbank.
CAMA Crafts is a non-profit, self-help project that markets handicrafts made by Lao artisans, providing a sustainable method of income for village women that may otherwise be unavailable.
The products are handmade using traditional patterns and techniques, which helps preserve the traditional needlework skills of Hmong and Lao women such as applique, cross stitch, embroidery and batik.
Caruso Lao offers high quality handcrafted home and fashion accessories. Everything is designed and fashioned together by hand in Laos itself. The store’s Canadian owner spent a large part of her life in the Hong Kong fashion industry before settling down in Luang Prabang in 1988. All products are crafted from wood or silk, and the impressive range includes wooden bowls, decorative Buddha heads, cushions, natural silk shawls, bed spreads, table runners, and more.
• Opening Hours: 09:00-21:00
• Location: Sakkarine Road, Ban Vat Sene
This outdoor bazaar is where to go for all kinds of ethnic embroidered crafts. From the street, it may not look like much; but once inside, you will find labyrinths of stalls selling all things embroidered, from weaved bags, hill-tribe pants, hats and even underwear to bed covers, coin purses and other accessories. Once you hit a few rows, you will start to feel a certain sense of déjà vu.
Kopnoi produces handmade fabrics from natural materials. Meaning 'little frog', it took the eco-conscious company over four years to develop the eco-dyed cotton apparel and put it on the market. The range includes clothes, jewelry, silk, accessories, spices and delicacies. Situated in Ban Aphay on the back side of Mount Phousi by the Nam Kham River, Kopnoi follows an ethical and tangible ethos, respecting the principles of fair trade.
L’Etranger Books and Tea
Close to Nam Khan River, this two-storey wooden book café sells and trades second-hand books. The extensive collection spans many languages and subjects, including travel, art, culture, novels, Southeast Asia, Luang Prabang specific and much more. The upper level is a café offering some 70 varieties of teas and fruit shakes. The casual setup – low tables, floor cushions, paper lamps – evokes a relaxing and friendly atmosphere. There’s also a movie show every evening, starting around 19:00. But be sure to go early, as the place can get really packed.
Lisa Regale Fusion Gallery sells silk garments that are an original fusion of Lao traditional patterns and European styles. The shop opened in 2003 and was inspired by the beauty and potential of the silk Laos has to offer. Near Wat Siphouttabath, just arond the corner from Saynamkhan Gusthouse.
Ma Te Sai
This boutique shop located on the main road (close to the Royal Pavilion) offers ethnic handicrafts and creative souvenirs fashioned from fabric, bamboo, recycled paper and other natural materials. There are also herbal teas, coffees, locally made whiskeys and a variety of locally grown rice. The shop aims to help promote Lao villager’s quality of life through their crafts, in line with its philosophy, ‘From the Village, for the Village’.
The morning market is a fascinating place to get a glimpse of what goes on behind the culinary scenes in Luang Prabang. Here, you will see it all in the open – blood and gore and all, in fact. Vendors sit on the street, with their vegetables, fruits, meat, spices and other fresh produce laid out haphazardly on banana leaves. Some of the more exotic items, such as forest rats, silkworms, insects, snakes and a handful of unidentified animals, are either chopped up and placed on the ground or caged up, still alive.
This inviting shop-house is located on the main road just south of the Old Chinese Quarter. It features handmade jewelry made from silver as well as precious and semi-precious gem stones, fashioned into distinct styles that blend local and modern designs. Pieces range from necklaces, bracelets and earrings to pendants, hair clips and other trinkets.
Ock Pop Tok
Ock Pop Tok (meaning ‘East meets West’) is a store selling hand-woven home textiles, cloth bags and scarves. It promotes fair trade and aims to empower local women through their crafts and development of artistic skills. In doing so, the store offers various textile workshops and classes as well as opening a crafts centre (in Ban Saylom, 2km south of town) for visitors who’d like to watch the artisans at work. There’s also a café overlooking the Mekong and four tastefully decked out theme villas tucked away in a garden
For a pleasant immersion in the local way of life, head over to Phosi Market on the outskirts of town. This open-air, indoor-outdoor market has everything imaginable, whether bags of ground chilies, buffalo feet, animal parts, meat, fruits, enamelware, ground spices, vegetables, fermented fish paste, cell phones, watches, backpacks, knives, and much, much more. The fresh market section is similar to the morning market in the city centre but is much larger in scale and variety of products. The sights, smells and colours are simply fascinating, and many visitors find that going once is not enough.
Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre
Just behind Dara Market, this two-storey heritage shop-house is a museum and resource centre promoting Lao ethnic diversity. It features cultural exhibitions, showcasing traditional arts and lifestyles of diverse ethnic groups. Adopting fair trade and sustainability principles, the museum shop supports over 500 handicrafts producers and their families from all over Laos, with a selection of beaded necklaces, jewellery, embroidered belts, backpacks and children’s accessories. There’s also a small café, Le Patio Café, where you can enjoy savoury snacks and coffees.
Bars in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is not a nightlife destination. It is decidedly morning orientated – the majority of locals go to bed by 22:00 and rise at 05:00. Staggering home after a heavy night out, while all is peaceful and quiet is not such a great idea.
There are, however, a few small establishments that stay open past midnight where conversation and beer flow in harmony.
Set inside The Luang Say Residence, 1861 Bar features a classy explorer-theme interior fashioned in the style of French colonial elegance. Hardwood floor and walls, marble fireplace, stained glass lamp shades, mirrors, leather and velvet sofas all combine to evoke a feel of old-school sophistication. The bar stocks spirits and fine wines from around the world.
Location: The Luang Say Residence, Ban Phonepheng, south of the town centre
Blue Ice Bar
Opened in 2010, Blue Ice is a gay friendly bar with a cosy, inviting ambience and a wonderful view overlooking the Nam Khan River. Housed inside a two-storey bright yellow building, it has a bar, dance floor, tables inside and outside, friendly service as well as a pool table (one of the best in town).
• Opening Hours: late afternoon-23:30
• Location: Kingkitsarat Road (close to Nam Khan River)
Open until 03:00, after 22:00 it gets crowded with tourists who are more interested in quenching their thirst than the actual bowling. This place is well worth a visit if you want to have a break from all the usual tourist stuff. The price of a game is 15,000 kip per person until midnight when it goes up to 20,000.
• Location: Highway 13, east of junction with Potoupakmao Rd.
Perhaps the only nightclub in town that offers a sense of Lao-style ‘clubbing’ vibe. Slightly out of town, Dao Fah has all the elements of a club: loud music, live DJs spinning the decks, beers and lighting effects. But since this is Luang Prabang, don’t expect a full-on party scene. The majority of the customers are locals, and they mostly stand around, drink beer and chat the night away. For a place to hang out and drink late after the curfew (23:30 although largely not applied to foreigners), Dao Fah is your only option (besides the bowling alley).
• Opening Hours: officially 09:30-23:30, but it remains open way after that
• Location: Route 13, Ban Naluang,on the way to the southern bus terminal
Set in a beautiful white vintage-looking building, Icon Klub is one of those hidden gems you might come across from time to time. It was designed with a 1920s vibe in mind and features both indoor and outdoor seating as well as a variety of cocktails, good tunes, board games, books of poetry and art. The 13-seat cinema on the second floor offers regular movie nights.
• Opening Hours: 17:00 – 23:30
• Location: Sakkarine Road, close to Saynamkhan Hotel
Hive Bar and Restaurant
A stylish bar with a resident DJ, cosy garden terrace, fire pit, exposed brick walls and art installation, Hive is extremely popular among both expats and visitors. The menu covers cocktails, drinks, wood-fired pizzas and tapas. The DJ starts spinning the decks at 17:00 every day, bringing the place to life with electronic, dance, rock, alternative, indie and hip hop tunes.
• Location: 5 Kingkitsarat Road
Lao Lao Garden
Cloaked in greenery, this open-air beer garden is a long-time favourite among backpackers. The cosy setup – bonfire, candles, fairy lights, lots of open spaces and trees – invites hours of lounging with Beer Lao, cocktails or wine. Music, though, is loud. The menu covers a good range, from burgers, salads to best-selling Lao-style barbecue. There’s also a pool table and large-screen TV showing European football matches.
• Opening Hours: until 23:30
• Location: Phousi Road (next to Nam Khan River)
Night Food Market
Street food is plentiful in Luang Prabang but you won’t just find vendor stalls at random places throughout town. After sunset, the area around the corner of Settathilat and Sisavangvong roads come to life with food vendors selling all kinds of grilled meat, Lao noodle soup, Pho, baguette sandwiches and ready-to-eat meals. Bigger stalls setup long wooden tables and benches. Self-service is the best way to go about getting your seats and food, as the market is usually packed.
Pack Luck Wine Bar
With a cosy, contemporary ambience, and an extensive wine list, Pack Luck Wine Bar is a popular hang-out spot among visitors and expats. Its lively and unpretentious vibe adds a nice down-to-earth feel to the place. Cocktails and spirits are also on the bar menu. Here, you can while away the evenings with a drink and the sounds of jazz, latin, bossa nova, R&B, lounge and classic modern music.
• Location: Ban Vat Nong, near Wat Sene, opposite l’Elephant Restaurant
Royal Ballet Theatre
For a taste of traditional Lao culture and art, head over to the Royal Ballet Theatre located on the Royal Palace grounds. The Royal Ballet troupe performs a khon (mask) and classical dance based on the Lao version of the Ramayana. In a way, the show is very similar to the Thai khon dance, as the two cultures influence each other. Performances take place every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 18:30, and each show lasts one hour.
S-Bar & Restaurant
S-Bar is a lounge bar with a cool ambience, tasty food and great cocktails. The must-try list includes their own popular creation known as the S cocktail and the Lao set menu. Music leans toward electro-house and Jazz. This friendly place offers a good atmosphere in a lovely design.
• Opening Hours: 12:30-23:30, best time to go: after 20:00
• Location: Kingkitsarath road, Ban Aphay, Luang Prabang
Set on the Nam Khan riverbank, Utopia Bar and Restaurant is a peaceful place where you can enjoy good food and drinks and relax in their tropical gardens or at the bamboo river decks taking in the lovely upcountry scenery. Utopia also has a range of different activities such as beach volleyball, shisha pipes, live music and movies/documentaries.
• Location: Phousi Road (next to Nam Khan River)
Luang Prabang Restaurants
Where And What To Eat In Luang Prabang
The eclectic range of menus in this small town fuse traditional European fare (including hot crusty baguettes, hearty stews and succulent steaks) with the spicy and exotic dishes of the Orient. Other than the distinct architectural feel the town has due to the French-connection, the food choices truly serve to demonstrate the positive influences of colonisation.
The popular Restaurant Row on the banks of the Mekong houses a range of restaurants from Indian to Laos to Laos-and-French fusion.
Tamnak Lao Restaurant
Looking for high-quality, authentic Lao food? Then don’t go past Tamnak Lao Restaurant and Cooking School. Enjoy the taste and texture sensation of Lao food at the restaurant and then attend a cooking class to learn how to easily create a complete Lao meal in your own kitchen. Read More...
• Opening Hours: Every day from 9.00am to 10.30pm.
• Address: Sakkarine Road, Ban Watsene, Luang Prabang.
With a view of the Royal Pavilion’s golden spires, Blue Lagoon offers a combination of Lao and Swiss classics on its menu, complemented by a selection of Old and New World wines as well as cocktails, mocktails, Laotian beers, gourmet coffees, teas and juices. A fine-dining establishment, it is highly popular among the connoisseurs of gourmet cuisine, with an outdoor dining terrace offering views of its garden and pond.
• Location: A narrow lane next to the Royal Pavilion, just off Sisavangvong Road
Set inside two lovely courtyard gardens, Coconut Garden features an intimate ambience and a delightful menu of traditional Lao and Western fusions. There’s also a large selection of drinks and Western-style desserts. The front garden overlooks the main street, while the backyard garden has a more private feel, with decorative lights and water features. The set menus offer a good introduction to Lao cuisine, with a choice of nine-dish degustation menu, vegetarian set and mini-Lao set (Lao Noy).
• Location: Sisavangvong Road (just at the beginning of the Evening Market)
Across the footbridge over the Nam Khan River, this laid-back restaurant overlooks scenic views of the river and Luang Prabang City. Seating comprises floor cushions, low tables, pillows, set on tree-enshrouded wooden terraces. There’s also an open garden for enjoying traditional Lao barbecue and individual bamboo huts for private parties. The food menu is extensive, with up to 77 varieties of cocktail and excellent Lao, Asian and Western fare. There’s even free Wi-Fi internet connection. All in all, this cosy restaurant invites hours of lounging, chatting and savouring tasty food.
• Opening Hours: 8:00-23:00
• Location: Across the bamboo bridge (from Phousi Road), near Wat Phan Luang
Set in a restored 70-year old wooden home, the menu, interior and resulting ambience are distinctly Laotian. On most evenings the restaurant features live music. The restaurant also includes a garden dining area which adds to its appeal.
• Opening Hours: 08:00 - 23:30
• Location: Opposite the fountain across from Maison Souvannaphoum
Lao Barbecue Experience
While in Luang Prabang, why not try this fun, popular dinner experience. The setup is simple. A low wooden table, floor mat strewn with cushions, a round iron cooking pot, coal fire, some raw meat, stock soup, vegetables and some beer, and you are ready for a Lao-style barbecue. Pour some stock soup into the pot, wait for it to heat up then add vegetables or glass noodles into the broth. Meanwhile, place some meat on the top part of the grill, which remains dry. When done, dip the meat in the dipping sauce, and have a bite!
Le Café Ban Vat Sene
A lovely colonial-style shop-house, Le Café Ban Vat Sene has wooden tables and chairs set on the pavement and a very relaxed atmosphere. Inside, small shelves display a collection of bottles and ‘antiques’. Enjoy a daily selection of French bakery, light snacks, sandwiches, wine and desserts, along with chilled out music and a collection of magazines, books and newspapers. Coffee is very good here, and the free Wi-Fi internet is an added bonus.
• Opening Hours: 6:30-22:00
• Location: Sakkarine Road, opposite Wat Sene
Just around the corner from the Saffron Cafe is a French-and-Laotian fusion restaurant, which is pricier than your average Luang Prabang restaurant. With high quality ingredients that include French Camembert, Laotian lemongrass and French meat, the produce and price ranges speak for themselves.
Location: Located down a twisting side street named Phagnalluanngmuang-chan, just behind Villa Santi
Les 3 Nagas
Featuring a fusion of Asian and Western fare with a Laotian twist, the restaurant is situated at the quieter end of Restaurant Row, with an open-air spot (mosquito repellant is a good idea when dining outside). Les 3 Nagas is one of the town's classier joints, so expect to pay western prices. Lao-style creme custard of pumpkin and coconut comes highly recommended.
• Location: 3 Nagas Hotel
• Address: Ban Vatnong, Sakkaline Road P.O. Box 722, Luang Prabang
Anyone who has travelled through Vientiane or Vang Vienne before reaching Luang Prabang should be familiar with the popular Nazim outlets. Their no thrills approach to serving mouth wateringly good Indian dishes, means service and interiors can be a bit shaky but the food itself counteracts any grief incurred while trying to get a decent Chicken Tikka Masala when in Laos. Well-placed on the busy (for Laos) Restaurant Row.
• Opening Hours: Lunch & dinner time
• Address: 78/4 Ban Visoun Visounnarath Rd, Luang Prabang
Riverloft Restaurant serves Lao and American comfort food, prepared with fresh local produce available year-round in the Luang Prabang morning market. The in-house bakery offers bagels, croissants, whole-wheat breads, and many types of cakes, as well as a to-die-for Tamarind bar, all in a serene, comfortable and beautiful setting on the banks of the gentle Nam Khan River. Many customers stay for hours, enjoying free coffee refills and Wi-Fi or chatting with the friendly wait staff.
• Opening Hours: Daily from 07:00-21:00
• Location: 80/03 KingKitsarath Rd, 8th Building on the Nam Khan River side of the historic peninsula.
Here, visitors will discover the best coffee in Luang Prabang, originating from the hill-tribes who grow the beans Arabica style. The cool air and rich forest soil combine to make some of the world's most distinctive coffee. An afternoon coffee and a late breakfast overlooking the Mekong is a must when in town.
The Apsara Restaurant & Bar
Housed inside a beautifully restored school building, this elegant establishment is part of the nine-room luxury boutique hotel, The Apsara. The interior evokes a classy, contemporary Oriental style, with coloured lanterns, polished concrete floor and wooden bar counter. A selection of classic Lao as well as Asian and Western fusions fills the menu. The atmosphere is especially lovely and cosy, an ideal place to enjoy a romantic dinner or after-dinner drinks.
• Location: Kingkitsarath Road
The Aussie Sports Bar & Restaurant
If you feel like having something different than Laos food, head to the Aussie Bar. Their menu might be small but it includes the usual western suspects such as mini-burgers, Aussie meat pie with chips and salad, fish & chips and toasted ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches. The Aussie Bar is probably most well known for its plasma screen TVs showing live sports ranging from from football to Formula 1. It’s a great place to meet other fellow travelers and expats or to just people watch.
• Opening Hours: Daily
• Location: Ban Aham, Sisouphan Road, Luang Prabang
The Belle Rive Terrace
Part of The Belle Rive boutique hotel, this riverside café overlooks panoramic views of the Mekong and is ideal for chilling out. The two dining terraces are set on the riverbanks, surrounded by pockets of tamarind and palm trees, an ideal setup for enjoying breakfast, sundowner cocktails, or sunset dinner. Enjoy a range of classic Lao and Thai dishes, plus a selection of western fusions. Located just behind Wat Sene, The Belle Rive Terrace also makes a good rest stop while sight-seeing.
• Location: Mekong riverside (Khem Khong Road), behind Wat Sene
Utopia Restaurant and Bar
Utopia is a great place in Luang Prabang. It has all it takes to be a hot hangout for travelers because of its location, atmosphere, prices and service. It’s a peaceful place during the day where you can enjoy good food and drinks and relax in their tropical gardens or at the bamboo river decks taking in the lovely upcountry scenery that Luang Prabang is known for. Utopia also has a range of different activities such as beach volleyball, shisha pipes, live music and movies/documentaries.
• Opening Hours: Early for breakfast and stays open until around 23:30
• Location: Ban Aphay, Kingkitsarath Rd, Luang Prabang. (It is located in a quiet neighborhood along the banks of the Nam Khan River. To go there, it’s best to start from Wat Visoun as there is a small lane across the road from the temple leading to Utopia. Just follow the signs, you won’t miss it.)