Luang Prabang, Laos, was the ancient, royal capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom, until King Phothisart relocated the capital to Vientiane in 1545. Situated in Northern Laos and encircled by mountains along the Mekong River, Luang Prabang is considered the heart of Laotian culture.
Laos was granted self-rule from the French in 1949. In 1989, the nation opened its land locked doors for tourist travel in Laos. The city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. Today, Luang Prabang is a cultural hub, featuring a mixture of French and Laotian cultural opportunities that our Laos travel tips will help you enjoy.
Taking a bicycle tour is an easy way to get around the city. My group peddled to the Wat Xiang Thong monastery, also known as the Golden Tree Monastery. The site is famous for the coronation of Lao Kings and a gathering place for annual festivities. The original temple was created in 1560. When visiting, it’s customary to cover your shoulders and knees.
To get to Laos, you can take a bus from Chiang Rai, Thailand, to the border, which costs about 65 Baht ($2 US). On arrival, you can get your visa ($30 US) to enter Laos, but you must pay in cash. Once you’re in Loas, use the following Laos travel tips to create your adventure!
You can start the journey in Huay Xai by boarding a riverboat that cruises for 7 pleasant hours, floating down the Mekong River. As you go, enjoy the surrounding mountains and tiny villages along the river. The crew fixes a buffet lunch with traditional meat, fish, vegetables, and rice. Beer Lao is also on sale for $0.30 USD.
You can leave your luggage on the boat and take an overnight bag to your hotel. Children will follow you up the hill, offering to carry your bag for tips ($1 US = 8151.95 Laotian Kip). I stayed at the Mekong Riverside Lodge for a good night’s sleep. There’s not much else to do in town. The next morning after breakfast in the misty mountains, I boarded the boat again to travel 7 hours to Luang Prabang.
Visiting the caves is great way to break up the long boat ride and experience Laotian culture. Disembark at the Pak Ou Caves, located about three and a half hours outside Luang Prabang. There are two famous caves cut into the limestone cliffs, jam packed full of Buddha images of all sizes and styles. To reach the upper caves, follow the stairs to the left for a brief climb. You can make an offering to the Buddhas for a small fee, or just enjoy the fact that you’re in Laotian a cave full of antiquated Buddhas.
A short distance from the city ― around 29 km (18 mi) ― is a stunning 60 m (197 ft) waterfall cascading into cool, milky blue pools flowing downstream. The pools are fun swimming holes. As a side note: The tree you’ll likely want to climb to jump in the water is extremely slippery. The hiking trails around this area are also slippery. I learned this the hard way, when I got an all-encompassing butt bruise from falling. The falls are a fun afternoon activity for enjoying the natural side of Laos.
Alms giving takes place daily as the sun rises on the main street. You purchase food in advance ― usually rice, fresh fruit, and traditional sweet snacks. As the monks ascend, you kneel on the side of the street, offering the 200 passing Buddhist monks gifts of food, which is their one meal of the day. The tradition of alms dates back to the 14th century and is one of the most quiescent, introspective, spiritual occasions I have witnessed.
As you travel in Laos, also make a point to see the Royal Palace Museum, which was once Lao’s Royal Palace. It’s home to many interesting historical items and is a great place to learn history about the country’s royal families. It’s also a place to dress conservatively. Don’t forget to remove your shoes before entering.
One of the most important Laos travel tips for party lovers: Luang Prabang isn’t a nightlife destination, as the local custom is custom is to rise at five am and go to bed around eleven pm. But there are a few nightlife gems to explore. My favorite bar is Utopia. I felt as if I was walking into a tree house full of lovely people from all over the world.
I was invited to play beach volleyball after dinner. Later, a movie played in the background, as I reclined on comfortable lounges and chatted the night away with new friends over beer.
When you visit the night markets, your olfactory senses will be overwhelmed! The night markets are full of food stalls that hold everything you can imagine. I ate a grilled fish served to me on a stick and went back for more. Keep in mind the markets close around 9 p.m.