How to See Luang Prabang Center in Two Days

Luang PrabangLuang Prabang in northern Laos is small enough for exploration by foot.  In fact, planning how to get there from the Philippines is an even more difficult task.  With no direct flights from the Philippines, we opted to take this route:  Manila to Bangkok to Luang Prabang to Hanoi to Manila by air.  The choice, of course, depended on flight schedules and the cost.  Other options are available, also by air, via Singapore or Siem Reap.  For those who have the luxury of time, there are buses from Hanoi to Luang Prabang.  But beware, it’s not called nightmare bus or hell bus without a reason.

We took the 1.5-hour Lao Airlines flight from Bangkok to Luang Prabang.  The aircraft is as small as the ones flying from Manila to Coron, where the number of passengers is like equivalent to one bus.  We arrived Luang Prabang about 30 minutes later than scheduled, not because of air traffic congestion but because of the cloudy weather.  Our aircraft went circling for an extended time until it found an opportunity to break through the clouds.  I have experienced a combination of small aircraft and turbulence before but I guess this is one thing I’ll never get used to.

Lao Airlines

(Photo by M. Sicat)

Luang Prabang International Airport

Luang Prabang International Airport – great views outside

Anyhow, we have landed safely and I was happy to be welcomed by the cool weather (went in December).  From the airport, the Luang Prabang center is about 5 km away.  We saw a van picking up passengers at 25,000 kips (~ 3 USD) each.  The arrangement is on a house-to-house basis so we thought, not bad.  Besides, we had no other choice because at 7 PM, the airport and its vicinity is already singing to the tune of “Closing Time”.   Singharat Guesthouse was our home for our three days stay in LP.

On Day 1, we were able to get to sights at the outskirts of Luang Prabang like the Kuang Si Waterfalls and Pak Ou caves.  Our two more days were spent exploring Luang Prabang town proper, one day on foot and one day by bicycle.

Luang Prabang

Here’s what we’ve covered around this UNESCO World Heritage site in two days:

Phou Si Hill

We found two ways to enter Phou Si Hill: along Sisavangvong Road, just in front of the Royal Palace, or from the Nam Khan side, where the stairs lead up to a dark cave with small Buddha statues and to Buddha’s footprint temple.  The entrance facing the Royal Palace is the shorter route.  Entrance fee is 20,000 kips.

Phousi Hill

Stairway to the top coming from the Royal Palace side

Phousi Hill

Underneath this is a small cave, where more small Buddha images can be found.  The cave was too dark for me to capture a decent photo.  You will encounter this if coming from or getting down at the Nam Khan side

Phousi Hill

Buddha's footprint

Believed to be Buddha’s footprint.  If this is true, then Buddha must have a giant size foot. (Pardon the poor shot.)

That Chomsi

At the top of Phou Si Hill is the That Chomsi temple

That Chomsi

Locals offering prayers at the That Chomsi temple

That Chomsi Phousi Hill

A panoramic view of the city at the top, surrounded by jagged mountains

Phousi Hill  The Nam Khan River on the left

Royal Palace

The Royal Palace, along the touristy Sisavangvong Road, houses the Luang Prabang National Museum, the Royal Palace Theater and the very ornate Haw Pha Bang or the Royal Temple, which I found photogenic on every side.

Royal Palace, Luang Prabang

Royal Palace Garden

The National Museum used to be the royal palace for King Sisavangvong.  Entrance fee is 30,000 kips.  The museum is open daily except Tuesdays at 8:00 AM to 11:30 AM and 1:30 PM to 4:30 PM.  Photos are not allowed so I can only show you the facade of the museum.  Likewise, bags and shoes are not allowed, so lockers are provided before the entrance.  The museum displays paintings of the Lao monarchy, art collection, the royal family’s rooms and furniture, and classical musical instruments.  My favorite part is a large colorful hall covered with cut mirrored tile mosaics, similar to that found in the Wat Xie Thong.

National Museum, Luang Prabang

The National Museum

Haw Pha Bang is just at the right of the Royal Palace entrance.  It houses the Pha Bang Buddha, which is said to have been the image , offered by Cambodia, used to spread Theravada Buddhism in Luang Prabang.  That was where the name Prabang came from, from Pha Bang to now Prabang.

Royal Palace, Luang Prabang

Royal Palace, Luang Prabang

Haw Pha Bang

Royal Palace, Luang Prabang

The multi-faceted roof structure of the temple

Royal Palace, Luang Prabang Royal Palace, Luang Prabang Royal Palace, Luang Prabang Statue of King Sisavang Vong

Statue of King Sisavang Vong

Statue of King Sisavang Vong

The Royal Palace Theater is at the left from the Royal Palace’s entrance.  Cultural performances are held every Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 6:30 PM. Prices range from 100,000 to 150,000 kips.  We bought the 100,000 kips ticket.  The theater is old and small, so for me, the 100,000-kip ticket for the back row seat is still a good spot.

They played Episode 4 of the Indian epic, Ramayana, in Lao version during the time we watched.  A single episode is played per day for about an hour.  A handout of the episode’s summary in English is provided before entering the theater.

There were Lao, English and French introductions before the performance.  The performance is composed of dancing and acting, while beautiful music from traditional instruments are played on the background, so understanding of the plot is all that matters.  Costumes, performances and music were great.  I just find some of the dancing to be too long and dragging…or maybe, I just need a little more ounce of cultural performance appreciation. Hehe.  I was also a bit distracted of the mosquitoes biting my legs.  You won’t blame me for getting paranoid over these mosquitoes, not after having fought dengue from my country months ago.  But overall, I commend all the artists in this performance for keeping the Laotian tradition alive.

Royal Palace theater, Luang Prabang

Colored mirror mosaic tiles inside the theater

Royal Palace theater, Luang Prabang Royal Palace theater, Luang Prabang Royal Palace theater, Luang Prabang

Fusion of Lao and French Architecture

One cannot escape the hints of European occupation in Luang Prabang.  A stroll around town will show you traditional Lao structures made of wood mixed with French-style buildings.  Many guesthouses lining the street along Mekong river and Sisavang vong Road have brightly painted doors and shuttered windows that are reminiscent of French colonial era.

Luang PrabangTraditional Lao buildings made of wood

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang ATMUnique ATM booths in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang ATM Luang Prabang French Architecture Luang Prabang Luang Prabang French Architecture Luang Prabang French Architecture Luang Prabang DSC_4474

Luang Prabang French Architecture

Shuttered doors and windows are typical in Luang Prabang

Aside from architecture, what makes this small town charming is the cleanliness of the streets and the tranquility in the absence of buses or trucks (only bicycles, tuk tuks, some mini vans and even electric vehicles).  The place is touristy, but for me, it still retains the authenticity that is Laos.  The main streets are lined with guesthouses, cafes and small restaurants, but at least there are no noisy pubs that run until the wee hours (sorry for the party-goers).

Luang Prabang street

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

The Mekong River and Nam Khan River stretch

The main street along the Mekong River is lined with riverfront restaurants on one side and guesthouses/ hotels on the other.

Mekong River, Luang Prabang

Mekong River, Luang Prabang

Mekong River, Luang Prabang

Mekong River, Luang Prabang

Walking further at the point of confluence of the Nam Khan River to the Mekong River, at the tip of the peninsula, is a bamboo bridge.  However, there is a fee of 7,000 kips to cross the bridge.  Before the bridge is a sign that the fee goes to Mr. Bounmee and his family who builds the bridge every year at his own cost.  It could be that the bridge is washed away every year during rainy season when the level of water is high.

Bamboo bridge, Luang Prabang

DSC_4424 A man building a boat at the side of the bamboo bridge

We crossed the bridge, walked a little more until we found Wat Xiengleck.  The sign before the bridge says that the bamboo bridge leads to the paper village, where one can see paper making, textile galleries, weaving and wood carving.  However, we have been walking for quite a number hours by the time we reached Wat Xiengleck and our brain directs our feet to go back to the main street and search for a place to eat, instead.

There is another bamboo bridge along the Nam Khan river, near the entrance to Phou Si Hill.  We didn’t cross this though.

Bamboo bridge, Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang Temples

The town is dense with temples that it’s impossible to stroll around Luang Prabang without bumping into one.  To my untrained eye, the temples or Wats in Luang Prabang look almost standard in terms of design.  Most have multi-tiered golden roofs, and are richly decorated with sculptures or engravings.

Because of the many temples in the area, I am dedicating a separate blog on this.

Morning alms or Tak Bat

Many temples equals many monks.  During early morning, around 5:30 AM, hundreds of bright orange-cloaked monks line the streets of Luang Prabang to collect morning offerings.   We waited along Sakkaline Road near Wat Sensoukharam.  Before the procession, we already saw a long row of mats and stools lined on the side streets, as well as vendors selling rice in basket bowls, candies and biscuits.  I even saw tourist guides coaching their paying tourists the right way of giving alms, as if they are performers practicing for their once in a lifetime performances.

Tak Bat, morning alms

Donations for sale

Tak Bat, morning alms Tak Bat, morning alms

Sadly, there were more tourists than locals, I think, giving alms to the monks.  The silent procession of bright orange-clad monks, walking barefooted, seems endless.  It might have been a more sincere and authentic scene if not for the number of tourists swarming around the line of monks.  Well, I did not participate in the alms giving nor desired to take a selfie showing myself giving out alms, but yes, I was guilty of being just like any other tourists taking a lot photos of the scene.  I was cautious, however, to not get into their way or fire a flash on them.   It is also bothering how the locals had resorted to use the alms as commodities.  We also saw some pails at the side of the queue where other monks would “dispose” some of the goodies given them.  I am not sure if that means they do not want them or they already have excess of those.  What also comes to mind is, “Who takes these pails of “rejects”? Maybe resold to tourists?  The dark side of recycling…

Night market

The Night Market is located along the stretch of Sisavang vong Road, also known as the Tourist Street because of the major sites, guesthouses, restaurants, convenience stores and of course, the Night Market, that can be found here.  The vendors set up their tents at around 6 PM and close at about 10 PM.  The tents are set up in two or three long rows along the street.  The tents stand so close to one another that you have to complete walking in one row until the end for you to take a turn to the other rows.  For those searching for souvenirs, the Night Market is the best place to get it.  After all, the night market was intended for tourists.

Night Market Luang Prabang Night Market Luang Prabang Night Market Luang Prabang Night Market Luang Prabang Night Market Luang Prabang Night Market Luang Prabang

Night street food

The Night Street Food is located close to the night market, near the Tourist Information Center. I always find it hard to be judgmental about foods because I am not so critical about tastes or flavors.  As long as I get my stomach satisfied, it’s good.  All I can tell is that street food in Luang Prabang is tasty and satisfying.  You will find a variety of foods like spring rolls, noodles, grilled fish and meat, fried rice, fruit shakes and desserts.

Just a note, most if not all of the food stalls serve food in polystyrene packs.  I do not know about the solid waste management situation in this town, but disposable items converts to more solid wastes.  That said, it would have been better to use reusable or washable plates and utensils.

Night Street Food Market, Luang Prabang

Night Street Food Market, Luang Prabang

Night Street Food Market, Luang Prabang

Night Street Food Market, Luang Prabang

Night Street Food Market, Luang Prabang

Night Street Food Market, Luang Prabang

That’s our banana crepe, the making

Night Street Food Market, Luang Prabang

Night Street Food Market, Luang Prabang

Night Street Food Market, Luang Prabang

Coconut cream cakes

Capturing Luang Prabang locals on the streets

I enjoyed taking photos of the locals on the streets of Luang Prabang, doing their daily activities.  I find the traditional clothing of elders especially interesting.

Luang Prabang Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

Kids playing after school

Luang Prabang Luang Prabang Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

DSC_4684

Luang Prabang baguettes

Bagets selling baguettes

Luang Prabang

Overall, I find Luang Prabang charming, with its cultural sites located within a small town, surrounded by mountains and nourished with two rivers forming its peninsula.


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Luang Prabang, Laos

19 thoughts on “How to See Luang Prabang Center in Two Days

  1. Pingback: The Temples (Wat or Vat) of Luang Prabang - Finding Jing

  2. Sandy N Vyjay

    Luang Prabang seems really fascinating. Different cultures seem to have integrated seamlessly. Can see the influences of French, Indian and Buddhist cultures. The performance of the Ramayana seems really unique and colourful. A pity the mosquitoes chose to play havoc during the performance!

  3. corinnevail

    Wow! That certainly is a long list of things to do in one day. I would probably spread it out to 2 or even 3 days, but thanks for all the photos and ideas. I will be going sometime so it’s nice to know what kinds of things we should do.

    1. findingjing Post author

      Hi Corinne. We actually did those for two days, one day by walking and one day by cycling. This is a list of options one can choose from. I guess the title was a bit confusing. Will probably modify this for more clarity. Thanks for your comment. 🙂

    1. findingjing Post author

      Unlike in Bangkok where there are plenty of places to experience street food, in LP town center, there’s only this one or two short stretches of streets. It’s like a fusion of Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. I’m really not a good source of food reviews. I can only judge whether I like it or not like it. Haha!

  4. Foodie Flashpacker

    Wow– you managed to see and do a lot in one day! I spent three days there and I’m not sure I did so much. I do love the city though. It’s so calm and peaceful. It’s a nice quiet break.

    1. findingjing Post author

      Thanks for reading. Sorry, I must have been dizzy while writing this. What I’ve listed here, we’ve covered in two days. I’ve corrected it already. I also like how Luang Prabang managed to be calm and quiet despite a number of visitors I’ve seen while there.

  5. Helena

    Wow! What a post! And an adventure for a couple of days for you. I love all of the different types of building and the street foood looks amazing!

  6. Juliette | Snorkels To Snow

    Wow that’s action packed! But incredible to see so much. The view from the top of Phou Si Hill looks amazing! I love the fusion of architecture too, how delightful. Similar to Pondicherry in India where you can see the old French colonial styles in the buildings, just a shame they are not kept and maintained.

    1. findingjing Post author

      Oh! I’ve never been to India and would love to visit there, too. Just the sound of this country tickles my wanderlust. I’ll keep Pondicherry in mind when I get the chance to finally visit India. Thanks!

    1. findingjing Post author

      Thanks, Dave! Exploring through the countryside would be the next thing on my list should I go back to LP. We went to the Kuang Si Falls, too and I was stunned by its beauty. 🙂

  7. Vicki Garside

    Luang Prabang is absolutely my favorite place and Laos (and possible in all of SE Asia!) I loved the quiet there – the streets are so peaceful and the sights are never crowded. There’s a temple on every block and number of monks walking the streets makes me feel like I’m in a time gone by. And the night market there is awesome! On your next visit, make sure to take a boat ride up the Mekong to Buddha Cave, it’s a great way to really get a glimpse of river life.

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