The Luang Prabang morning is a wonderful place to find interesting and authentic food, mountains of fresh locally grown vegetables, and an abundance of snacks for breakfast.
In this article I am going to give you the details on what to do and what to eat at the morning market in Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang might be a World Heritage City, but I would vote for it as a UNESCO Food Heritage City as well. There are just so many interesting and new foods to try, and you’ll find so many of them at the morning market.
Wonderful breakfast snacks, relaxed and friendly vendors, and miniature mountains of jungle vegetables overflow fresh produce tables.
Another great thing about the morning market is that it’s located right in the heart of old Luang Prabang, on the lanes surrounding Wat Mai, just off Sisavangvong Road. Many of the hotels and guest houses in Luang Prabang are in this area, so likely the market will be walking distance from where you stay (I really liked staying at Apple Guesthouse).
Far from the hectic market pace you might see in a bigger market like those in Vientiane, the Luang Prabang morning market is relaxed and moves at a slow pace – just like most things in the city.
Be on the lookout for the more rare items here like locally grown spices, forest-collected mushrooms, and other medicinal home remedies.
Perfect Morning Atmosphere
In Northern Laos, this town is a district capital, but Luang Prabang is also the largest town in this entire region. People wake up early to travel from surrounding villages, come to buy and sell food and produce in the larger markets here.
One thing you will notice immediately is how there are both common everyday vegetables sitting directly next to wildly unique jungle ingredients. I was surprised by a few things I didn’t even know were items of food.
This situation creates the perfect atmosphere for a hungry and curious food traveler like yourself.
The vendors start setting up before the sunrise, and it was already very busy when I walked up at about 7 AM.
Not ten steps from the entrance, I’d already spotted something new; Charcoal-grilled chunks of honeycomb, full of bee larvae, each one wrapped in a banana leaf.
I excitedly crouched down in front of a single grill tray, and the vendor cracked a smile. Guessing that this was a special item, I saw that even a few local shoppers were looking on with interest and buying it up quickly.
Prying open a banana leaf packet with one hand, I quickly counted out some small bills with the other.
A wonderfully smoky aroma escaped, with just a hint of moisture as well. Biting into it, there were so many different flavors going on that it took my brain a few seconds to catch up.
A slightly crispy exterior layer following just the slightest bit of sweetness – but the larvae were what really made this bite special. Yes, larvae, bursting with flavor, each a little packet of moisture. There must have been a hundred individually structured, slightly waxy pods in each banana pouch.
The banana leaves protect the moist larvae inside, while also being an earth-friendly package. I was absolutely delighted by the massive juice-explosion of taste bursting from this all-natural treat.
You don’t have to go searching through any forest canopy to find this – for just 5,000 Kip, you can enjoy a honeycomb and even watched them being grilled, right here in the morning market in Luang Prabang.
The Snacks are Endless and Seductive
Another dish that might seduce you at the morning market in Luang Prabang are these deep-fried mung bean coconut rice-cakes.
The chef ladles up some mashed beans and coats them with batter. Drizzling on a mixture of coconut milk and sticky rice flour is what gives these their sweet taste.
He dunks the combo into a pot of hot oil, smiles at the excited and hungry customer, and after about 20 seconds scoops the fritter into a serving dish piping hot.
Eat them immediately, always the best way to enjoy a morning treat like this, but don’t burn your mouth! The beans were so warming, so soothing to a hungry stomach in the cool Luang Prabang morning market air.
It’s a heartiness of fresh mung-beans, crunchy from fried flour on the outside, with a warm, soft interior.
Price: 5,000 Kip for two cakes
The Luang Prabang morning market is mainly along one long street, with an alley splitting off about halfway down. Near the T-Junction, immediately be on the lookout for a super-friendly Laos lady selling pieces of her home made meat cakes.
Naem is always made with pork, and it is sun-cured before being steamed in banana leaves. Commonly made as a mixed salad to have with rice, this is a different version – a slimy, porky, garlicky slice of meat pie.
You can see pork skin, glistening fat, large chunks of chewy pork collagen, and of course several fresh red chilis added on top. Maybe not the most appetizing dish at first glance, but I was blown away at how many textures were brought together in a single bite.
So many vendors serving up examples of the ingenuity present in Laos cuisine – like this Naem cake found here, they should be commended on how they use just about every single part of the animal.
Price: 5,000 Kip per piece
Influence from around Asia
There are also plenty of dishes in Laos cuisine that are similar to Vietnamese dishes as well. These hand-rolled noodles are made to order, the fresh ingredients combined with the cook’s own seasoned combo of minced meat, onions, and herbs.
There are several versions on a small menu behind her serving table, but the standard pork noodle wraps are so tasty that we couldn’t leave before finishing three whole plates. Each bite was a perfectly balanced combination of chives, green onions, garlic, and cilantro, covered so gently by the thinly stretched-thin- steamed rolled noodles.
Watching her hand-make each noodle is just fun on its own, the seating arrangement so close and personal. There is almost no space at all, and yet its still so incredible friendly.
Price: 10,000 Kip per plate
Among all the walking stalls at the morning market, there are also a few places where you can sit down for a bowl of noodles.
Khao Piak Sen is very different than the more famous Khao Soi in the type of noodles, the broth, and the entire chunks of meat it contains. This dish is totally a Laos comfort food, great for warming up any morning.
Adding a heaping spoonful of chili will light this dish up just right, and also be sure to throw in some herbs, and squeeze in the juice of a lime. The broth really is so good that its tough to not order a second bowl.
Price: 15,000 Kip per bowl
Quick Morning Market Story in Luang Prabang
It was a great morning experiencing this morning market in Luang Prabang, just before exiting the fresh market side street I remembered how Anthony Bourdain describes Laos as a “gentle place where one encounters many kindnesses.”
I already felt the same, but directly in front of me was a man selling his own recipe of Khao Jee (grilled sticky rice) who embodied this feeling perfectly.
Walking up, I heard him calling out a price of “5,000 Kip per stick,” speaking loudly, and showing a large smile.
When he noticed us though, walking as a family, he smiled even bigger and offered, “5,000 for two, they’re great!” Not done yet, because as I stopped front of his grill (which I learned was also the front of his home) he motioned as if to say that they tasted even better when sitting down right next to him.
The final offer turned into a ‘buy 2 get 1 free’ of sticky rice egg treats. He was just so friendly. We sat with him, literally behind his grill, and just chatted about life.
He even enjoyed a stick with us, lathering on his own recipe of mashed chili paste. Thick with Laos PaDaek fish sauce, smelling so wonderfully strong that it might make fellow market sellers jealous.
Times like these, brief experiences yet so representative of the heart-warming welcome you receive when traveling here. It assures I’ll always have fond memories from any time lucky enough to spend visiting Laos.
The morning market is one of the best places to visit in the city, and should be included in your Luang Prabang itinerary. I went just about every morning I was there, and discovered new things everyday.
The vibrantly colorful ingredients, the friendly people, and the delicious pre-cooked snacks, all contribute to its charm.
Thank you for reading this guide to the morning market in Luang Prabang, and enjoy the food!