Luang Prabang, the provincial capital of north Laos, is set on the bank side of the upper reaches of the Mekong River and surrounded by beautiful forest covered limestone mountains.
The city is renowned for its unique combination of beautiful temples and historical French colonial architecture. Luang Prabang was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. This has, thankfully, restrained the pace of development.
Here is a selection of additional things to do and see in Luang Prabang (in addition to visiting the beautiful Buddhist temples).
Cycle around town - Most hotels have bicycles that guests can borrow. This is the best way to explore the city.
National Museum - The surprisingly good National Museum is located in what was the Royal Palace of the King of Luang Prabang. Built in a style inspired by both French and temple architecture and home to the 14th century Buddha image ‘Pha Bang’ – from which Luang Prabang derives its name.
Watch the sunset from Phou Si Stupa. - Also known as Wat That Chomsi, this golden stupa is located at the top of Phou Si, a small hill in the center of Luang Prabang that is forested with frangipani and hibiscus. Excellent views across the town and a beautiful place to watch the sunset over the distant mountains.
Night Market – A relaxed experience compared with those found in larger Asian cities. The main Sisavangvong Road is closed at 5pm each night and rows of stalls are erectly selling local textiles and Lao handicrafts.
Morning Alms Giving Ceremony – Get up early (6am) to witness the paraded of 200 or more monks walking along streets lined with people who offer food and pay their respects. This is a beautiful religious ceremony that is still an important aspect of Laos life.
Kuang Si and Tad Se Waterfalls - These are the largest and most dramatic waterfalls in the region. Located about 15 kilometers south of the city. Also home to the Bear Rescue Centre (four-legged animal type!).
Boat Trip on The Mekong to Tam Ting – Take a long boat for a 2-hour trip 25 km upstream to the caves at Tam Ting – a shrine filled with 2500 Buddha images.
Visas - Available on arrival for most travellers. The visa fee depends on nationality but is typically US$35 plus a $1 processing fee.
Currency - Kip, but the Thai Baht is accepted everywhere. If you pay in Thai Baht then change will be given in Kip. If you are travelling from Bangkok, bring Thai Baht plus US dollars for the visa fee. No need to buy Kip in advance.
Weather - Even in the middle of summer, the early mornings and late evenings can be cool. Bring a light jacket or similar. The sun is very strong during the day, so don’t forget sunblock lotion and a hat.
How to get there - Daily flights from Bangkok with Bangkok Airways. Lao Airlines and Vietnam Airlines operate a daily services from Hanoi.
Airport transfers – There is a well-organised taxi service at the airport. Expect to pay about $10US to most destinations in the town.
Getting around Luang Prabang – Walking, cycling or tuk-tuk. Expect to pay around 40 baht per person in a tuk-tuk for any trip in the town.
How long to stay - We suggest two days / three nights.
What to wear – Remember that you will be visiting temples and other historical sites. T-shirts and shorts are ok but tank tops would not be considered respectful.
Eating and Drinking – There is a great choice of good quality restaurants and cafés in Luang Prabang offering a wide variety of both Asian and European food and drinks (most also offer free Wi-Fi). Drink bottled water.
Gay scene - None that we are aware of. A popular gay bar (Blue Ice) that opened a few years ago closed in 2011. Gay travellers receive exactly the same welcome as anyone else in hotels, restaurants and cafés. If you want to hook up with a local, then use a dating site in advance. When we checked (Jan 2012), there were not many local guys on Grindr.
Luang Prabang has a surprisingly good choice of hotels, from budget-level backpacker guesthouses to luxurious 5-star resorts.
We think that it’s a good idea to be within walking distance of the old town center. This gives you freedom to explore this historic town at your own pace, either on foot or on a cycle. Below are our suggestions or click here to search all hotels in Luang Prabang.
Old Prison Road | map
8.8 Very Good based on 41 Agoda reviews
Why this hotel: Central location. Superb dining. Beautiful surroundings.
Hotel de la Paix is located in what was the former city jail, now converted into a stylish resort retaining both the high boundary walls, watch towers and cell blocks.
The cells are now luxury guest rooms, all of which have their own private gardens. We love the super-high ceilings, huge showers and bath tubs and exceptionally comfortable beds. Excellent high speed WiFi available for free in your room, your garden (from which this entry is actually being written) and the public areas.
The hotel is comfortably within walking distance of Sisavangvong Road – the heart of Luang Prabang. There are a number of cycles that you can borrow to explore the city.
Latest user reviews:
BP 158, Town Center | map
8 Good based on 160 Agoda reviews
Why this hotel: Stylish design. Near city center. Great value.
The main building at Villa Maly was built in 1938 by His Royal Highness Khamtan Ounkham, a grandson of a Laos king, Kham Souk Zakarine. Today, Villa Maly is a beautiful hotel with 33 French classically-styled guest rooms set in mature gardens around a pool and sun terrace.
The hotel is located in a quiet street, just a 10-minute walk from the Night Market, shops and restaurants along the main street in Old Town. Most of the main historical sites are also within walking distance. Friendly service and good value for money.
Kingkitsalath Road, Ban Khily | map
8.2 Very Good based on 215 Agoda reviews
Why this hotel: Riverside location. Close to Night Market. Gay-owned.
The gay-owned Villa Deux Rivières is located on the bank of the Nam Khan River (a tributory that feeds into the Mekong river about 400 meters away), about a 15-minute walk from the Night Market and main street restaurants and cafés.
The hotel offers 17 comfortable rooms within low-rise buildings set around a small garden. The rooms are decorated in traditional Laotian style – all with air conditioning, minibar, safe, LCD TV and free WiFi. Bicycle rental is available.