Luang Prabang is a gorgeous city in northern Laos and it is the first UNESCO site listed in this country. The few days I spent there were the best of my 2 months in South-East Asia and it became one of my favourite places in the world! It’s a place every backpacker goes so it’s a bit touristy but that’s because it is too great to pass up. There are many things you can do in this place, but here are the things you have to do.
1. Kuang Si waterfalls
The main thing Luang Prabang is known for is Kuang Si waterfalls, which are considered by many as one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world. It’s actually one big waterfall that splits up into many smaller ones. The water is turquoise, and as if it wasn’t fabulous enough already, you can jump in and take a swim! Although many hostels and tourist agencies offer tours to the falls, you can easily share a touk touk with other backpackers to the beginning of the trail and than walk up to the falls, stopping to admire and swim in the smaller ponds.
2. Elephant village Sanctuary
The « elephant industry » in South-East Asia is really controversial and often frowned upon. This is because sadly, many places mistreat their elephant. Elephant village is different. This Sanctuary focus on protection and rehabilitation of elephants. In other words, it is an elephant hospital that finances itself from the visitors who come see their protégés. The elephants only work with visitors in the morning, during which they are really well treated by their mahouts and they are free all afternoon and night. I booked the 1 Day Mahout Experience with Bathing and it turned out to be one of the best days of my life. On this tour you get to learn about the elephants’ situation in South East Asia and about how the Sanctuary take care of the health of the animals they rescued, then, you get to ride the elephants and bathe with them in the river!! A really tasty lunch is provided and, in the afternoon, you go see and swim in Tad Sae waterfalls. If you are looking for a ethical elephant experience, this is it !
3. Royal Palace Museum
What is now Luang Prabang National Museum used to be the Royal Palace. Built in 1904, it was occupied by the royal family until 1975, when the monarchy was overthrown by the communists. The Palace was then converted in a museum. This place is accessible by foot and is really pretty with its different buildings and garden. It is totally worth half a day of your time in Luang Prabang!
4. Night Market
Another thing you absolutely can’t miss in Luang Prabang is the Night market. Open every night, it has every piece of clothe, jewelry and other souvenirs you will want to buy. It also has great Lao food to enjoy while you bargain for more things than what can actually fit in your backpack.
5. Have drinks at Utopia
If you travel to Luang Prabang, you have to spend at least an evening at Utopia. From the moment I set foot in this place, it became my favourite bar in the world and it still is, more than two years later. You take off your shoes when you come in (because… Asia.) and you’re ready to enjoy the best ambiance ever. It includes a lush green tropical garden that turns into a groovy jungle lounge at night and it has amazing music, the service is great and their cocktail are awesome. Sit down with other backpackers and just enjoy how good life is!
6. Go Bowling
Ok, I admit it. This might sound odd. But if you ask anyone that ever went to Luang Prabang if they went bowling, they’ll reply : « Of course! ». The main reason of this bowling popularity is because Luang Prabang, being a UNESCO site, has an 11pm curfew. Which means no bar can serve alcohol after 11pm. But there is a bowling spot just outside of the protected site that serves alcohol all night! That’s where everybody goes. You’ll see. You will be sitting at Utopia, enjoying a Mojito, when Touk touk drivers will come in, asking around: « Bowling? Bowling? ». With your new friends bargain a price with a driver, find your shoes (good luck with that, as you’ll be in a crowd of tipsy backpackers trying to do the same) and let the touk touk take you to this bowling alley. You might have to climb over your hostel’s fence but it will be totally worth it for a night you won’t forget!
7. Where to stay?
Luang Prabang being a place well visited by backpackers, there are many hostels. I ended up staying at one of the best hostels I ever did (and will), especially with such a low price! I stayed at Kounsavan Guest House. I paid less than US$7/ night for a 4 bed mixed dorm. The places had hammocks to chill in, a pool to refresh yourself and breakfast (amazing breakfast) was included. Plus, it was a two minutes walk from the night market, right in the center of the city. I would recommend this hostel to anyone traveling there!
I hope this article convinced you that you can’t miss out on Luang Prabang while backpacking South East Asia. I promise that if it’s not on your « checked » list yet, it should absolutely make it on your bucket list! Turquoise waterfalls, happy elephants and crazy nights out are waiting for you! In case my words were not convincing enough, following this article are my own pictures from my time there.