A Guide to Luang Prabang: 12 Things to do
From one of Asia’s most spectacular waterfalls to a hugely popular local bowling joint, Nathan Aguilera looks at 12 of the best things to do in his guide to Luang Prabang.
Many travellers end up skipping Luang Prabang during their visit to Laos, instead choosing to focus on the previous party mecca of Vang Vieng. Yet those who do visit Luang Prabang, found in the north of this beautiful country, quickly consider it to be one of their favourite destinations in South East Asia.
There is much more to see and do in Luang Prabang than first expected. This guide will help you make the most of your time.
KUANG SI WATERFALLS
The main attraction in Luang Prabang is the Kuang Si Waterfalls, considered one of Asia’s most incredible water wonders. You can rent a bike, take a tuk tuk or go on an organised tour. Most people see the main fall from the park below, take their Instagram selfie and go. You can actually hike up behind the falls and find hidden wading pools. Your Instagram selfies will be much better than the ones taken by those who don’t make the hike! There is also a cave system you can explore near the top — locals will rent you a flashlight and hardhat.
HAGGLE AT THE NIGHT MARKET
You can’t visit Luang Prabang without exploring its buzzing night market. The market is busy and can get very crowded but that’s part of the appeal. Try your hand at haggling with the friendly shopkeepers. Top tip: Start by suggesting to pay 30% of their initial offer before finally landing closer to half.
RELAX WITH A TRADITIONAL LAOTIAN MASSAGE
Although neighbouring Thailand is world famous for its massages, a traditional Laotian massage is just as wonderful and can even cost you less! If your muscles are really hurting after hiking the waterfall then try the four hand massage.
DINE AT UTOPIA
Nearly everyone that passes through Luang Prabang ends up at Utopia, a traveller’s favourite. Featuring both western and local foods with impressive views of the river, Utopia serves as a chilled Zen spot during the day (they even have yoga!) before turning into one of the best lounges by night. It’s the perfect place to lounge around with a book by day before meeting friends to enjoy drinks and swap stories at night.
EXPLORE THE MANY TEMPLES (WATS)
Luang Prabang has an impressive collection of temples around the town. Varying in size and intricacy, it’s fascinating to be able to explore these religious sites at your leisure. In fact, there are 34 UNESCO protected temples all found in or near the town centre. Two of the must see temples, Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Khili, happen to be just across the street from one another. If you have limited time, you could book a tour that covers various temples.
CLIMB MOUNT PHOUSI
Referred to as a mountain, but perhaps actually more like a large hill, it’s worth the climb up 355 stairs to the top of Mount Phousi for incredible panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. There’s also a small temple at the top you can explore.
BOWL INTO THE NIGHT
This may sound like an odd suggestion but bowling in Luang Prabang has become a must on the backpacker circuit. The entire country of Laos has a nationwide curfew of midnight. This is so locals can wake early to pay alms to the monks. In places like Vang Vieng the curfew is widely disregarded. In Luang Prabang, it’s strictly enforced with most places closing by 11 p.m. The only place that seems immune to this is the local bowling alley. At night when you’re leaving bars or restaurants, tuk tuk drivers will be waiting to offer rides to the bowling alley. Jump in and go! There’s a fun mix of locals and foreigners there every night until 2 a.m.
WITNESS TAK BAT
On a morning when you haven’t been bowling the night before, you should take in Tak Bat, or the previously mentioned tradition of locals paying alms to the monks. It’s an incredible sight to witness; a single file line of orange robed monks carrying their alms bowls in front of them. Monks go in order of age, with the eldest going first. Locals and tourists alike lay offerings of food, flowers and incense in the bowls. Make sure to always remain respectful as this is an important local tradition that you are privileged to be able to observe.
TAKE A COOKING CLASS
Luang Prabang is the best place in all of Laos to learn how to cook traditional dishes. Classes are either full or half day experiences and all begin with a shopping trip to the local market for fresh ingredients. Next you’ll return to the school to begin learning how to prepare the dishes you’ve selected. Portions are always large enough to share with others in class so you’ll be able to try a bit of everything. Most schools even offer a cookbook so you can make the dishes for friends when you return home.
VISIT THE ROYAL PALACE MUSEUM
Learn a bit about your host country as you spend an hour checking out the Royal Palace Museum. The museum is a former royal residence and you are asked to enter it barefoot, leaving your shoes at the entrance.
COOK YOUR OWN DINNER
All over Laos you’ll see restaurants offering BBQs, but Luang Prabang seems to be the epicentre. Here, unlike a traditional BBQ spot, you’ll cook your own meal. The setup is like a combo hot pot/grill where you can grill meats on the top while cooking noodles, veggies and seafood in a bubbling broth. Make sure to try the water buffalo (it’s a local specialty!).
TRY A BEER LAO
There’s nothing better to wash your meal down with than the country’s national drink: Beer Lao. It’s a surprisingly good beer with one of the best slogans ever — “Beer of the Wholehearted People”. If you didn’t have one too many of these on bowling night, now is the perfect time to try this near ubiquitous drink.
WHERE TO STAY?
In response to the recent influx of tourism there are hotels and guesthouses for every budget throughout Luang Prabang. If you are a backpacker or on a smaller budget, you can find dorms and simple guesthouses tucked down small streets. Ask around and be sure to bargain the price down, especially if you are staying multiple nights.
For mid-range travellers check out the Mekong Sunset View Hotel. The hotel is within walking distance of both the National Palace and night market. Also, as you can guess from the name, the hotel offers terrific sunset views over the Mekong River. Be sure to ask for a balcony room on the second floor for the best views.
Originally published at www.travioor.com.