Hugged by towering mountain ranges, lush greenery, and the majestic Mekong River, the small kingdom of Luang Prabang in Laos has for centuries been luxuriated in its royal patronage, glistening temples, and incredible Buddhist culture. Just 35 minutes away from the Laotian capital of Vientiane, its picturesque town is now marked a UNESCO Heritage Site, bringing throngs of travellers into the cosy town, and with them – a insatiable appetite for food, culture, and sightseeing. Planning a visit sometime soon? Then this four-day itinerary to Luang Prabang might just come in handy!
Day One: Street Food and Night Market
If you’re flying in via an international flight, chances are you will touch down into the city in the late afternoon. A taxi ride into the city centre, and your hotel, is a brief 15 to 20 minutes, and will set you back 50,000 kip (US$6). Once you’ve settled down, take a stroll down to the main Sisavangvong Road, which is closed to traffic from 5pm to 9pm daily as hundreds of vendors set up shop for the night market.
But before that, wind down over dinner in classic Laotian style at the market’s Food Street, which you’ll find near the central roundabout in Luang Prabang. Nibble on white sticky rice (a staple in Laos) as you munch on ping gai – barbecued chicken on hand-whittled skewers – and soupy bowls of khao piek sen chicken noodles. You’ll see the famous Luang Prabang sausage being grilled all over the street, and pots of assorted vegetables, carbs, and meats sold by the plate for around 20,000 kip (US$2.40).
Then, make your way back to the Night Market for souvenirs. Unlike a night market you might find in Bangkok, the stalls here are smaller in size and laid side by side on floor mats. You’ll find the usual suspects – think elephant pants and wooden bowls – alongside traditional Lao crafts, screen-printed canvases as well as antique relics from fallen temples and stupas. You can pick up some beautiful indigo mutmee skirts that are worn by the Lao women to the office, and other handwoven items like pouches and scarves.
Before retiring for the night, how about a nightcap? Make your way to Londoner Andrew Sykes’s 525 Bar along Kingkitsarath Road for the town’s best cocktails and some incredible tapas on the venue’s nostalgic garden benches and tropical foliage. Try the sumptuous New Old Fashioned with maple syrup and cinnamon infusion, or the signature 525 Evening Sky that mixes Absolut with tropical fruit juices. Alternatively, the Azerai Bar, inside Azerai Luang Prabang, is closer to town and has a great repertoire of classic cocktails prepared by well-trained locals.
Day Two: Natural Attractions and Bars
Near the Luang Prabang post office is Joma Bakery, a great spot for breakfast with excellent croissants, wraps, and organic, fair trade cuppas grown in Southern Laos. Then, make your way up to Ban Wat That and catch the 9am or 10am boat (US$25, entry) to Pha Tad Ke Botanical Gardens as you survey the town on both banks of the marvellous Mekong. Shimmy through the numerous woodsy trails in the private-owned lush gardens, visit the brilliant-smelling Ginger Garden, see the spectacular Pha Tad Ke limestone cave – with its own Buddha statue, to boot – and explore the many flora and fauna species unique to the region.
Back in town, you can easily find a shared taxi or tuk tuk to take you to the picture-perfect Kuang Si Falls for around approximately 50,000 kip (US$6) per person for a round-trip. The ride takes 45 minutes and note that once there, your driver will usually wait no longer than two hours for you to return. After paying the 20,000 kip admission fee, take a dip in the cool turquoise-green waters, snap a few photos, and don’t forget to visit the on-site Free the Bears enclosure, which houses more than 20 black moon bears that have been rescued from poachers. Also close by is the Kuang Si Butterfly Park opened by a Dutch couple, if you happen to, you know, like watching butterflies.
Tamarind Restaurant, on the peninsula along Kingkitsarath Road, serves up some splendid Laotian cuisine, ranging from platter combinations of dips and larb salads to soups, wraps (miang), larbs, stir-fried, and grilled dishes. If you’re feeling like Italian food, Secret Pizza opens thrice weekly in the home garden of Andrea Cassinis and Phoutsady “Lee” Vangsengxiong about 10 minutes out, boasting authentic pizzas from 60,000 kip (US$7.20). After dinner, bar hop the ‘bar street’ at the back of Phousi Hill just before it hits Nam Khan River. The Red Bul Bar is a popular party spot for sports lovers, while Lao Lao Garden sees a beautiful candle-lit al fresco area with basic cocktails and some of the local Lao Lao whisky, produced with purple glutinous rice – mmm.
Day Three: Alms Giving and Temple Hunting
If you can rise early enough, the sacred alms-giving ritual of Tak Bat, is an experience to remember. Every morning around 5.45am, saffron-robed monks from the 34 wats in town walk through the town collecting rice and other edible offerings for their day’s food. If you wish to participate in the ceremony, your hotel can arrange that for you, or you can simply watch from the side.
Afterwards, make your way to the Morning Market (6.30am to 10am) in the alleys just off Sisavangvong Road, where you’ll find throngs of locals, and the occasional tourist buying fruits and vegetables, sampling spices, stocking up on ever-important chillies, and picking up breakfast – parcels of sweet rice wrapped in banana leaf. If you’re game, a butcher’s section in the middle offers everything from buffalo lungs to fresh blood cakes.
On your walk to the 16th century Wat Xieng Thong, you can stop by the younger Wat Sene with its beautiful cascading four-tiered roof and numerous Buddhist novices roaming about. When at Wat Xieng Thong (20,000 kip, entry), look out for the famous sloping curved roof and spectacular ‘Tree of Life’ mosaic inside. On the grounds, you’ll see the gargantuan funeral chariot of King Sisavang Vong.
After lunch, spend the rest of the afternoon temple hunting – there are Wat Mai, Wat Siphoutthabath, and Wat Mahathat along the main stretch, and tens more around the city – or you can lie the day away on the day beds at Utopia over bottles of beer at incredible prices. If you’re in need of a massage, you’ll find plenty of parlours everywhere you go, with an hour-long full-body session starting from as low as 50,000 kip. You will want to take an easy 10-minute stair-climb up to Mount Phousi (20,000 kip, entry) for glorious views of Luang Prabang. Though the view is best at sunset, climb a bit earlier before 5pm to avoid the crowd.
Hungry after the hike? Check out one of the many riverside DIY barbecue restaurants, known as sindat, along Khem Khong Road. There are meats, seafood, fish balls, tofu, vegetables, and more, but make sure you cook everything properly – the hygiene can be very haphazard. Tuck in from 5pm for around 65,000 kip (US$8) per person.
Day 4: Museums and Souvenir-Shopping
Take it easy on your final day – you can visit the Royal Palace Museum (open 8am to 11.30am and 1.30pm to 4pm daily except Tuesday) located on Thanon Sisavangvong in the city centre. Built by French colonialists in the early 1900s, the stunning building is a blend of Lao and French architecture, and sees a large statue of the Laotian royal symbol – a three-headed elephant under a parasol. Inside, marvel at the resplendent throne with shining with Japanese glass mosaics, lapis lazuli elephants, gold-gilded pillars, and intricate golden robes, and see the various quarters of the royal family.
Along the nearby Sakkaline Road, you will encounter plenty of shops selling Laotian crafts and souvenirs, from heritage textiles at Ock Pop Tok to indigenous-inspired hemp and leather bags stitched with modern sensibilities at Passa Paa. The demure sinh – Laos’ iconic national dress – get a classy makeover at the Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre (25,000 kip, entry) as you browse through hundreds of ready-to-wear clothing and accessories painstakingly crafted by local women.
Have even more time to spare? Grab a cuppa at Luang Prabang’s best coffee house, Saffron Cafe, located in a wooden house on Khem Khong Road right opposite the river. Featuring speciality Arabica beans grown in Northern Lao, enjoy an amazing hand-brew and support the local hill tribe farmers at the same time.
General tips for travelling in Luang Prabang:
- Rent a mountain bicycle for 20,000 kip to help you get around, or if you’re confident enough, get a motorbike at 80,000 kip for a manual and 110,000 for an automatic – you’ll have to exchange your passport for this. The Lao are generally safe drivers, but always be vigilant. Also note that Laos is a right-hand-side driving country.
- When shopping in the night market, be sure to ask around different stores to get a fairer price, but don’t bargain too hard or undercut the vendors as they are all trying to make a decent living for their families. The same goes for tuk tuk prices, and do try to pay with exact change.
- When participating in or observing the morning alms-giving ritual, do exercise discretion when taking photos and avoid getting up close with the monks or blocking the path.
- Always wear sun protection and bring a hat – the midday sun in Luang Prabang can be scorching throughout the year.
This post is written in collaboration with SilkAir.
SilkAir, the regional wing of Singapore Airlines, currently operates about 400 flights a week to 53 destinations in 16 countries. The destinations SilkAir operates to are within a six-and-a-half-hours flying duration from Singapore, with the furthest destination being Cairns in Australia. Come October 31st, SilkAir will be operating to its newest destination, Hiroshima, Japan. At the moment, the combined Singapore Airlines and SilkAir network covers over 100 destinations in 36 countries.
SilkAir’s positioning as a premium, short-to-medium haul regional carrier gives it a unique appeal amongst leisure and business travellers in Asia. Whilst offering carefully selected meals, a full bar service and complimentary inflight entertainment, SilkAir places great emphasis on providing attentive, friendly and relaxing service. The carrier’s regional flair is expressed through both its cabin crew and its cuisine – ensuring that your experience of the destination you’re heading to begins when you step onto our plane.
For more information on flights to Luang Prabang, find out here.