Luang Prabang is one of the cutest cities in SE Asia. This former French colony is a World Heritage site since 1995 with an outstanding well-preserved architecture. The city is well worth a visit, for its stunning views, architecture and design, and fantastic food.
Laos was under the influence of France for about 58 years. Actually, Luang Prabang was a protectorate of France with internal autonomy, governed by King Sisavang Vong.
So you can find some French influence around the town, including influence in the cuisine. Be aware that Luang Prabang is more expensive and has more tourists than the rest of Laos, which is expected as Luang Prabang is the most famous and popular tourist attraction in Laos.
In our opinion 3 days in Luang Prabang is the perfect time to visit the city and surroundings, so we created this list of the 10 best things to do in Luang Prabang in 3 days! Luang Prabang is also the perfect place to start a 7-day Itinerary to Laos.
10 fun things to do in Luang Prabang in 3 days
#1 Temple Hopping
In Luang Prabang, you can find temples nearly everywhere as Laos is a very religious, Buddist country. UNESCO even states that Luang Prabang is home to a few of the most sophisticated Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia. The most famous of these temples are Wat Xieng Thong Wat Manorom, and Wat Hosian Voravihane.
The Wat Xieng Thong (Temple of the Golden City) is one of the most important temples in Laos and remains a significant monument to the spirit of religion, royalty and traditional art. This temple is also home to an especially rare reclining Buddha that dates back to the construction of the temple.
Wat Hosian Voravihane is another well-known temple which includes living quarters for the monks and a school. Wat Manorom is also well known and visited by travelers. It’s a very old wat, with its origins uncertain. Depending on who you aks it can be founded in 1372,1375 or even in 1492. The most famous feature of this wat is the 6-meter Buddha that dates back to the 1370s
#2 Assist (or don’t) Alms Giving Ritual
Very early in the morning, you can assist the alms giving ritual in Luang Prabang – a procession where monks accept offers from the locals. Tourists usually have this ceremony on their list and even want to participate as it’s a beautifully austere ritual with an intense cultural significance.
Each morning, Saffron-robed monks emerge onto the streets with their alms bowls. When this happens the Lao people are already awaiting them with sticky rice and other foods, which they prepared previously. They will place a portion in the bowl of each monk who passes by. The whole ceremony is undertaken in complete silence.
If you decide to participate it’s vital to keep respectful, dress appropriately and don’t take photos with flash or very close to the monks. Most visitors witness the ceremony in the old city center, along Sakkaline Road. Yet, these places may sometimes be crowded with tourists. You may wish to consider another part of town for a more authentic perspective.
Finally, if you end up deciding to participate, please don’t give food if you are not sure of its origins. There are many reports of monks who have died from food intoxication due to the bad food given in this ritual.
#3 Climb Mount Phousi
Mount Phousi is situated in the center of the city. It is a good climb to the top of the hill (100 mt high), with tons of stairs. On top of the hill, you will find a small temple and an amazing view of the city, the Mekong and the Nam Khan river.
This is an excellent place to take photos, especially during the sunsets and sunrises. Along the walk, you will encounter Buddha statues and a small cave with another temple.
#4 Walk around Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is full of cute houses with a mix of Asian and French style. All the city is well preserved, being so isolated from the rest of the world protected it from the wars.
You will find loads of coffee shops and restaurants built in beautiful houses with charming balconies. Most of them are nice spots to enjoy a coffee, eat french pastry and do some people watching.
#5 Cross the Bamboo bridges
Over the Nam Khan river, you will find some bamboo bridges, built by some Luang Prabang families. All the bridges are temporary, during the wet season they are dismounted because of the river floods.
In all the bridges you will find a toll to help pay for the construction of the bridge. On the river banks, there are fishermen, children playing in the water. The river is a good place to do tubing or floating down the river, but besides the local kids, nobody else does it.
#6 Shop in Night Markets
Everybody that has been to South East Asia is familiar to night markets. In every town you can find one, we already had gone to quite a few in Thailand. Although it wasn’t a novelty, we liked Luang Prabang’s night market. Normally we don’t buy many souvenirs, but we found in the market a big variety of crafts that were beautiful. From clothes to paintings, teas, and coffee to stuffed animals.
Additional to the night market, every morning there is a grocery market where you will find fresh fruit, vegetables, fish (huge catfish), and all kinds of different stuff like dried herbs and lots not identified food (by us obviously…).
#7 Eat the famous Lao Sandwiches
We are Portuguese, and like most of the European and western countries, bread is an important part of our diet. After spending 1 month in Thailand, without any source of bread when we arrived at Luang Prabang we found heaven, bread was everywhere and it was tasty. Lao food is similar to Thai food, but the relationship with bread is very different, as it was introduced in Laos by the French.
Throughout the city, you will find a fair amount of pastries selling bread and cakes. Although the best places were the stalls that sold big baguette sandwiches, some of the best we ever ate! The fact that we were craving for some bread help, for sure, but those were some good sandwiches!
We loved the Lao style baguette or anyone with avocado. In the night market, you will find a big variety of stalls selling baguettes. Besides the sandwiches, there are food stalls selling grilled fish, skewers of meat, noodles, and veggies.
#8 Chomphet loop bike trail
The Chomphet loop bike trail is on the other side of the Mekong, so you’ll have to cross the river before starting! Though, you’ll have to rent the bikes in Luang Prabang. So, we did it! Note that you can possibly do it on a motorcycle, but we don’t really ride them, so we did it on a bike.
We rented bikes (in one of the many shops in Luang Prabang), bought a sandwich, snacks, and water. Headed to Mekong river, took a taxi boat to the other side of the river – to the Chomphet district.
The Chomphet loop bike trail is hilly and bumpy, but it’s only 23 km on a dirt road. It may sound easy, but don’t do the same mistake as we did, we underestimated the trail, it was much harder than we expected and the day was very hot, which only made it worse. It took us nearly 6 hours to complete the loop and by the end, we were really tired. Yet, it was well worth it. We passed through some traditional villages, saw stunning views, rice fields, two nice river crossings, and plenty of kids – we always remember these kids from Laos, screaming at us Sabaidi(hello)! Chomphet is right next to Luang Prabang but it looks like from a different time in history… it’s so different!
Note: Take a generous amount of water and be prepared to ride up and down plenty of hills. You’ll also want to start as early as possible to avoid the heat.
#9 Swim in Kuang Si Falls
Kuang Si falls are definitely a must, it is the top thing to do in Luang Prabang! If you can’t do anything else, you have to visit Kuang Si Falls! You have 3 ways to get there: you can hire a motorcycle, catch a bus directly to the falls or take a tuk-tuk (if you are crazy fit you can also go by bicycle but it is a big distance from the city, 29 km).
Kuang Si Falls consists of a reserve park with a luxurious tropical forest, enormous tries, several waterfalls, and pools. Follow the track in the park and you will find several levels of waterfalls with turquoise water falling over limestone. It made us remember Plitvice park in Croatia but better because you are allowed to swim.
At the end of the path, you arrive at the main waterfall, which is about 60 meters high and very impressive. However, this isn’t the end of your trek, if you look around you’ll find signs to the “secret pool”.
This path is basically climbing to the top of the waterfall! It’s hard work, as it’s very steep and challenging, but worth the effort. On the top level of the main fall, there is a big pool that has a stunning view down. The entrance fee to the waterfall park is 2 €.
#10 Visit the Bear Park
Bear Park is at the entrance of Kuang Si Falls. It is a small park, but quite amusing just to stop for a while and watch the bears. They look like black pandas, very funny and adorable. It was a surprise to us because we didn’t even know that Laos had bears.
The park works as a reserve and rescue center for the bears that are in danger of extinction. So seeing the bears is a nice bonus attraction to the falls.
Where to stay in Luang Prabang in 3 days
Belmond La Residence Phou Vao is an award-winning hotel that provides 5-star boutique accommodation in Luang Prabang. It features an outdoor pool, spa treatments, free Wi-Fi and a gym. Guests can enjoy the sun on the terrace or have a drink at the bar. It offers babysitting services, currency exchange and a reception that operates 24/7.
There isn’t really anything that can wrong if you choose the Belmond… However, this comes with a price tag that you may don’t want (or can’t) afford…
The Sofitel, housed within a French colonial fort is also one of the best hotels in Luang Prabang. You can read a full review here.
My Dream Boutique Resorts is an elegant resort in Luang Prabang that offers complimentary Wi-Fi, a swimming pool and a free shuttle service. This cozy resort offers massage services, free bicycle rental, and a coffee bar. It’s also very close to nearby bars and clubs for those who want to party in Luang Prabang.
Cold River Guest House provides a comfortable setting in Luang Prabang offering free Wi-Fi access throughout their stay. The area surrounding the guest house is famous for its nightlife, though if you prefer it features both a restaurant and a bar where guests are able to relax of an evening. Check the latest prices!
How to travel from Thailand to Luang Prabang?
So, first, we will explain how do you go from Chiang Rai to Laos and then the slow boat to Luang Prang.
How to go from Chiang Rai to Laos – cross the border in Chiang Khong / Huay Xai?
- In the bus station of Chiang Rai, you catch a bus to Chiang Khong for 1,75€. Ask the driver to let you at the nearest stop to the border.
- When you arrive at the bus stop catch a tuk-tuk to the border for more or less 1,35€. These prices are negotiable, but not as much as you may think.
- In the border, after filling the visa papers, you will need to take a bus that crosses the friendship bridge in order to enter Laos (0,65€). Although it is just 600 mt, they don’t allow you to walk.
- After entering Laos and getting your tourist visa you need to catch a tuk-tuk to the city of Huay Xai, 10km from the boarder(2,60€).
It sounds longer and harder than it was.
TIP: Don’t forget to bring passport photos for the tourist visa or you will need to pay more. The visa cost us 34€ but it depends on your passport. If you can, try to catch the tuk-tuk with other tourists.
How to get the Slow Boat to Luang Prabang
In Huay Xai, you can take the slow boat to Luang Prabang (25€) or if you want, you can stay and join the tours of Gibbon experience. Although we didn’t do it it seems very cool but it is a bit expensive. The trip from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang through the Mekong River takes 2 full days. Two extremely slow days, with fantastic views before starting the Luang Prabang itinerary.
In our opinion, it is the first amazing thing to do in Luang Prabang! So, when people ask us, what to do in Luang Prabang? The first thing is getting there! 🙂
You will overnight in Pak Beng, a small village with just 20 houses or so, nearly all of the guesthouses or restaurants. In Pak Beng, we ate a fantastic Laos meal in Sabaidee Sivilay Restaurant and we highly recommend it to you.
As you’ll need to spend the night in Pak Beng we strongly suggest you find a guesthouse prior to your stay. We can recommend you the Vila Mekong if you are looking for a budget-friendly guest house and the Le Grand Pakbeng if you want something higher end.
After 2 days of slow boating the Mekong we arrive at Luang Prabang, the cutest town in SE Asia. 🙂 And now we can explore all these amazing things to do in Luang Prabang in 3 days.
If you are still looking for even more information on Luang Prabang we suggest this post.