Luang Prabang in the Northern part of Laos is rightly considered one of the most beautiful cities in Southeast Asia.
The political and religious heart of the city is located on a small peninsula between the rivers Mekong and Nam Khan, with endless mountains and lush forests surrounding it.
The very quiet and serene town is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1994 and is an outstanding blend of traditional architecture and Indochina colonial European architecture. Beyond the gorgeous city, the region is a Must see in Laos for its amazing nature and endless wonders to discover
My post aims to highlight a (non-exhaustive) list of 15 of the most beautiful and interesting places to see during a stay in Luang Prabang, with no priority order.
Phou Si Hill
With an incredible 360* panorama over the whole of the town, this sacred hill is a good way to start this post for a skyline view over Luang Prabang
To get up there, you’ll have the choice between two stairways of 300 steps (😮💨) climbing from both sides of the hill, the eastern side allowing you to pass by the Buddha`s footprint temple and many statues on the way up
Sunset is a very popular time to get up the sacred hill, a great photo opportunity but it is then very crowded
The view from both side over the city and the mountains are beautiful but you’ll not be alone clearly 🤩😢
In the morning, it is almost empty but with a much higher risk of fog …
It is however great as well, especially being alone around the gilded stupa of Wat Chom Si at the summit with no tourists and a beautiful twilight, so make the effort to climb the stairs twice 😅.
Royal temple and Palace National Museum
The former Royal Palace, now turned into a museum is situated on the banks of the Mekong River, facing the sacred Mount Phousi. The palace was destroyed by the black flag Army and then rebuilt by the French beginning of the 20th century. It was then turned into a museum by the communist Pathet Laos party in 1975
One of the photography highlights on the Palace grounds is the Haw Pha Bang, the Royal temple that was built to enshrine the Phra Bang Buddha image.
Luang Prabang night market
When staying in Luang Prabang, you can’t miss the Night Market on Sisavangvong Road, the main road that runs straight through the middle of Luang Prabang town.
Beyond its large choice of stuff to buy on the market, photographers will wait for the twilight to come over the market and the Royal temple, for what is in my view the most beautiful sunset spot in the region 🤩
The Wat Sene Souk Haram (“temple of the Patriarch”), a sixteen-century Buddhist temple is in my view one of the most beautiful in Luang Prabang (high benchmark)
It was built in 1718 by King Kitsarath with 100,000 stones from the Mekong River and restored in 1957 commemorating the Buddha’s birth 2500 years earlier.
It literally means “Temple of 100,000 treasures” …
With a bit of luck (and a lot of respect), you can observe and shoot some monks praying and singing in the evening
That place at twilight and during the night is really a paradise for travel photography 🤩.
Alms giving ceremony
For over 600 years, locals of this UNESCO World Heritage city have been waking up before dawn to prepare for “Tak Bat”. As the sun rises, locals will take their spot on the sidewalk and wait for the procession of monks to start.
Hundreds of monks from the 35 temples of Luang Prabang walk in silence, meditating as they collect their daily alms from devotees.
This is the Buddhist practice of making merit, a symbiotic relationship between the monks and almsgivers.
Of course, As I love so much Wat Sensoukharman, watching and shooting the Tak Bat in front of that wonder during twilight is a photographer‘s dream 😊.
Wat Xieng Thong
Wat Xieng Thong (temple of the golden city), is a fourteen-century gorgeous Buddhist temple on the northern tip of the peninsula of Luang Prabang.
This is still one of the most important Lao monasteries with amazing wonders like that dragon boat
It is a great place for travel photography during the evening golden hours
Even if the sunset is partly hidden by the surrounding mountains, it is worth waiting for the magical colors and light above that beautiful and peaceful temple
Yes, you’ll probably have more than your fair share of Buddhists temples visits when going around Luang Prabang 😂. Wat Wisounarat (Wat Visoun) fourteen-century temple is known for its watermelon shape chedi and is worth a visit
This is the most ancient temple in Luang Prabang and it’s inspired by the Khmer temple of Wat Phou Champasak in the south (see my article -to come- on this 😊).
The main reason to visit is inside. It contains many statues and ancient stelae of golden Buddhas “calling the rain” with long sinuous arms and medieval ordination stones, rescued from various abandoned or devastated shrines.
Wat Phra Bat That temple
If you’re not tired yet of temples, Wat Phra Bat Tai is a 17th-century Buddhist temple with strong Vietnamese influence south of Luang Prabang town
Wat Phra Bat Tai is honored by the small Vietnamese community of Luang Prabang as their temple and is worth having a look at (even if it is not as well maintained as some of the “core” temples)
Of course, there is much more to see than the historical downtown of Luang Prabang so here are the excursions not to miss around the city…
Kuang Si waterfalls
The Kuang Si waterfall 30 km south of Luang Prabang is clearly a must-see landmark in the region.
This large cascade of turquoise water that tumbles from the thick jungle above into perfectly sculpted limestone-tiered pools below is a paradise for travel photography and nature lovers
The main fall is at the top of the site, with a breathtaking 50 meters high waterfall in the middle of the lush tropical forest
Kuang Si is a very popular site for swimming and picnic so if you’re about photography or what the site for yourself, I strongly advise getting there early (before 9), you’ll then have those wonders almost just for you.
Along the different levels of pools, the travel photography opportunities are endless there 🤩.
Explore the countryside Rice fields
The area around Luang Prabang offers gorgeous nature and a feel of the countryside life
Of course, sticky rice remains the largest farming activity in Laos, with the main harvesting season being October-November (irrigated areas may get two crops a year)
If you want to see beautiful green rice fields, October may be better but depending on what date drives your trip (for me it was the That Luang festival full moon date). You can however still find some nice green fields in early November
Visit a Hmong village
There are officially 49 ethnic groups and 160 sub-groups in Laos. As a large of them remains in very remote areas, discovering them in an authentic way takes a significant hike in time investment that I did not have on that trip, unfortunately. You can however find easily reachable Hmong villages in the Luang Prabang area
Approximately half a million Hmong people live primarily in the mountainous northern part of Laos. They are a sub-group of the Miao people and live mainly in Southern China, Vietnam, and Laos.
Faced with the difficulties of unproductive farming above 1000 meters and lack of water supply, electricity supply, hospitals, schools, etc., the Hmong have received some “help” from the military and the police to move closer to the so-called civilized world
That village for example was moved from the forest upstream of the Kuang Si waterfalls to avoid “river pollution for the touristic site”. It is honestly difficult to understand when engaging with the villagers the balance of benefits they obtained (modern village, subsidies, etc.) vs a “forced move” to serve government interest …
Tat Sae waterfalls
Located around 15 km southwest of Luang Prabang, those falls are more remote / less visited than Kuang Si falls.
From the parking area, you’ll need to take a small boat ride to get to the falls
The falls are worth a visit, especially walking up in the lush forest
The main pool at the bottom is a popular spot for swimming so it can get a bit busy (so getting early if you want pictures without tourists may be a good idea)
That the fall has an unequal flow so it is a great spot in the rainy season, a good one up to November ish but then it might get dry so check before going here …
Pak Ou Caves
Those caves are located upstream of the Mekong, 25km from Luang Prabang, and are known as one of the most precious religious symbols in the province.
The caves are accessible either by boat or by tuk-tuk but the river is more comfortable (the road is quite hilly) and allows one to discover the Mekong River banks
You’ll get to the cave pier in roughly two hours by boat from Luang Prabang
The Pak Ou Caves are famous for over 4,000 Buddha sculptures adorning the interior.
They consist of two natural caves: Tham Ting cave and Tham Phum Cave (also called Tham Prakachay)
Some of the dark corners of the caves have a bit of an Indiana Jones feel (if you arrive early and avoid the crowds of the organized tours from Luang Prabang 😢)
Ban Xang Hai “whiskey village”
That village located 29 km north of Luang Prabang (on the way to holly Pak Ou Caves”) is famous for Lao Lao (homemade alcohol) which is available for tasting and purchase.
The jars of Lao-Lao contain wildlife. Whiskey with bear paws, tiger bones, and snakes are believed to increase a man’s virility and sexual prowess, and they are also added to give it the wow factor for tourists (it works 😊). It’s used in important blessing ceremonies, and you will likely be offered a shot no matter what time of day 😌.
A variety of handicrafts are also made and for sale here (a good place to do shopping being ensure the money stays in the village).
Don’t miss the (quite “Kitch”) Shanghai Pattanaram Temple on the eastern part of the village
Kitch or colorful is up to your appreciation but, after one of two shots of Lao-Lao, I found it beautiful 😂.
So here is my little and non-exhaustive takeaway of the most beautiful and interesting places to discover in Luang Prabang, one of the pearls of South East Asia in my view. If you want to see more about Laos, you can as well check my posts about the That Luang festival in Vientiane and the wonders to discover in Southern Laos