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Legend has it that Buddha smiled when he rested in Luang Prabang, claiming it would one day be the site of a rich and powerful city.

Indeed, from the 14th to 16th centuries, Luang Prabang became the capital of the powerful kingdom of Lane Xang (Kingdom of a Million Elephants), whose wealth and influence swelled thanks to its strategic location on the Silk Route. It was also the heart of Buddhism in the region — Luang Prabang takes its name from the Prabang, a statue of Buddha gifted by Cambodia in 1512.

Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang, LaosFew towns in the world can be said to encapsulate the essence of a country like Luang Prabang does of Laos. The heart and soul of this tiny landlocked nation, this UNESCO World Heritage town sits peacefully amid the jungle-clad hills of northern Laos, waiting to beguile visitors in much the same way as it has for centuries.

By virtue of its UNESCO-protected status, Luang Prabang has escaped the ravages of modern development. Its architectural heritage is reflected in the many traditional wooden buildings — only temples are permitted to be built in stone. There’s also a small array of low-rise French colonial villas.

But, it’s the skyline of Buddhist temple spires that lend a special atmosphere to the place. To get your bearings, climb up to the hilltop Wat Phu Si and you’ll be rewarded with views across the town to the surrounding rivers and mountains. The temple of Wat Xieng Thong is a highlight, with walls of vibrant, mirrored mosaics.

Mornings begin in age-old fashion with chanting from the monasteries and wats, followed by the dawn street procession of the monks collecting alms. During the day, many saffron-robed monks can be seen walking through the quiet streets and will often eagerly practice their English on visitors.

Kuang Si Waterfalls in Luang Prabang, LaosWhile days can easily be spent sitting at a roadside café soaking up the relaxed ambience, the town is also a good base from which to explore the surrounding countryside. The Kuang Si Falls just outside town are a popular draw, but if you’d like to visit, we can arrange an early morning picnic breakfast before the crowds arrive.

Arguably one of the highlights of Luang Prabang is heading up into the hills. The best way to explore is with a guide from one of the surrounding hill tribe villages, who can lead you through the network of trails. Along the way you might pass a number of villages — a variety of traditional communities live in this region including the Akha, Khamu and Hmong people.

While Laos isn’t known for wildlife, from Luang Prabang you can visit Mandalao Elephant Conservation, a sanctuary focused on education and animal welfare. For exotic flora, you can catch a boat upriver to the recently established Pha Tad Botanical Garden Project, which focuses on developing sustainable agricultural practices.

Getting to Luang Prabang can be half the fun. You can take a leisurely two-day boat journey down the Mekong River to ease yourself into the gentle pace of life. The more adventurous can arrive by road from northern Thailand, via the little-visited villages of Nong Khiaw and Luang Namtha.

If you’re pressed for time, you can fly in from Bangkok and nearby Cambodia or Vietnam.

Best time to visit

The best time to explore Luang Prabang is from October to April, when it’s comfortably warm and dry. If you’re planning to arrive by river, boat travel is best between November and January when high water makes passage easy.

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Audley Travel specialist Hayley

Start planning your tailor-made trip to Luang Prabang by contacting one of our Laos specialists

Suggested itineraries featuring Luang Prabang

Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel in Luang Prabang, and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.

Map of Luang Prabang

Places & hotels on the map

    Places near Luang Prabang

    Our expert guides to exploring Luang Prabang

    Written by our specialists from their own experiences of visiting Luang Prabang, these guides will help you make the most of your time there. We share both our practical recommendations and the best ways to appreciate Luang Prabang at its best.

    • What to do in Laos: our highlights guide
      Mekong River

      What to do in Laos: our highlights guide

      What to do in Laos: our highlights guide

      Still very much untouched by mass tourism, Laos offers the visitor much to see and do, from watching monks perform daily rituals or taking a night safari in a national park, to learning to cook Laotian food or taking a relaxing cruise down the Mekong River.

      7 min read

      Read this guide

    Accommodation choices for Luang Prabang

    We've selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Luang Prabang. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.

    Ideas for experiencing Luang Prabang

    Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Luang Prabang, and which use the best local guides.

    • Kuang Si Waterfalls
      Kuang Si Waterfall, Luang Prabang

      Kuang Si Waterfalls

      Kuang Si Waterfalls

      Kuang Si Falls are 30 kilometres from town. The excursion leaves Luang Prabang in the morning and heads toward Ban Ou by boat.

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    • Alms Giving
      Alms Giving Luang Prabang

      Alms Giving

      Alms Giving

      Each morning at dawn in Luang Prabang the local Buddhist monks form a procession around the streets of this charming town, collecting alms of rice and vegetables from the local population.

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    • Living Land Rice Experience
      Workers at the Living Land Rice Experience, Luang Prabang

      Living Land Rice Experience

      Living Land Rice Experience

      This is a great opportunity to experience the hard life of a farmer and try your hand at some of the activities, such as working with Suzuki the water buffalo, in knee-deep muddy rice paddies. Enjoyable and very educational, you will learn about the 13 steps and various methods involved in planting, growing, harvesting and cooking rice.

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    • Nam Ou River Adventure
      Pak Ou caves

      Nam Ou River Adventure

      Nam Ou River Adventure

      The Ou River is a tributary of the Mekong and its valley has some of the most stunning scenery in the whole of Laos. You will take longtail motorboats to cover the distance through the valley back to Luang Prabang, stopping en route to visit some of the local hill tribe villages and the holy Pak Ou Caves.

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    • Evening Baci Ceremony
      Traditional dress

      Evening Baci Ceremony

      Evening Baci Ceremony

      The Baci ceremony is a mix of Animism and Buddhism. These ceremonies are common to Laos. Their purpose is to call back your own spirits to your body because they sometimes escape.

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    • Luang Prabang Discovery
      Temple in Luang Prabang

      Luang Prabang Discovery

      Luang Prabang Discovery

      The day is spent with your guide discovering the magical temples and ancient crafts practised in this beautiful city in the mountains. Exactly what you choose to do on this day is up to you and can be discussed with your guide.

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