Luang Prabang is a shiny little jewel in the crown of Laos. Surrounded by hazy green hills, the old French town boasts a relaxed vibe, the opportunity for spiritual nourishment, and plenty to see at the intersection of the Mekon and Nam Khan rivers.
Although a popular tourist spot, Luang Prabang doesn’t have a resort type feel to it and it’s still an affordable stop for those on a budget. That’s not to say that those with more cash to splash don’t have the chance to do so!
Here are our five budget-friendly must-dos
Watch the monks collecting alms (but do it respectfully)
If you love your sleep, this one might not be for you. On the other hand, if you’re the type of person who can manage to drag themselves out of bed at 5 am, you’re in luck. Head toward the main roads and you’ll be able to witness the daily ceremony of giving alms.
This is a long-standing tradition that has two objectives; the monks can share blessings and merit on those who have prepared food for them, and the monks receive their daily meal from the community.
It’s important to be respectful during the ceremony. This means not getting your camera within 2 inches of a monks face, not using your flash and not getting in the way. Tourists are allowed to take part to, but you must take your lead from the locals. Finally, don’t buy bagged items off the early morning touts. The monks don’t eat them.
Visit the Kuang Si Falls
Kuang Si is a huge cascading waterfall that flows through jungle type terrain and pools in three of the bluest swimming pools you’ve ever seen in your life. As you move up from the bottom pool to the top each one seems better, brighter and more alluring. When we visited there was the most gorgeous sunlight peeking through the dense foliage overhead, and the biggest collection of butterflies I’ve ever seen in my life. By the time we slipped into the cool, refreshing, water I was pretty convinced we were in a Disney movie.
Despite there being a few tourists around (it’s a popular spot) there was always plenty of space. There is food available outside the ticket gate (a small fee to get in applies) and within the surrounds of the pools. If you’re over swimming, or you love a good view, there is also a track that will take you above the falls. Just remember to wear good solid shoes, as flip-flops won’t cut it.
During your visit, you’ll also see the Luang Prabang bear rescue center, for black bears who have been rescued from poachers. The bears are big and fluffy and fun to watch, and we recommend leaving a small donation for their care.
To get to the waterfalls you can arrange a private car, barter with a taxi driver or join one of the regular mini-vans that drive the 30kms from the city out to the falls for a fair price.
Take in the night market and enjoy a buffet
Like many cities and towns around the world, Luang Prabang hosts a daily night market. Here locals and tourists alike can shop for merchandise and food and can eat a hearty meal for not very much. Even if you’re not keen to buy anything it’s still a fun place to visit and get the vibe of the town. If you’re eagle eyed you’ll also find a side street, which hides a mountain of food, available buffet style. Just buy a bowl from the ladies working there and fill up on lots of good food.
Visit the bookshop for a cheap movie
L’estranger bookshop/teashop/cafe and art gallery is a delightful little bohemian paradise all wrapped up in fairy lights. They host regular movie nights for free but request that each viewer pays for a drink while they watch. The drinks run a little more expensive than those at the night market, but the ambiance is nice and having a chance to blob in front of a movie is a bit exciting when you’re on the road for a long time.
Enjoy a full-on meal at Tamarind
I know I’ve already mentioned the good cheap food at the night market buffet. If you’re up for something a little fancier though (without really injuring your wallet but maybe hurting it just a little bit) make tracks right to Tamarind restaurant. When you book you can specify an inside table or a river-view table. If you’re ok with the heat head outside and enjoy your meal while you gaze at the Khan Nam river. Beautiful!
Tamarind offers a bunch of a la cart food but we went straight to their tasting plates. They’re affordable, huge and full of traditional Laos flavours. We stuffed ourselves full and enjoyed every mouthful. The wait staff also made sure we were looked after and well-informed.
If you visit, make sure you read the whole menu as it has a wealth of information about Luang Prabang, Laos, food, and hospitality.
Here is a recommended don’t do, just for you.
While we were in Luang Prabang, I ended up in the hospital with a touch of food poisoning. It wasn’t from the night market buffet, or tamarind, don’t worry! What it was though, was an experience I won’t forget anytime soon. If you’ve got the stomach for it, check it out here.
Go and enjoy yourself in Luang Prabang! There is lots to see, an easy town to walk around and many beer-lao to drink. Get to it and have fun.
If you’ve enjoyed our list, please let us know, or better yet share it with a friend!