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.
Few 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 land-locked 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 temples 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.
While days can easily be spent sitting at a roadside cafe 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 Nam Tha.
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.
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
- Nong Khiaw 59 miles away
- Pakbeng 67 miles away
- Muang La 69 miles away
- The Plain of Jars 69 miles away
- Vang Vieng 70 miles away
- Luang Nam Tha 90 miles away
- Nam Et-Phou Louey 105 miles away
- Sam Neau 130 miles away
- Vientiane 136 miles away
- Vieng Xai 141 miles away
- Hin Boun 218 miles away
- Thakek 245 miles away
- Khammuan & Savannakhet 287 miles away
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.