If you’ve just got a weekend or 3 days, here’s an excellent itinerary that will give you the top highlights of Luang Prabang and surroundings with time to enjoy some of the local/French cuisine, take a cooking class visit the temples, markets, lookouts and everything that makes Luang Prabang the must see that it is.
Start your morning off with a stroll around the old UNESCO World Heritage city. Make sure to visit the Royal Palace Museum, with its gilded roof and golden Buddha. This former palace is now the best museum in the country, and you can also see ballet performances here at night. Nearby, climb to the top of Phou Si hill, which gives a great panorama of the town as well as both the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers. Some prefer heading up here to watch the sunset, but the crowds are pretty crazy, so we recommend going up early.
After a lunch from the baguette sandwich vendors at the entrance to the old town, explore the many temples of the historic district, the most atmospheric being Wat Xieng Thong, with a triangular tiled roof and tranquil setting on the Mekong. Finish your day off with a superb French meal at L’ Elephant Brasserie, Luang Prabang’s most sophisticated dining option.
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Rise before dawn and get out to watch the monks make their morning alms rounds, an age old institution in Luang Prabang. Locals wake up at the crack of dawn and come out of their homes and businesses to give the lines of monks food in exchange for blessings. Do note that the ritual has become a popular tourist attraction, yet it remains a revered religious ritual, so don’t disturb the monks with camera flashes or get in their way as they make their procession. Many guesthouses can provide food baskets as well as etiquette tips for guests, as well as helping travellers to get a good position for the event.
After picking yourself up with a cup of strong Lao coffee at Joma Bakery, hire a tuk tuk or join a tour heading out to Kuang Si waterfall, where pristine emerald pools and cascades flow down several tiers, perfect for swimming, as well a favorite spot for local picnics. There is also an Asiatic Bear center here, along with a butterfly farm, making for great family fun.
Back in town, head out to the old town as the sun sets, where the main street gets closed to cars and a lively evening market opens, selling a vast array of Lao souvenirs and traditional products. There is also a large food market here, where you can sample local specialties like deep fried Mekong river seaweed topped with sesame seeds, or or lam, a thick eggplant stew served with buffalo meat.
In the morning, head out by boat on the Mekong to the cave complex at Pak Ou. This deep cavern has two caves filled with thousands of Buddha images, and the boat ride out along the Mekong takes in plenty of local river life.
Back in Luang Prabang, learn how to make some of that delicious Lao cuisine you’ve been sampling at one of the many cooking schools, and then finish your day with a dinner at Kaiphaen, one of several training and vocational school restaurants giving youth at risk an opportunity to excel in the restaurant business.