The small city of Luang Prabang Laos is both dreamy and charming. Framed by the mighty Mekong river on one side and the Nam Khan on the other, this UNESCO world heritage site offers a picturesque respite from the rushed pace found in most south east Asian cities. The novice monks in their saffron coloured robes walking around the city and the many temples found dotted throughout the town add to this enchanted feel.
Here are the top 10 things that should be on your activity list.
1. Explore the Main Town
Whether on foot or a bicycle, make sure to set enough time aside to wander the streets and quaint alleyways of the main town. The mix of colonial architecture with gorgeous wooden finishes, colourful flora and fauna and murky rivers make this town quite special. Once you’ve soaked it all up, go further afield to see how the Lao people live.
2. Observe Life on the River
You can spend hours sitting at one of the many riverside restaurants/cafes sipping on a Beer Lao or coffee Lao watching life on the river. From the long tail boats floating past, to kids having mud fights and swimming in the river, to the fishermen setting out their traps, you will be entertained for hours.
We were lucky to visit during the weeks leading up to the annual dragon boat racing festival, so had the pleasure of watching a few different teams practicing for the race.
You can catch beautiful sunsets during the cooler months. Make sure you stay on the Mekong River side.
3. Visit Temples and Observe Morning Alms Giving
Visiting some of the 30 wats (temples) scattered throughout this city will allow you get a sense of the cultural history of this country. These beautiful, centuries-old temples are still vibrant with life and you’ll see monks studying, chanting and engaging in daily rituals.
If you are up early one morning, you should also observe the daily morning alms ceremony where hundreds of saffron robed monks walk on the streets of Luang Prabang and accept food offerings from the local lay people. Please be very mindful that this is an important religious act and is done with respect and in silence. Please keep a respectful distance and do not cause disturbance to the monks and locals just to get a good photo.
4. Cruise the Mekong River
If you haven’t already done so before arriving at Luang Prabang, a cruise along the Mekong river is a must do. Apart from the incredible views of the landscape, you will also see local fishermen catching Mekong catfish along the shore, kids having fun in the water and the lives of families living by the water.
5. Climb Phousi Hill
A steep climb to the top offers breathtaking views of the city. Stunning sunsets can be observed from this vantage during the cooler months but you need to arrive early to get a good view.
6. Morning and Night Markets
There is always a hive of activity at the morning market as this is where the locals shop. Local produce, exotic herbs and spices, freshwater fish and exotic meats are all on display so allow yourself time to truly absorb it all. If you are game, you can also sample some local breakfast.
Wander the colourful and vibrant laneways of the night markets and browse the many stalls selling Lao arts and crafts. It is the perfect place to buy some souvenirs so try your hand at haggling but remember a dollar goes a long way for the locals.
A cobblestone alleyway found off the middle of the night market offers inexpensive local fare; you will need to go back a few times to sample all the offerings.
7. Sample Lao Cuisine
To eat what the locals eat, go to the food stalls found in the alleyway at the night market. Grilled Mekong fish stuffed with lemon grass, made to taste papaya salad, sticky rice, barbeque chicken along with a variety of vegetarian Lao dishes are on offer.
Other must try items are Lao baguette sandwiches, deep fried riverweed, mok pa, laap, banana and condensed milk crepes, banana fritters, coffee Lao and beer Lao.
8. Kuang Si and Tad Sae Waterfalls
There are 2 beautiful waterfalls located about a 45 minute drive from the main town. Gorgeous, turquoise coloured pools offer different swimming areas. There are several walks you can do around the falls. An Atlantic bear sanctuary is co-located at Kuang Si waterfalls and Tad Sae falls offer the opportunity to go zip-lining above the falls.
Tip: Beware that when it rains or has rained in the previous days, the water at both falls turn into a murky colour.
9. Go Elephant Riding
There are several well-reputed elephant sanctuaries that offer elephant riding and elephant bathing activities. From personal experience, I found that the elephants were well taken care of and treated well during the ride.
The mahouts did not use anything other than words and tapping with feet to control the elephants. As with any activity that involves animals, please do very thorough research about the agency and treatment of the animals before booking your experience.
10. Take a Cooking Class
If you’re a foodie or just want to learn more about Lao cuisine, there’s nothing better than taking a cooking class which will allow you to discover the fresh ingredients and wonderful flavours of Lao cuisine. Best part is that you get to visit a food market where you can understand more about the local produce.
What other activities do you think should be listed on the top 10 things to do in Luang Prabang?