Itineraries

Luang Prabang itinerary: 3 days in the golden city of Laos

Plan your trip to Luang Prabang and discover temples, waterfalls, local life and riverside sunsets in the golden city of Laos.

This Luang Prabang itinerary incorporates the highlights of this UNESCO-protected city, recognised for its fine temples and artistic heritage. A visit to this home of spirituality is a highlight of any trip through Southeast Asia. With just 3 days in Luang Prabang, we show how it’s possible to combine relaxation with cultural exploration, and plenty of local food.

Disclosure: this article contains some affiliate links, which means that if you make a purchase after clicking, we will be paid a small commission at no extra cost to you.

For some quick inspiration on activities in the city, take a look at our recommendations for things to do in Luang Prabang.

Who is this Luang Prabang itinerary for?

This Luang Prabang itinerary is based largely on our own stay in the city. We’re a 30-something couple who love to vary our travel experiences, see the sights and discover local cuisine.

With that in mind, we’ve packed this itinerary with plenty of local exploration, including cycling, walking and sightseeing, as well as allowing time for relaxation and reflection. We’ve also included recommendations on the best places to try Lao food.

In terms of budget, the itinerary is aimed at mid-range travellers who spend on activities and experiences, but like to be savvy and make savings where possible. At the end of the article I’ve included sample costs for the itinerary based on our own spending.

To find out more about us and the way we travel, head over to the about page.

Luang prabang itinerary at-a-glance

A summary of the itinerary is as follows. Read on below for the finer details and practical information:

  • Day 1: self-guided bicycle tour of historic temples, lunch and relaxation in a local riverside bar, sunset boat trip on the Mekong, visit to the night market
  • Day 2: Kuang Si Waterfalls and bear sanctuary trip, Mount Phou Si viewpoint walk, tradition Lao BBQ dinner
  • Day 3: Chomphet hike on the riverbank, traditional Lao massage, dinner in a local charitable restaurant, night out at the bowling alley

3 days in Luang Prabang: the details

Day 1: relaxation and exploration

Morning: self-guided bicycle tour of historic temples

Luang Prabang’s city centre is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes 33 of the most sophisticated temples in Southeast Asia. Exploring these local treasures is a great way to get to know the city and find your way around.

These temples of Luang Prabang are located within a compact area that’s entirely possible to navigate on foot. We found it a lot easier and more fun to cycle, and recommend that you do too!

Wat Xieng Thong, built in the 16th century, is one of the most important temples in Laos
Wat Xieng Thong, built in the 16th century, is one of the most important temples in Laos

You can hire bicycles in the city centre for around 20,000–30,000 kip per day. The bikes usually come with a lock, but be sure to double-check this as you’ll need one.

This is our suggested route for seeing the best temples in Luang Prabang (you can also use the map below to create your own route):

  1. Wat Phon Phao: a hilltop temple and forested Buddhist retreat about a 2.5-kilometres ride south-east from the city centre.
  2. Wat Xieng Thong: the ‘monastery of the golden city’. a 16th-century temple and one of the most important in Laos. A 3.5-kilometre ride from Wat Phon Phao, including a scenic stretch along the Nam Khan river.
  3. Wat Sop Sickaram: a beautifully ornate golden-fronted temple just a couple of hundred metres away from Wat Xieng Thong.
  4. Wat Pa Phai: the ‘monastery of the bamboo forest’, a 19th-century wooden temple of red and gold surrounded by trees and blossoming flowers. Located about half a kilometre south-west of Wat Sop Sickaram along Sakkarine Road.
  5. Wat Mahathat: the ‘temple of the great stupa’, a 16th-century temple restored in the early 20th century after storm damage. About a kilometre’s ride along Sisavangvong Road from Wat Pa Phai.
  6. Wat Aham: the ‘monastery of the opened heart’, a small and serene temple built in 1818 on the site of a previous 16th-century worshipping structure. About a kilometre’s ride from Wat Mahathat towards the Nam Khan river.
  7. That Makmo: the ‘watermelon stupa’, a beautiful weather-worn structure dating back to the early 16th century. Located right next to Wat Aham, and a short distance away from Utopia bar, our recommended spot for a late lunch.

Afternoon: late lunch and chill-out in Utopia bar

It’s time to give your legs a rest and have a relaxing late lunch in Utopia, a spacious bar and restaurant overlooking the Nam Khan river. This is the most popular hangout for backpackers in Luang Prabang.

The menu offers a mixture of classic Lao dishes and western favourites. Don’t feel guilty if you’re tempted by the pizzas (they’re very good) – there’s plenty of opportunity later in our itinerary to try traditional Lao cuisine.

Utopia’s lounge area along the riverfront is tailor-made for flaking out while your lunch digests. Grab a book, lie back on one of the cushioned mats and enjoy the serenity.

Utopia is a popular backpacker hangout in Luang Prabang, overlooking the Nam Khan river
Utopia is a popular backpacker hangout in Luang Prabang, overlooking the Nam Khan river

Evening: Mekong sunset tour

The huge, meandering Mekong river provides a stunning natural attraction on the doorstep of Luang Prabang. The river is an intrinsic part of the tapestry of life in the city.

One of the most fulfilling ways to experience the Mekong in Luang Prabang is to take a river cruise at sunset. You can pre-book a tour with GetYourGuide, which includes a basket of local food to enjoy on the boat.

As the sun goes down you will drift through scenes of thick forest and float past riverside villages, with green mountain peaks rising up in the distance. It’s a scene that’s perfectly accompanied by a bottle of Beerlao or Namkhong beer.

Before bed: dinner and shopping at the night market

After disembarking back in Luang Prabang, you will still have plenty of time to explore one of the city’s famous regular fixtures: the night market.

Every night from 5pm to 11pm the night market takes place along the main stretch of Sisavangvong Road and surrounding streets. Some 300 pop-up stalls sell local craft, arts, clothing and souvenirs under red and blue canvass.

Around the market you will find street food carts and seated cafés selling classic local dishes and delicacies. Indulge yourself in some real Lao food for dinner, and then walk it off as you peruse the market.

Luang Prabang's night market takes over the city centre every day from 5pm to 11pm
Luang Prabang’s night market takes over the city centre every day from 5pm to 11pm

Day 2: sightseeing highlights

Morning: Kuang Si Waterfalls and bear sanctuary trip

The second day of our itinerary begins with a trip to Luang Prabang’s most iconic attraction: Kuang Si Waterfalls. This wonder of nature is a cascading waterfall system of picture-perfect turquoise tiered pools. Don’t forget to bring your camera; you’ll be needing it.

Pack your swimming gear before you go; one of the highlights of this trip is the chance to take a dip in those luscious clear pools. You can get changed in the cubicles on site. 

There are several ways to get to the falls, which are located 30 kilometres south-west of Luang Prabang. You can hire a moped, or even cycle if you’re up for a challenge. We booked into a shared minivan, which was the most hassle-free option, and inexpensive at 30,000 kip each.

Kuang Si Waterfalls is a must to include in your Luang Prabang itinerary
Kuang Si Waterfalls is a must to include in your Luang Prabang itinerary

You will arrive in a small village where you will need to pay a 20,000 kip entrance fee to begin the short walk that leads to the falls. Along the way you will pass through the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre and see Asiatic black bears at play. You can also buy merchandise to support the upkeep of the sanctuary (it doesn’t receive any money from the entrance fees).

Once you reach the pools you can easily while away an hour or two taking refreshing dips, admiring the spectacle and taking photos of the different perspectives. There are also some options to hike around the falls, with trails leading off into the dense jungle.

Once you’re satisfied, head back down to the village and grab some lunch in one of the small restaurants. Then it’s back to the city…

Afternoon/sunset: Mount Phou Si viewpoint walk

Don’t be put off by the fact that this is a ‘mount’ – it’s actually a very manageable walk up a series of stairways to the highest point in Luang Prabang.

Mount Phou Si is centrally located in the city (you can’t miss it, just look out for the big hill) and can be accessed by two main entrances. One is opposite the Royal Palace gates, and the other is around the far side by the Nam Khan river road.

There is an entrance fee of 20,000 kip that you will need to pay part-way up the hill. As you ascend you will see some interesting structures, including Wat Chom Si, a 19th-century temple, and a shrine of golden Buddhas and ornaments inside a small grotto.

The best panoramic views of Luang Prabang and the Mekong countryside await you at the top of the final flight of steps. It’s an extra-special sight at sunset, but also a highly popular one, so come earlier if you prefer to avoid the crowds.

The golden structure of Wat Chom Si, part-way up Mount Phou Si
The golden structure of Wat Chom Si, part-way up Mount Phou Si

Evening: traditional BBQ dinner at Lao Lao Garden

Your Laos cuisine experience won’t be complete until you’ve tried a traditional BBQ meal. At Lao Lao Garden in Luang Prabang, you can experience it in a rainforest-esque outdoor setting. You will find it on Phou Si road, just around the corner from Utopia; from outside it looks quite small, but stepping inside you emerge into layers of beautiful gardens.

If you order the BBQ, a plate of hot coals will be brought to your table. The friendly staff will then help you to cook your own meats, vegetables and eggs (yes, even eggs are barbecued in Laos!).

The service can be a little slow, but why rush? It’s a pleasant place to hang out, forget your worries and enjoy the atmosphere. We liked coming here just for a drink too, and there’s always a good cocktail deal on.

Day 3: hike and unwind

Morning: Chomphet hike on the riverbank

On the final day of our itinerary we venture across the Mekong river for a picturesque hike though forests and temples along the far bank.

The Chomphet hike begins at the small village of Ban Xieng Mane, which you can reach by taking a ferry boat from the main port by the Royal Palace. The trail then leads north-east tracing the riverbank, passing by five temples, which act as markers for the route. You will wander in and out of forestland and enjoy lovely views of Luang Prabang back across the river.

View of Luang Prabang over the Mekong river from the Chomphet hike
View of Luang Prabang over the Mekong river from the Chomphet hike

The hike typically takes 2–3 hours, so if you set off after breakfast you can avoid the midday heat and finish with a picnic lunch. This detailed guide to the hike by So Many Miles provides all the practical information you need to know.

Afternoon: relax with a Lao massage

After the morning’s hike you’ve earned some relaxation, and what better way to rest it off than with a traditional Lao massage?

Luang Prabang is packed with spas and massage parlours, many of which are mind-blowingly cheap. One of the best budget options is L’Hibiscus Spa on Sakkarine Road, where you can get a quality one-hour massage for just 60,000 kip.

Evening: dinner in a local charitable restaurant

Just outside the entrance to Utopia is a quaint local restaurant called Lao Friend Bar. We were drawn to this place when we learned about its back-story; it is run by two young men trying to raise money to rebuild their home village in northern Laos, after it was destroyed by flooding. Read our article on the Luang Prabang bar rebuilding a flood-damaged village for the full story.

We spent my birthday evening here, and liked it so much here we came back again the next night. The food is great – the best traditional Luang Prabang salad I had anywhere in Laos. Try the khao soi as well.

Excellent traditional local food in Lao Friend Bar, Luang Prabang
Excellent traditional local food in Lao Friend Bar, Luang Prabang

To finish: night out at the bowling alley

After your meal in Lao Friend Bar, head into Utopia for a few evening drinks before a trip to Luang Prabang’s legendary late-night bowling alley! (Yes, you read correctly.)

At 11pm, bars across the city close their doors adhering to the national curfew. The only place you can continue to have a drink is at a bowling alley, in an isolated neighbourhood a few kilometres out of town.

As you join the crowds leaving Utopia at closing time, you will be met outside by tuk-tuk drivers offering lifts to the bowling alley. It should cost 10,000 kip per person if you go in a group.

The bowling alley stays open until 2am, with alcohol flowing over the bar and even an archery range outside. It’s a little bizarre, but also a must-do to complete your Luang Prabang experience, and a great way to let your hair down at the end of your stay.

Or, if you’re anything like us, you could just go there every night…

Luang Prabang trip costs

Laos is one of the cheapest countries we’ve ever visited on our travels, and despite Luang Prabang being the top tourist destination in Laos, it’s an extremely affordable place to visit.

The following estimated budget for 3 days in Luang Prabang shows how all the costs in this itinerary can be covered for under 100 British pounds per person. This figure is based on our own spending in the city. The costs are shown in both Lao kip and pounds (check xe.com for the latest exchange rates):

  • Accommodation: 180,000 kip (£16) for a hostel dormitory bed for three nights
  • Transport: 100,000 kip (£9) for a day’s bicycle hire, minivan transfers to Kuang Si Falls, ferry transfers for the Chomphet hike, tuk-tuk to the bowling alley
  • Food and drink: 440,000 kip (£40) for food and drinks for one person for three days
  • Activities: 350,000 kip (£32) for all activities in this itinerary (entrance fees, boat trip, massage, bowling)
  • Total sample trip cost: 1,070,000 kip (£97)

How to get to Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang has an international airport, which receives daily flights from Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Siem Reap and Hanoi, as well as domestic flights from Vientiane and Pakse.

Air fares can be expensive though, and if you’re travelling from northern Thailand, a cheaper and more memorable option is to take a two-day slow boat on the Mekong. See our article for everything you need to know about the slow boat to Luang Prabang.

If you are travelling inland from Laos on the backpacker route from Vientiane or Vang Vieng, it’s easy to take a minivan to Luang Prabang. See our article on getting around Laos for some insights into domestic transport in the country.

Where to stay in Luang Prabang

We stayed in Downtown Backpackers hostel in Luang Prabang, which is centrally located and provides good facilities. The free breakfast was great, with a menu to choose from each day, and we were very happy with the security standards and social spaces.

We were also able to easily book trips and transport to our next destination through the hostel. You can book your stay at Downtown Backpackers on hostelworld or booking.com.

We stayed at Downtown Backpackers hostel during our 3 days in Luang Prabang
We stayed at Downtown Backpackers hostel during our 3 days in Luang Prabang

If hostels aren’t your style or you’d prefer something different, you can browse options on booking.com below:



Booking.com

Further reading on Laos

If you’re planning to travel elsewhere in Laos, you may find our other articles useful:

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