Tucked between the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, the UNESCO World Heritage city of Luang Prabang is a beautiful and serene destination that shouldn’t be missed! This lush riverside town has plenty to see and do for travelers who want to stray a bit off the beaten Southeast Asia track. Read on for our full backpackers guide to Luang Prabang travel!
A Guide to the Luang Prabang Airport
You know what it’s like: you arrive in a new country incredibly frazzled, lugging around a heavy bag and searching around desperately for a way to get where you need to go. And if you’re in Southeast Asia, let’s face it, you’re also probably a little moist from this whole ordeal. To minimize your confusion on arrival in Luang Prabang, we’ve compiled all the information you need to know for a smooth transition into this UNESCO World Heritage town.
The most important thing you’ll need to do is collect your visa-on-arrival if you need a visa for Laos. Your citizenship will determine the exact price of your Laos visa, but this is always within the $30-40 range. Make sure you have your visa payment in cash, two 2×2 visa photos, and two sets of completed forms (one given to you on the plane and a second one at the airport) when you step up to the visa collection desk.
If your accommodation doesn’t offer a pick-up service, you’ll need to find your own way there. You have two options: taxi or tuk-tuk. Taxis are more expensive, but far more comfortable. The ride should cost between 50,000-70,000 kip ($5.70-8.oo). Travel by tuk-tuk is the cheapest method of transport, costing about 25,000-30,000 kip ($2.80-3.50). However, please keep in mind there’s a lot less leg room in a tuk-tuk! Whichever way you choose, the journey shouldn’t take more than 15-minutes. Read our entire Luang Prabang Airport Guide here.
Flight Routes to Luang Prabang from Southeast Asia
But of course, before the fun can begin, you’ll need to actually get to Luang Prabang. To minimize the confusion around your journey into Laos, we’ve gathered the quickest and cheapest routes from other areas of Southeast Asia. These include direct flights from countries in close proximity to non-direct flights to other major hubs a little further out of the way.
The only direct flights going into Luang Prabang are from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, and other parts of Laos. If you’re traveling from Malaysia, Indonesia, or the Philippines, you’ll have no choice but to take an indirect route. These non-direct trips are inexpensive during the low season, but they do see much bigger spikes during the peak season. This spike could be a lot worse, however. Generally, all travelers should be able to find a trip from these countries for no more than $450, even during the peak season.
If you’re booking an indirect trip and you’re on a budget, it will likely be necessary to compromise on speed and some comfort. These cheap tickets tend to take travelers on a round-about route and can even take over 15 hours, in some cases. Still, it’ll be worth it in the end! Read our entire Flights to Luang Prabang Guide here.
Traveling from Vientiane to Luang Prabang
If you’re planning to travel from the Capital of Laos to the once Royal Capital of Laos, there are a few different options for you. For speed, comfort, and ease, you can fly to Luang Prabang from Vientiane in under an hour. A one-way ticket costs between $60-155 and can be booked with either Lao Airlines or Lao Skyway. There are 4-5 departures every day so travelers can take their pick of a time that suits them best.
Bus travel is a less expensive method of transport, with tickets priced at $22-33, but the journey is long and to some, arduous. Depending on the exact route taken, travel time can be anywhere from 10-14 hours. We recommend coming prepared with the appropriate medication if you’re prone to motion sickness, as the roads to Luang Prabang can be very bumpy.
Another alternative is to travel by minivan, especially if you’re a party of two people or more. Hiring a private driver will cost $150 and upwards for one day of travel, but when split between two or more people, it becomes a lot more affordable. This is by far the most comfortable way to travel by road, as you’re fully in control of your journey and any stops you make. The trip can easily be made in under 9 hours, with a few stops factored in. Read our entire Vientiane to Luang Prabang Transportation Guide here.
Traveling from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang
Experienced travelers say Luang Prabang is much like Chiang Mai was many years ago, before the hordes of tourists came along and it was still a hidden gem. If you’d like to see this for yourself, we highly encourage it. As always, the quickest and easiest way to make this trip is by plane. A one-way ticket can cost as low as $77 or as high $191, depending on the season. There is at least one direct flight every day, either with Bangkok Airways or Lao Airlines, so you’ll have no trouble finding a travel date that works for you.
The other way to get to Luang Prabang is longer, a little more complex, but to many travelers, a unique experience you can’t miss. If you find flight tickets are on the high end, it’s also by far the most cost-effective option. This journey takes you through Chiang Khong and Huay Xai by bus, two towns on opposite sides of the Thai-Lao border. From Huay Xai, you have the option to continue by road to Luang Prabang or venture onwards by water. The most popular option is the slow-boat.
Since you’re crossing borders, you’ll need to check whether you need a visa for Laos. Most passport-holders can get a visa-on-arrival at Luang Prabang Airport and the Thai-Lao border. Make sure you have everything you need for this application. Read our full Transportation Guide from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang here.
Traveling from Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng is a beautiful riverside town, best known for its limestone rock formations, blue lagoons, and adventurous outdoor activities. If you’re a fan of rock-climbing, kayaking, and tubing, you’ll definitely want to add this stop to your Laos itinerary. Travelers have the choice of shared or private transportation. Depending on the transfer service you choose and how many stops are made, the journey can take anywhere from 5-7 hours.
If you’re on a budget, shared transport is the most cost-effective option, with tickets ranging from $17-33. Buses tend to move at a slower pace, so the journey by bus is 2 hours longer than all other methods of transport, but it is also far more comfortable. Buses include access to bathrooms onboard and far more space for guests to stretch their legs. Minivans are the top choice for cheap prices and speed but for those with high comfort needs, we suggest choosing an alternative.
While hiring a private driver is more costly at $130-250 for one-way, this is the best option for those who would like to stop and take photographs of the beautiful scenery along the way. If you’re traveling with a group, why not book private transport? The total cost is much more affordable when shared. Private transport allows travelers to be more in control of their pace. If you’re particularly prone to motion sickness, this is the most comfortable option for you. Read our full Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng Travel Guide here.
Traveling from Luang Prabang to Hanoi
Of course, you’ll also want to see Vietnam’s bustling capital of Hanoi. Despite being a major city, there are only two ways to get there from Luang Prabang: by bus or plane.
The journey by bus is extremely long, averaging at about 24 hours, including rest stops along the way. Sleeper buses make this trip a lot more comfortable, allowing travelers to recline and get some sleep. WiFi is also available, so personal entertainment is not an issue. Expect a one-way ticket to Hanoi by bus to cost $47-57.
For the fastest, most comfortable method of transport, fly directly to Hanoi with Vietnam Airlines or Lao Airlines. This quick trip only takes 1 hour and 20 minutes, and at least one flight out occurs daily. Flight tickets fluctuate over the year but generally cost between $100-280.
You’re entering an entirely different country, so all travelers must check if they need a visa at least a few days before they depart for Vietnam. These requirements are different from those in Laos. If you do need a visa, you can apply for one at the Vietnam Consulate in Luang Prabang. It takes 1-3 days to receive your visa. If you’re flying, we’d suggest the more stress-free option of applying online for a visa you can collect upon arrival at Noi Ba Airport. Read our full Luang Prabang to Hanoi Travel Guide here.
Luang Prabang Accommodation
While you’re in Luang Prabang, it’s vital that you have the type of accommodation that’s right for you and the experience you want to have. Consider any of the following five: a hostel, guesthouse, homestay, hotel, or vacation rental villa/apartment.
A hostel is ideal for all travelers looking for a more social experience. You’ll meet people from all over the world during your stay, and better yet, you’ll get to absorb a whole new culture with new friends alongside you. Guesthouses can be similar but tend to accommodate a much smaller group of people. This is another great choice for budget travelers.
If you aren’t on a small budget, indulge at one of Luang Prabang’s many gorgeous hotels. Many of these boast riverside views and terrace restaurants. Vacation rentals are perfect for all travelers looking for more space or something more long-term. Many of these are serviced meaning guests will still feel a tad pampered.
Perhaps what you really want is a more immersive experience in Lao culture, in which case you should book for a homestay. This means you’ll stay with a Lao family, eat their food, and participate in their daily activities. Unless a special arrangement is made, these are usually very short-term, so it’s likely this will not be your only accommodation during your stay in Luang Prabang. Read our full Luang Prabang Accommodation Guide here.
It’s all up to you: how would you like to experience Luang Prabang?
Best Hostels in Luang Prabang
At a good hostel, you’ve got far more than just a bed for the night; you’ve found a like-minded tribe, a welcoming atmosphere, and all the support you could possibly need in this exciting, but still relatively unknown, place you’ve decided to visit. It’s friendly, a tad intimate, and heaps of fun – a far cry from the isolation and loneliness of hotel rooms.
You’re spoilt for choice with hostel options in Luang Prabang, but not every single one lives up to its promises. Mad Monkey is easily the top choice for travelers, especially those looking for fun social events, or opportunities to give back to the local community in an interesting, meaningful way. With 13 successful hostels across Southeast Asia, you know you’ll be in great hands with Mad Monkey.
For some of our other favorites, check out Chill Riverside Hostel, which sits perched on the Nam Khan River, and is a walkable distance from the main attractions. And if location is everything to you, then there’s a bed with your name on it at City Backpackers Hostel. Guests at City Backpackers are in close proximity to the Royal Palace Museum and many popular restaurants. Read our full Luang Prabang Hostels Guide here.
Most Unique Hotels in Luang Prabang
Beautiful hotels and affordable luxury are easy to find in Luang Prabang, but sometimes you want a little something extra. Sometimes, glitz and glamor alone don’t suffice; you crave something unique, perhaps even with a story. In this case, consider staying at one of the many hotels that were once royal residences for past princes of Laos. For example, the centrally-located Satri House or the riverside Grand Luang Prabang Hotel. Believe it or not, the Grand was once the home of a Lao prince turned Prime Minister, and locals today still believe he possessed magical powers.
If scenic and natural wonders are what you really crave, then you’ll be pleased to hear that Maison Dalabua is home to a UNESCO classified lotus pond. The hotel restaurant, Manda de Lao, oversees this gorgeous pond and it’s the ideal place to watch the sunset with a cocktail in hand.
And at the Pullman Luang Prabang, guests can feel like they’re truly on a tropical escape. The hotel is a little further out of town, surrounded by lush mountains, streams, and rice paddy fields. The hotel covers 16-hectares of land in the countryside, making it the biggest resort in Northern Laos. Read our full Luang Prabang Hotels Guide here.
Things to do in Luang Prabang
There’s a good reason Luang Prabang has captivated travelers from all over the world: there’s so much to see and all of it is remarkable. If you’re interested in the town’s spiritual traditions, then you must visit its many beautiful temples. Wat Xieng Thong is the most sacred and historically significant of all these temples, and guests also find it the most architecturally impressive.
There are numerous natural beauties in the area, such as the famous Kuang Si Falls with its crystal-clear azure pools and cascading falls. On the way up, you’ll see the Kuang Si Bear Sanctuary, where you can ooh-and-aah at the adorable Moon Bears and Asian Black Bears, all of which have been rescued from poachers. The famous pilgrimage site of Pak Ou Caves can be easily reached by boat, and here you’ll see the home of thousands of Buddha icons, left by local Lao and pilgrims over many centuries.
While you’re in town, make sure you visit Luang Prabang’s popular markets. The Night Market is famous for its gorgeous arts, crafts, and delicious food. The Morning Market, on the other hand, is where locals do their grocery shopping. Know what that means? It’s the perfect time to try some of South-East Asia’s many unique fruits! Read our full Guide on Things to do in Luang Prabang here.
Things to do on a Budget in Luang Prabang
One of the many wonderful things about Luang Prabang is how rich an experience you can have without emptying your wallet. No matter who you are or how big your budget is, you can enjoy a great deal of what this magical town has to offer.
Witnessing an Almsgiving ceremony is completely free, making it a good choice for your itinerary if you’re on a tight budget. During this highly sacred ceremony, a procession of monks file through the streets of town collecting their daily meals from local Lao. All that is asked of travelers is that they behave respectfully and watch from a distance. You can also stroll through the Old Quarter and gaze in awe at its old-world architecture. And if you’re feeling peckish, pick up a pastry at Luang Prabang’s best bakery, Le Banneton.
Budget or not, you can still enjoy the Night Market. Food at the market is delicious and inexpensive, making it the ideal place for a budget-friendly dinner. And why not wash it down with Laos’ national beer, BeerLao? You’ll find it absolutely everywhere and for a low cost.
If you’re on a small budget, but one that’s still bigger than most, pay a visit to Mount Phousi and afterward, head to the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center. Here you’ll learn about Laos and its many ethnic groups in an engaging and enjoyable manner. And the following day, consider starting the day off right with a riverside yoga class at Utopia Bar. Check out more Things to do on a Budget in Luang Prabang here.
Top Tours and Activities in Luang Prabang
Don’t fret about planning the details of every single day. Instead, consider letting Luang Prabang’s many highly-rated tour providers plan it for you. With these booked tours and activities, you’ll be in great hands. The only thing you need to do is sit back and enjoy.
One of the town’s most popular activities is the sunset cruise on the Mekong River. Book with Sa Sa Sunset Cruise and you’ll drift down the Mekong with a free cocktail in hand, and barbecue appetizers cooking on the grill nearby. Or consider experiencing the local wildlife, and book a full or half-day tour at MandaLao’s elephant conservation site. Here, you’ll get to learn all about elephant welfare, and interact with the elephants that roam the land.
If you’re interested in learning a new skill, take a Lao cooking class at the Sofitel Cooking School or take a pottery class in a nearby pottery village. The Living Land Farm also offers a wonderful experience at a community farm outside of town where visitors can learn how to weave bamboo, press sugar-cane, and blacksmith, among many fantastic and enjoyable activities. And for an adrenaline rush, sign up for a zipline adventure through the jungles of Laos! Read about more Luang Prabang tours and activities here.
Waterfalls and Tubing in Laos
With so many marvelous waterfalls and rivers in Luang Prabang and across Laos (some of which are considered to be South-East Asia’s best), you’d be missing out in a big way if none of them made it onto your trip itinerary. Luckily for travelers, Laos’ waterfalls and rivers are not just for gawking at; many of them are swimmable. And if you’re a fan of tubing, then you’re in luck, as Vang Vieng’s Nam Song river is well-known for being a tubing hotspot.
Two of Laos’ best waterfalls are in Luang Prabang and Kuang Si Falls is by far its crown jewel. Many travelers who see it in-person claim it is the highlight of their trip. Luang Prabang’s second most popular waterfall is Tad Sae. If you’re visiting Luang Prabang in the dry season, Kuang Si will be at its most stunning, but for Tad Sae, it’s best to wait till the wet season. Make sure to visit Tad Fane, Tad Yuang and Khone Phapheng if you’re visiting other areas of Laos.
When it comes to tubing, there’s no better place in Laos than Vang Vieng. The town was once known as the party capital, but today it’s toned down considerably to offer travelers more safety. Still, it remains the best place in Laos for thrill-seekers. Check out our full guide on Luang Prabang Waterfalls and Tubing here.
A Mini-Guide to the Royal Palace Museum
The Royal Palace Museum, also known as the National Museum, is hard to miss when you’re in central Luang Prabang. You’ll likely see its beautiful structure from the street. While the gardens are free to roam through, entrance into the museum itself costs 30,000 kip ($4). The museum is open everyday from 8AM-4PM, with a long lunch break from 11:30PM-1:30PM.
Before the Royal Palace was converted to a museum, it was the royal residence of the then-King of Laos. When the Lao monarchy ended in the 70s, the King moved to a private residence in town, but all artifacts and architecture were preserved. This is what visitors will see during their time at the museum.
Please note, that all visitors are asked to dress conservatively. Both women and men should keep their chest, shoulders, and legs above the knee covered. If legs aren’t covered appropriately, a long skirt can be hired at the museum for a fee.
On Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday every week, a Phra Lak Phra Ram performance is held at the theatre on the museum grounds. This is a great experience that we highly encourage travelers to enjoy. Tickets cost between 100,000-150,000 kip ($11.40-17.20). Read our full Guide to the Luang Prabang Royal Palace here.
Luang Prabang Cafes: Best Brunch Spots and Coffee Shops
Hipster cafes and trendy brunch spots are all the rage across the globe, and this is no less true in Luang Prabang. With so much to choose from, you can pretty much pick your vibe: stylish and modern, quirky and cozy, bohemian, or something quiet with riverside views. Perhaps, you’re a digital nomad looking for a chill atmosphere to work in, or perhaps, you’re with a group of friends, looking for a lively place with stellar brunch and cocktails. Whatever you need, there’s a cafe in town just for you.
For a hearty breakfast or brunch at a hip, modern joint, wander over to Dexter’s Cafe and Bar. And if you’d like to sink your teeth into the best baked goods in town, try Le Banneton or the Zurich Bread Factory and Cafe. You can’t go wrong with either. Brunch at both places is fantastic, and whatever you do, make sure to have a taste of one of their delectable pastries.
But sometimes it’s really about the coffee, isn’t it? There’s nothing like a steaming hot brew of coffee in the morning or a refreshing latte under the afternoon sun. For the best coffee in town, our vote is Saffron Coffee. And if you want the best of both worlds, enjoy yourself at the Mekong Espresso. Check out more Luang Prabang cafes in our guide here.
Best Restaurants in Luang Prabang
Deciding on the best restaurants in Luang Prabang is no easy feat. Truth is, nine out of ten restaurants that you think look good are probably excellent. No matter what your budget is, big or small, you’ll eat like a king in Luang Prabang. Whether it’s a buffet meal at the Night Market, traditional Lao cuisine at a humble eatery, or a hipster fusion restaurant, Luang Prabang is proof that you don’t need to starve your wallet for a feast. We’ve gathered the best of the best to suit every type of budget.
If you’re on a tight budget, check out eateries such as Phonheuang Cafe, Pha Khao Lao, and Bouang. Popular with tourists and locals alike, at all three you’ll find superb local cuisine at wallet-friendly prices. Our favorite mid-range restaurants are Yuni Yupoun, a new restaurant offering cuisine from nine different countries; Popolo, Luang Prabang’s top spot for wood-fired pizza and all things Italian; and Khaiphaen, a brilliant Lao restaurant which invests 100% of profits into the education of local youth. If you’re looking for something a little more glitzy and upscale, we’ve got your back too. Enjoy Lao cuisine with a European twist at the Blue Lagoon, or dine by a magical lotus pond at Manda de Laos. And for the height of elegance and romance, try La Belle Epoque which offers a little bit of everything from across South-East Asia. Check out more Luang Prabang restaurants here.
Luang Prabang Nightlife: Bars, and Party Hotspots
When visiting peaceful Luang Prabang, backpackers tend to mistakenly assume the town has no nightlife – but this isn’t true at all! While the Old Town does have a legal curfew of 11.30 PM, you’ll find bars just outside of town that stay open long past this. Believe it or not, the top party spot in all of Luang Prabang is the Bowling Alley. It’s especially popular with backpackers, so you’ll likely meet other people from all over the world. After curfew, travelers flock here looking for cheap beer, whiskey, and a round or two of bowling.
If what you’re chasing is a dance floor, then Sakura Bar is unarguably the best place in Luang Prabang after curfew, especially if you’re a backpacker or party-lover. Free whiskey buckets, delicious cocktails, great DJs, and a lively atmosphere are some of the many things people love about this highly-rated bar.
While you’re still in town, before curfew, start off your night at Icon Klub, Utopia Bar, Redbul Bar, or Lao Lao Beergarden. Each one offers a very different vibe, so choose the one that’s right for you and your group. And make the most of Laos’ fantastic spirits: have a glass of snake whiskey, rice wine, or BeerLao when you get the chance!
More information about Luang Prabang travel
Did you find this guide to Luang Prabang travel useful? Are you looking for even more information to plan your trip to Laos? Then check out these other articles we’ve rounded up for your reading pleasure!
- Luang Prabang Travel Guide from TravelFish
- The Ultimate Luang Prabang Travel Guide from Nomadic Matt
- Luang Prabang Travel from Lonely Planet
- Luang Prabang Travel Guide & Things to do in Luang Prabang from Temples & Treehouses
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