14 Interesting (& Unusual) Things to Do in Luang Prabang

Southeast Asia is full of incredible towns and cities.

But of all the places we visited on our three-month sabbatical, Luang Prabang came was our favourite.

The relaxed atmosphere, astonishing sunsets, jungle-like surroundings and mighty Mekong make this a very special place. 

If you’re planning a visit, you’re in for a treat…

…and I’m more than a little bit jealous of you right now!

So here are our best things to do in Luang Prabang.

Some of these I’m sure you’ve heard of before, but there are also some unusual ones on this list too.

1. Climb Mount Phousi

Legend has it that Princess Sita, the wife of Hindu deity Rama, had an appetite for delicious mushrooms, and asked the monkey god Hanuman, to get her some. Hanuman flew back and forth to Sri Lanka on a number of occasions, each time to be told that they weren’t the correct ones. After much frustration, Hanuman eventually decided to bring the entire mountain of mushrooms from Sri Lanka, and he placed it right in the middle of Luang Prabang, so Princess Sita could enjoy all the mushrooms she wanted.

Whether you believe the legend or not, Mount Phousi does look out of place in the centre of the flat Luang Prabang, and because of this it gives incredible views across the surrounding countryside. The climb is a bit of a challenge, but well worth it, with various temples and caves dotted along the hillside to see on the way up.

2. Visit the Royal Palace Museum

Things To Do In Luang Prabang - Royal Palace Museum

The Royal Palace Museum, a centerpiece of Laotian heritage in Luang Prabang, offers an intriguing journey through the history of Laos’s royal family. Nestled in the heart of the city, this museum, once a royal residence, now stands as a testament to Laos’s rich cultural tapestry.

As you step inside, you’re greeted by an eclectic collection, each artifact narrating a unique story. Among the most captivating exhibits are the vintage cars, symbols of the royal family’s status and their engagement with modernity. These cars aren’t just vehicles; they’re time machines that take you back to an era where the monarchy’s influence was paramount in Laotian society.

But it’s not just the grandeur of automobiles that catches your eye. The museum is a treasure trove of gifts received from other countries, each reflecting the global connections and diplomatic relationships Laos fostered over the years. Among these international tokens, you might find yourself amused by the more stereotypical items, like a boomerang – a playful nod to the diverse and sometimes unexpected aspects of international diplomacy.

3. Sunset over the Mekong

I could have chosen any one from dozens of photos of sunset over the Mekong in Luang Prabang.

There are so many little restaurants, boat trips and viewing points it’s almost hard to find a bad spot, but our favourite was Chennai Indian Restaurant and their fantastic Taali set menu.

4. An Evening of Traditional Storytelling

Things To Do in Luang Prabang - An Evening of Storytelling

An unusual and intriguing evening, the Garavek Theatre is a simple affair, two men, a small stage and an hour of traditional folk tales. Accompanied by a khene (a bamboo mouth organ), we were told stories of gods, animals and princesses, all linking in to the history of Luang Prabang. An eccentric but thoroughly enjoyable experience, a ticket is 50,000 kip, but beware they only go ahead if there are five people interested.

5. Wat Xieng Thong

Things To Do in Luang Prabang - Wat Xiang Thong

There are numerous colourful, ancient temple in Luang Prabang, but Wat Xieng Thong is the daddy!

Built in 1560, time has started to take its toll on this place, with glass affixed over holes in the roof, and dusty Buddhas stored away in outbuildings as if waiting to be put back on display. Despite this, the complex is stunning, with dark, intimidating teak buildings and colourful tile murals showcasing the incredible craftsmanship of the Lao artisans. 

6. Get Up Early to Watch the Alms-Giving Ceremony

Things To Do in Luang Prabang - Watch Alms Giving

There is nothing more synonymous with Luang Prabang that the daily alms-giving ceremony. Whilst it’s got a little out of hand in recent years, with floods of tourists taking away from this ancient tradition, it’s still an incredible sight if you do so respectfully. If you want more information, then click ‘read more’ for my comprehensive article on our experience.

Watching the alms-giving ceremony will mean an early start, we headed over to the wonderful Changkham Bakery after for some breakfast, but there are lots of great places to eat in Luang Prabang.

7. Visit the Pho Tad Ke Botanical Gardens

Things to do in Luang Prabang - Botanical Gardens

Pho Tad Ke is the first botanical gardens in Laos, and was built on old royal hunting grounds as a research centre to catalogue and preserve the fauna of Laos.

It’s a fascinating and relaxing afternoon out, though at 200,000 Kip per person, a bit more expensive than other attractions in the area. For the price, you get taken on a 20 minute boat trip up the river to the gardens, which if you time it right is almost like a sunset cruise!

If this doesn’t convince you, just take a read of their site to see the great things your money is going on to fund.

Make sure you take bug spray and sun cream as it can be quite exposed, and if you can book in to see the orchid tour, a very informative talk.

8. Kuang Si Falls and Bear Sanctuary

Best Experiences in Luang Prabang - Kuang Si Falls

Located about 30km from Luang Prabang, Kuang Si Falls is one of the area’s highlights.

We paid about 80,000 kip for a tuk-tuk driver to take us to and from the falls. I would advise getting there early, the tourist buses arrive around 0945-1000 so the earlier you leave Luang Prabang, the more time you will get in peace!

The waters are turned an almost unnatural blue on their journey through the limestone hills, and in the early morning light, it feels like being dragged into a fairy-story. There are lots of falls to visit, some of which you can swim in, and also a bear sanctuary, where rescued moon and sun bears are given a retirement home!

9. The Night Market

Luang Prabang night market is one of Southeast Asia’s most extensive collection of stalls selling everything you can imagine including food, clothes, paintings and souvenirs.

The market is held along Luang Prabang’s main road, Sisavangvong Road, which is closed off to traffic from 4pm to allow the vendors to erect their stalls.

Having visited a huge number of street markets during my 3 weeks in Laos, the size of this one took me by surprise with a maze of red and blue pop up stalls that seemed to go on forever.

Some interesting things to look out for as you roam the market include the handmade paper cards, local Lao Whiskey that really packs a punch and jewellery made from the unexploded bombs that have plagued the country for decades.

As you enter the night market, look for a small unnamed side street to the left, down here you’ll find all sorts of great food including my favourite spot in the city, an all you can eat vegetarian buffet for 15,000 kip (£1.30/$1.70).

9. Wat Xieng Mouane

The small historic town of Luang Prabang is composed of more than 30 Buddhist temples, hence, temple hopping in Luang Prabang is inevitably one of the best things to do in town. While the popular Luang Prabang temples like Wat Xieng Thong and Haw Pha Bang require entrance fees, there are also a number of temples that you can visit for free. 

Wat Xieng Mouane is one of the remarkable free temples to visit in Luang Prabang.  The words Xieng Mouane translates to melodious sounds, associated with the harmonious drums used in the old times. The most distinguishing feature of the temple is the vibrant painting covering the front wall depicting the life of Buddha. 

The temple complex also houses a UNESCO-funded training centre for Laotian Traditional Arts and Building Crafts.  The school aims to preserve traditional Laotian arts by passing on artisan skills to novice monks. Young monks are taught mural painting, woodcarving, bronze casting and stencilling. Trained monks put these traditional skills into good use by helping in the restoration projects of historically-important structures in the area. 

10. The Morning Market

Three ladies sitting amongst displays of vegetables in a morning market in Luang Prabang

The local morning market of Luang Prabang is known for its authenticity and the burst of colour it brings to the city. Fresh fruits and vegetables are piled up in mountains, and traditional breakfast snacks are readily available.

The market is relaxed and crowds move slowly, wading through the wide selection available to them. Souvenirs Locally harvested mushrooms, spices, herbs, and traditional medicines are also available and sell out fast. Locals and tourists scurry for rare items such as honeycomb served in banana leaves, deep-fried mung bean rice-cakes, and cured pork.

Elaborating on the authenticity of the market, foods are made from scratch, such as the hand-rolled noodles sold separately, on order, or used in dishes such as Khao Soi. A variety of sauces and pastes are also available, and species of fresh off the hook. The morning market is a fantastic way to familiarise yourself with the rich culture of this area.

11. UXO Visitors Centre

Things to do in Luang Prabang - UXO Centre

Laos has a very secret and unfortunate history.

During the Vietnam War, over 500,000 bombing runs were completed on the country by the American air force who were desperate to shut down North Vietnamese supply lines. Over a third of these bombs didn’t detonate, meaning large parts of Laos are still off limits, and over 50,000 people have been killed or maimed in the last 45 years.

The UXO Visitor Centre (UXO is short for unexploded ordnance) in Luang Prabang starkly lays out the human cost, and celebrates the incredible work of the UXOLao program. 

12. Give Blood

Things To Do in Luang Prabang - Give Blood

In Laos, 60,000 blood donations a year are needed, but currently they are only receiving around 30,000. As we passed the Friends Visitor Centre on our way to the UXO museum, it was clear they were having a big drive for donations.

Having seen some of the consequences of the ‘secret war’ in Laos, at the museum, we decided on the way back to head in and donate. Becca has done this many times, but for me it was my first!

It was surprisingly painless and easy, and the t-shirt they gave us to say thank you became an important part of my wardrobe for the rest of our trip!

They need all the help they can get, so if you are reading this in Luang Prabang, pop down to the location on the map at the top of this post, and do your bit. 

13. Check Out Luang Prabang’s Unusual Bridges

Bamboo Bridge - Luang Prabang

There are some quite unusual bridges in Luang Prabang.

One is made of bamboo and only exist in the dry season. It gets rebuilt every year by a local family, and they charge a small toll (around 45p) to walk across.

On the other side is a restaurant and bar named Dyen Sabai which has a relaxed feel, where entire afternoons can pass by laid out on a cushion with a cocktail.

Old Bridge - Luang Prabang

The second is bridge is named rather inventively, as, um Old Bridge!

Worryingly the bamboo lacing of the first actually felt more solid than the steel girders and scaffolding planks that make up Old Bridge. This seems to only be used by fearless scooter pilots and the occasional cow.

There are sections which hang off either side, and look like they’re meant for pedestrians. I say ‘look like’ as most of the locals seemed to favour braving oncoming traffic rather than using the narrow, creaking walkway!

Maybe they knew something we didn’t…

14. Donate Books to Local Schools

Donating Books in Luang Prabang

If giving blood was just too much, you can still top up your karma at Luang Prabang library. They run a book donation service, where you can buy from a selection of kid’s books, and then put them into book bags to be taken out to local schools. 

Wondering what to do next?

Check out my post – Where To Visit AFTER Luang Prabang (9 Ideas)

the reeves family picture


Reeves Roam, is a first-hand travel blog. The Reeves have lived in the UK, South Africa and Australia and have travelled extensively in Europe and Southeast Asia.

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Thanks – Ben, Becca and Gracie

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