In this best things to do in Luang Prabang post, you’re about to get first-hand tips on some of the top attractions and especially local food to eat, in one full action packed do-it-yourself-day-tour of the city.
Luang Prabang is an UNESCO World Heritage City, packed with culture, natural beauty, and delicious food, not to mention an atmosphere that will overwhelm you with relaxation.
You’re about to have an ultimate one-day tour of Luang Prabang!
1. 6 AM – Catch the Sunrise at Phou Si Mountain
Make sure you get a good night sleep (we had a fantastic stay at the budget Apple Guest House, or a great higher end option is Burasari Heritage Luang Prabang), and you’ll need to wake up early to make the most of your day.
The view of the Luang Prabang sunrise is completely unobstructed when you reach the top of Phou Si Mountain. The climb is all steps, short but steep, with a few switchbacks. This climb will take anywhere from 10-15 minutes, and there’s a small entry fee of 10,000 kip when you reach the temple. Seeing the sun come up – its an immediate payoff to reward your early morning fitness.
By the way, we got an insider tip that I’ll pass on to you – don’t climb the main staircase (the one across from the Royal Palace Museum), you will come down that way instead.
There are several entrances, and I recommend you start from a staircase next to the Ikon Club (Hungarian owned-small yet popular spot for live music). There are some red brick stairs and a large gap in the wall, find your way through the misty morning air and you’ll have the path to yourself.
2. 7 AM – Eat at the Morning Market
Exploring and snacking through Luang Prabang’s morning market is one of the best things to do in Luang Prabang – something you don’t want to miss.
From Phousi Mountain, walk back down the much larger staircase on the NorthWest side (museum side). Take a left when you reach the bottom of the stairs, and you will see the market sellers setting up shop on a small street about 100 meters down the road. This is where your morning market exploration and snacking begins.
The morning market in Luang Prabang is much more relaxed and low-key than the morning Khua Din market in Vientiane.
Enjoy the smiles from vendors as you double take at a few items I can guarantee you’ve not seen for sale on the aisles of any supermarket chain – if you’re lucky it will be the right time of year for traditional grilled honeycomb. The one we had came with the bee’s larvae still inside.
Walking a bit further, be on the lookout for this wonderful little table under a big canvas umbrella. You sit at the chef’s table and watch as she uses her own technique of steaming, rolling, and wrapping at top speed, to make you a plate of hand-rolled noodle pouches, similar to Vietnamese banh cuon.
Here’s the small list of snacks we had, but there were just so many more things to try.
- Grilled beehive – 5,000 LAK ($0.60) each
- Mung bean cake – 5,000 LAK ($0.60) for 2
- Khao gee – 5,000 LAK ($0.60) for 3 sticks
- Noodle rolls (pictured above) – 10,000 LAK ($1.20) per plate
- Khao piak sen – 15,000 LAK ($1.80) per bowl
The morning market in Luang Prabang is one of the greatest places in the city to get a feel for the northern Laos culture, and along with delicious snacks, you’ll find an abundance of Lao food ingredients and genuinely friendly vendors.
3. 9 AM – Its Time For (Another) Breakfast
Yes, you would be right to assume that among all the things to do in Luang Prabang, we think eating is a priority.
In Luang Prabang, you may have seen Khao Soi on a menu by now (a northern Lao noodle specialty, much different from most versions of khao soi in Thailand), and if you haven’t tried it, then you’re in for a treat.
This local family serves each bowl of noodles with care, right from the doorstep of their own home. They open each morning, sell until they’re out, and they have been doing it here for almost 20 years.
Their Khao Soi is sensationally good.
They’ve maintained quality without having high prices – you can see they just love what they do by the fact that there are only 4 wooden tables for seating.
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Be sure to make full use of the small mountain of herbs that accompanies each bowl. I asked for seconds on the soup actually, it was so smooth and meaty, perfectly warming in the chilly morning atmosphere.
Each bowl of Khao Soi will cost you 20,000 Kip, and I recommend also trying one of the coconut wedges that you see waiting on each table (wrapped in a banana leaf, or already arranged on a plate).
To get there: Walk East down the main street several blocks and pass the area where the monks will collect alms each morning (this area is blocked off until 7am, you will notice this intersection as it is right next to the ‘secret’ entrance to the Phou Si Temple climb). Continue a few blocks, the street is much more quiet, you will see the Wat Sene Temple on your left, and khao soi breakfast on your right.
Watch the video of this day
Most of the activities in this one day in Luang Prabang itinerary are included in this video. Press play to watch it now, or watch it on YouTube here.
4. 10 AM – Visit a Temple
Read any Luang Prabang travel guide, and they’ll recommend visiting so many temples – and it’s true – on the small peninsula there’s a high density of temples.
Wat Xieng Thong is a group of temple buildings all decorated differently with a variety of purposes.
Full of history, vibrant and artistic, it is worth spending an hour or two exploring this large courtyard full of Laos’ religious culture.
Walk around, take your time experiencing the serenity that is the lifeblood of Luang Prabang. Learn about the traditions of Laos while the treats from this morning have time to digest. Be ready with renewed energy for the next round of deliciousness.
Another temple you can visit, directly opposite from the Khao Soi restaurant is the large Wat Sene temple.
5. 12 PM – It’s Som Tam time
Just about every street in this wonderful country will have at least one stand selling either Som Tam, Laos-style sausages, or both.
Everywhere we went, people were telling us how both dishes “are even better in Luang Prabang!” I have to admit, they were totally right. So now its time for some Tam Mak Hoong (Lao green papaya salad).
It’s what just about every local Laos person will be having for lunch, so there is no shortage of options. We found a great spot under an awning just down the road from L’Elephant French-Laos Restaurant (a great French restaurant, that additionally offers Vegan food in Luang Prabang).
The restaurant goes by the name on the sign “Green Papaya Salad,” and they offer indoor seating, and street seating under the abandoned awning of the building next door.
The green papaya salad is always a spicy (and therefore cooling), light meal during a day of walking. In addition to a couple of Laos salads, don’t miss out on the amazing sun dried, then fried and pounded pork that they offer here, and their house-made naem (soured pork), both of which are out of this world.
The restaurant is located along the peaceful Kounxoua road on the back side of Wat Nong Sikhounmuang temple.
South East Asia Travel Tip: If its really hot outside, don’t go too heavy on the sticky rice or you might want to take a nap.
6. 2 PM – Have Coffee at Saffron
No matter where you are in the city, one of the top things to do in Luang Prabang is to enjoy the views of the Mekong or Nam Khan Rivers.
The river breeze will always be cooler than that in the center of town, especially in the summer, so now would be a good time to sit beside one, take an afternoon break, and better yet, have a coffee in hand.
Saffron Coffee not only serves an amazing cup of coffee, but you can feel both their people-first attitude, and of course a love for coffee, as soon as you step in the door. It’s without a doubt the best coffee shop, for the quality of coffee, in Luang Prabang.
They have both indoor open-air and upstairs air-conditioned seating available, but the river-view seating across the street is just the spot for ultimate relaxation.
Sitting by the the riverside gave us a great chance to reflect on the trip, chat with friends, and just enjoy a seriously good cup of coffee. Saffron is located very close to the Wat Xieng Tong temple and has a beautiful view of the MeKong River.
A large Americano costs 20,000 Kip, and I actually can’t count how many I had during my trip to Luang Prabang.
7. 4 PM – Sai Oua (Laos Sausage o’clock)
These sausages are one of the things you remember most when someone asks you, “So how was your trip to Laos?” I kid you not, this Luang Prabang sausage just might be the highlight of your trip.
A big bite off one of these spicy, meaty, herb-packed grill treats might change the way that your mouth views food.
You’ll find sai oua usually grilled on the side of the road over charcoal. The best version we found was along Kounxoua (the middle road on the Luang Prabang peninsula) near to Wisdom Laos Guest House.
We are serious when we emphasize that sai oua, is an attraction on its own in Luang Prabang, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.
8. 6:30 PM – Your Dinner Decision
By this time, perhaps after taking another stroll by the Mekong River, you’ll be ready to sit down for some more local Lao food for dinner.
You have a few decisions:
#1 Night Market – You could visit the evening street food market, where there are sure to be several great new dishes awaiting your discovery. You’ll find stalls selling Laotian curry dishes and rice, grilled fish and som tam, and vegetarian buffets that are one of the most budget (but greasy) options. Quality is variable.
The evening market is on the street just beside the morning market, and it won’t be hard to find due to the fact that almost every traveler in the entire town will also be heading there every evening of every week.
#2 Local Restaurant – However, our recommendation is that you take a quick stroll back towards Saffron coffee, continue on about 200 meters more towards the end of the peninsula, and let the chef at Xieng Thong Phonsavahn Restaurant knock your socks off with every single item on his menu.
Tips on How To Order like a Local: Laos food is at its ultimate best when the dishes work to compliment each other.
Make sure you order koi pa (similar to a perfect plate of laap), a fish salad, followed by something both creamy and rich. This restaurant does a masterful plate of a dish called jaew kee pa, it was even worth its own blog post. Be sure to eat some for me if you’re there, its made with fish eggs, fresh chili, roasted chili, dried chilies too, the rich umami-ness may leave you speechless!
Finally, finish off the order with some type of spicy and sour soup, a tom pla would be great as this family uses fresh-caught Mekong fish. Don’t forget a kra-tip of kao neaw (basket of sticky rice), or maybe a dish of Luang Prabang’s own algae-plant kaipen to munch on while you wait.
9. 8 PM – Luang Prabang Night Market
Every evening, the main Sisavangvong Road (which is the main road that runs through the historical peninsula of Luang Prabang) closes to motor vehicles, and a walking street market sets up.
At the market you’ll find an abundance of all this Laos, especially souvenir type of things like baggy elephant print comfy pants, bracelets, and ethnic tribal shoulder bags. There’s so much available, and so many stalls you’ll be amazed – and plenty of vendors sell pretty much the same thing.
Even if you’re not interested in shopping, the Luang Prabang night market is still a perfect place to take an evening stroll. Additionally, you can always grab a fruit shake at the front of the market.
10. 9 PM – BeerLao
Now of course you could enjoy BeerLao before 8 pm, but if you haven’t already on this one day in Luang Prabang, now would be a great time to spend the rest of your evening just hanging out and enjoying the peacefulness of the city, and the amazing day you just had.
Relaxing and slowing down your pace of life is one of the best things to do in Luang Prabang.
Map of Luang Prabang
On this map of Luang Prabang you’ll find all the attractions and restaurant listed within this top things to do in Luang Prabang guide.
Reminder: The weather in Luang Prabang can change significantly from early morning to early afternoon, so you are going to want to have at least a long sleeve shirt in the morning, as well as shoes that you find comfortable. A hat and/or sunscreen would also be a good idea.
Additional Info: There are many day trip and other things to do in Luang Prabang. In case you are interested in any of the few hundred signs advertising the Kuang Si Waterfall, the Pak Ou Caves, or non-riding Elephant Excursions – Each of these are half-day trips, and require spending several hours round-trip in either a 4-person tuk-tuk (50,000 kip each) or private air-con minivan (500,000 kip rental for the entire day).
I hope you’ve enjoyed this do-it-yourself walking trip through a most wonderfully delicious and historically charming city in Laos.
Let me know in the comments section below what you love most about Luang Prabang!