Why You Should Add Luang Prabang to Your Travel Bucket List
Luang Prabang features spectacular jungle waterfalls, epic sunsets over the Mekong and rewarding treks to rural villages. If you're headed to Asia, make sure to stop in Luang Prabang, Laos.
When people talk about visiting Southeast Asia, they usually focus on places like Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, often neglecting Laos. I was definitely guilty. Before coming to Laos, I had visited Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and even Myanmar. While Laos was never high on my travel list, after a few days there, it quickly became one of my favorite places.
Before I dive into why you have to visit, let me tell you a little about Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang is a city (city being a relative term for Laos, it's a small, walkable town) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Northern Laos. There are direct flights here from international destinations including Thailand and Vietnam, which makes it a good jumping off point for further exploration in Laos.
Luang Prabang is a beautifully preserved city, having received UNESCO status due to the unique mix of traditional structures and French Colonial architecture. One of my favorite features of the city is its location at the confluence of the Mekong and Nham Khan Rivers, which means you can watch sunrise and sunset over the water.
So why visit Luang Prabang?
1. Seriously Stunning Waterfalls
Located about ~20 miles outside of Luang Prabang, the Kuang Si Falls are one of the main tourist draws in Laos. That shouldn't dissuade you from visiting though, as it's possible to make a trip feel entirely "un-touristy." You can read up on the adventure here. The easiest way to get to the falls is to take a tuk tuk. There are scheduled departures every day at 11:30am and 1:30pm, which are the cheapest option since you're sharing the cost across a full tuk tuk. Instead, I'd recommend finding a few friends and hiring your own tuk tuk (I did it solo) so you can depart on your own schedule. By leaving around 8:00am, I was able to explore the falls for an hour before I saw another person. There's a second set of falls that are a bit more remote called Tad Sae. Just check ahead if these falls are flowing as Tad Sae tends to dry out when the rainy season ends.
2. Beautiful Sunsets over the Mekong
The Mekong River flows along the west side of Luang Prabang and provides a stunning foreground every night for sunset. To catch the perfect sunset, you have a few options. You can hike to the top of Mt. Phousi,, which provides expansive views of the surrounding area but also gets fairly crowded. Another option is to hire a boat and then cruise along the Mekong for sunset. My personal favorite is watching sunset from the upper banks of the Mekong. You're high enough up to see all the boats on the river and there's ample space for everyone.
3. Endless Trekking Opportunities
If you're reading this article on The Outbound, I'm going to assume you like outdoor adventure and hiking. Well, Luang Prabang has incredible trekking, ranging from day hikes to week-long adventures. You can set this up before you arrive or just pop into one of the many offices in town. The two most reputable companies seem to be Tiger Trails and White Elephant. A good starter trek is an overnight jungle hike and homestay which provides an eye-opening look at daily life in rural Laos villages.
4. Hand-made Bamboo Bridges
The Nham Khan bamboo bridges are constructed during the dry season and then wash away during the wet season. The bridge I crossed was built each year by a single family, who charges a small fee as their main source of income. The bridges are a fun albeit wobbly way to cross the river and reach the village, Wat and restaurants on the other side.
5. Witness the Buddhist Alms Giving Ceremony
Every morning before dawn, Luang Prabang locals gather in the dark to offer rice, fruit and other snacks to monks from their local temples. This tradition of giving alms dates back centuries and provides the monks with food for their only meal each day. I don't have a photos for the alms ceremony, because to me, it meant more to stand back and watch this peaceful procession from afar.
If that wasn't enough, Luang Prabang also has a bustling night market, a growing restaurant scene (seriously, the food at Tangor is incredible), the famous bar Utopia, and countless elephant camps. If you're into elephants, check out the Elephant Conservation Center. They're focused on the protection and well-being of Asian elephants, which thankfully means you can't ride the elephants. You will get the opportunity to interact with these gentle creatures and learn about the center's important conservation work.
After you've had your fill in Luang Prabang, head north to Nong Khiaw to get even more off the beaten path. Laos may not have the same name recognition as places like Thailand, but it's well worth a stop on your next trip to Southeast Asia.
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.