7 Reasons Why You’ll Love Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang is a truly magical city, it’s hard not to fall in love with it. It’s setting is beautiful, there are 33 gilded wats, gorgeous french-influenced boutique hotels and architecture and a thriving food scene. There are so many reasons to fall in love with Luang Prabang, Laos – these are my top 7.

1  The Natural Beauty of it’s Setting

Sitting on the confluence of the Mekong and the Khan Rivers, Luang Prabang sits 700m above sea level and is encircled by green mountains. The river, dense forests and mists give it a really mystical feel, almost as if you’ve gone back in time. You can’t fail to be struck by the calming, slow-flowing waters and gentle pace of life. I definitely felt a sense of peace strolling along the riverside.

7 Reasons Why You'll Love Luang Prabang, Laos

2  The French Influence

In 1887, the Black Flag Army devastated Luang Prabang and in the wake of this the city decided to accept French protection. The city became first choice for French colonials seeking refuge as far from Paris as possible. Amazingly, Luang Prabang survived Japanese invasion and US bombing but in the 1980’s the city suffered a mass exodus of business people, aristocracy and academics, turning it from a proud, regal, thriving city into a ghost of its former self. In 1989, the return of private enterprise meant once dilapidated shops and buildings were being reopened and turned into cafes, restaurants and boutique hotels.

The city received UNESCO world heritage status in 1995 which really put it on the international spectrum and protected future development, meaning any new buildings must remain true to the spirit of the past. The 21st century has brought more prosperity with galleries, top class restaurants and bars opening by the dozen and attracting a well-heeled crowd once again. It’s wonderful to roam the streets and alleys and make sure you visit one of the french bakeries – JOMA does great pastries and fair-trade coffee.

7 Reasons Why You'll Love Luang Prabang, Laos

3  Tat Kuang Si Waterfalls

30km south west of Luang Prabang, the Tat Kuang Si Waterfalls are a series of cascading tiers, stunning turquoise pools and limestone formations. Don’t be put off by the hawkers and slightly seedy parking area – once you begin the walk up to the falls, it really does begin to feel like paradise. The pools are perfect for swimming in and there are basic (and very dark) changing cubicles. It’s a little chilly when you first get in (and beware of jagged rocks underfoot) but well worth it!

There’s a bear sanctuary (the Kuang Si rescue centre) here too – the bears that live here are wild moon bears that have been saved from the poachers who sell them to farms to make chinese medicine. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to go in but you can see into the enclosure on your way up to the waterfalls.

7 Reasons Why You'll Love Luang Prabang, Laos

4  The Temples, Particularly That Chomsi at Sunset

There are 33 gilded wats in Luang Prabang which are beautiful to stroll around. Each one has it’s own history and it’s well worth paying to go inside some of the larger ones. That Chomsi sits on top of 100m-tall Phu Si Hill and is reached by a 329-stair climb.

There are a few different ways to climb up, but try and make sure you get there for sunset – the view is breath taking. It gets pretty crowded and if you want a clear view (and not one of selfie sticks, someone else’s rucksack or hat) then make sure you get there in plenty of time to get a good spot.

7 Reasons Why You'll Love Luang Prabang, Laos

5  The Night Market and Arts & Crafts Scene

The night market is probably the best one I have been to in Asia – it has some really good quality handcrafted items and although made for tourists, the prices are fair and there are no hard sells. There are beautiful silk scarves and wall hangings, intricately designed ceramics, silver items and colourful cotton dresses. It opens around 6pm and stalls start to close at 10pm – it’s well worth a stroll along.

7 Reasons Why You'll Love Luang Prabang, Laos

The arts and crafts scene is big in Luang Prabang and there are galleries, art cafes and craft centres to reflect this. Luang Prabang Artisans is situated down a narrow lane and sells hand-crafted items in an 100-year-old wooden building. There is a large plant-filled garden and cafe with a shaded terrace – perfect for chilling out.

The Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Centre is also worth a visit – you can take a tour to see how they dye the silk or do one of a number of half to 3 day courses including weaving, batik and natural dyeing.  Situated right on the Mekong, there are serene gardens, hammocks to relax in and a riverside restaurant. The restaurant service was not great, but the food was delicious.

7 Reasons Why You'll Love Luang Prabang, Laos

6  The Rivers and their Bridges

The waterfront is the lifeblood of Laos, especially in Luang Prabang. You can walk north-east around the peninsula hugging the Mekong and then round the top to walk back south-west along the Nam Khan – the riverside views are dreamy. There are lots of small alleyways full of hidden gems (temples, cafes, shops etc) that connect the two rivers which are also well worth a wander down.

In dry season (December – May) you can cross the Nam Khan bamboo bridge (the bridge is reconstructed every year after rainy season) to reach a handful of serene cafes and restaurants on the other bank. It’s a steep climb up some stairs to the wonderful garden cafe, Dyen Sabai. It’s one of the top restaurants in Luang Prabang – go for one of the tasting platters and try and bag one of the riverfront tables with recliner cushions in open-sided bamboo huts. Their banana daiquiris are to die for too.

7 Reasons Why You'll Love Luang Prabang, Laos

Assuming you haven’t got so relaxed on the recliners with a steady flow of banana daiquiris in your hand that you stayed there all night, you can walk back across the ‘Old Bridge’. It’s definitely best to attempt this after no more than 2 daiquiris – the name says it all. It has to be the scariest bridge I’ve ever walked across. Scooters and bikes cross on the main bridge and there is a one-person wide pedestrian bridge attached slightly lower to the side. High above the Nam Khan and entirely made of wood, there were a lot of planks missing, super wobbly sections and in some places, gaps that were big enough to fall through. Not for the faint-hearted. We were hugely relieved when we made it to the other side.

7  Utopia Bar

You can’t go to Luang Prabang without a visit to Utopia. Hidden at the bottom of a long alley way, the sprawling bar is incredibly designed with faux temple ruins, creeper vines and beautifully candlelit low tables surrounded by striped cushions. I loved it as soon as I walked in. If you head for the outdoor decking, you’re required to take your sandals off – just remember where you put them as when we came to put ours back on, it was just a sea of flip-flops that all looked the same! The views over the river are beautifully peaceful and it’s very easy to while away a good few hours here – it’s just a shame it closes at 11pm.

7 Reasons Why You'll Love Luang Prabang, Laos

If you do visit Luang Prabang and Laos, just make sure you don’t come home with any leftover Kip like I did – it’s a closed currency and you can’t exchange them anywhere outside of the country. Not that I was too disappointed – it’s a great excuse to return 🙂

If you are interested in my trip, I travelled with G Adventures for 2 weeks on their Thailand and Laos Adventure Tour.

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7 Reasons why you'll love Luang Prabang, Laos

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22 Replies to “7 Reasons Why You’ll Love Luang Prabang, Laos”

  1. This makes me want to plan a vacation!!! I liked how detailed it was. It seems like you have been there you know it so well. The format of the article is organized and easy to understand. The article was great especially the pictures! I really like your title and the different parts of the city you chose to talk about as well as its history. Awesome article!

  2. I have not yet visited Laos or the surrounding countries but they keep getting higher on my list. Luang Prabang sounds great and not overrun with tourists. I like going to markets so the night markets as well as the Living Crafts Centre would definitely be on my itinerary. I am happy that the city was re-invigorated in the late 80’s and gained UNESCO recognition.

  3. Hello there,
    It’s nice to see what you see as you write your blogs. Thank you for the live descriptions that you provide they are really enchanting and they make one really want to follow your foot steps. Laos used to be such a problem spot in the world when I was growing up so it is kind of strange to relate to it as a vacation place.
    gain, thanks for the rich description.
    Eli

  4. I recently saw someone else’s pictures of Tat Kuang Si Waterfalls and I knew I wanted to get there! I am sure I’ll love Luang Prabang in Laos, if I get myself there. I am planning a 2 week Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos trip later this year, fingers crossed, if things fall in place, I will be there! Thanks for these 7 recommendations, I particularly love the night market!

  5. Luang Prabang looks like a great place to visit, and I wouldn’t have realised the French influence. The lake views really do look dreamy, and I’d definitely go and visit Utopia – sounds like a bar I’d love to drink at!

  6. Hi Louise,

    Great article!

    Just by looking at the beautiful pictures, it makes me want to travel right away to Luang Prabang Laos. This place sounds fantastic. I want to make a trip with my children and my husband, and I didn’t know where to go. There are many beautiful places in the world, but I wanted something more special. I’ll definitely put this place on my bucket list. Just a question, please. Do non-citizen US need a passport to enter Luang Prabang Laos?

    Thank you for this excellent post!

    1. Hi Daniella. 

      You can get visas on arrival for most countries as far as I’m aware. However, there are slightly different charges depending on where you’re from!

      Louise

  7. This is such a wonderful trip down memory lane for me. I was there 3 years ago, and lived again through your pictures and descriptions. I appreciate the depth of your history – I didn’t know some of the background. Wholehearted agree with you on the bridges, and Utopia was such a lovely hidden oasis. I have to go back!!

  8. Always enjoy reading travel blogs and I like the layout of your website.

    I’ve done travelling in the past (New York, Sydney, Hong Kong, Spain etc) but have never tried Laos. Looking at your website, it looks like a great place to visit and explore new cultures. Will definitely put that on my list as a place to visit.

    Many Thanks
    Steven

  9. I loved yoga at both Utopia and the Living Craft centre – just another thing I loved about LP. It really is a stunning place and one of my favourite in Asia

  10. LP is an amazing city, despite the intrusion from foreign powers, it rose from its humble beginnings to become a UNESCO world heritage site. Tat Kuang Si is one of the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve seen. I would like to see those wats, maybe not all but most of them. Someday I would like to travel extensively in SE Asia and Laos would definitely be included.

  11. I just spent most of October last year in Luang Prabang and all of these were reasons I loved it. The Canadian owners of JOMA have a great thing going there. We had something there almost daily. I highly recommend their strawberry milkshakes and any of their sandwiches. Kuang Si is probably the most beautiful waterfall I’ve ever visited as well. Great tips!

  12. This place looks amazing! I feel like I would fit in well there and would love to visit.
    It seems like a very cultural atmosphere with the marketplace, and the waterfalls look beautiful.
    I love that you explained everything in so much detail and really gave me an idea of what it would be like in Luang Prabang.
    I will definitely be adding this to my list of places to go someday!

  13. Gee, Laos has a rich history. I suppose anywhere does when you’re an Aussie! I’ve heard a lot about Laos as my father-in-law used to travel there as an electrical engineer working on large electrical towers. As this was going back 20-30 years, he didn’t like the food as it is tradition Asian as opposed to Western Asian! He does mention what a lovely place it is.
    Having been to other asian countries, you’re spot on when you say don’t be put off by hawkers. If you were put off you’d miss out on a lot.

  14. This is such a beautiful city! You were able to capture so much of its beauty in all of your photos. That waterfall looks absolutely flawless! I would be very interested in visiting the night market and the arts and crafts scene. What was your favorite thing about Luang Prabang Laos during your visit?

    1. Hi Josephine, I would say the waterfall was definitely up there! Or walking up to the top of Phu Si hill at sunset – that was a pretty amazing experience too. Not to mention all the wonderful food…..;-)

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