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Luang Prabang Starts Here

Luang Prabang Starts Here

Arriving in Luang Prabang recently—and for the first time in 14 years—I was struck by a couple of things. First, by how little I remembered: If I didn’t know I had been here, I wouldn’t have known I had been here.

What I did remember, to be sure, was that Laos had been a desperately poor country a decade-and-a-half earlier. That much didn’t seem to have changed, at least not for the portion of the country between the airport and Luang Prabang’s city center. For all the talk of high-speed railway in the country, the main road still seemed to be one giant pothole.

Having arrived back in the city primarily to take the slow boat back to Thailand, I did wonder whether I had thought enough about how many days in Luang Prabang I was going to spend. I wondered about other things, too. How would my past interact with me—would it haunt me—in the present day?

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Where to Stay in Luang Prabang

Regardless of how many days in Luang Prabang you decide to spend, securing a comfortable (and, if possible, chic) place to stay is a worthwhile pursuit. Though the town center is effectively just a single street, there’s value in finding the perfect base, particularly if Luang Prabang will inaugurate your time in Laos, as it so often does. If you can afford it, the five-star 3 Nagas is definitely worth the relatively high expenditure.

Thankfully, if your budget is more modest, Luang Prabang is full of more affordable boutique hotels and guest houses. From Chaluenxay Boutique Hotel to Mekong Charm Guesthouse, these sorts of places are dripping with local character, but also tend to be in fabulous locations and offer all the creature comforts you could need. In fact, I’d almost go so far to say that bad places to stay don’t exist in Luang Prabang.

What to Do in Luang Prabang

Watch the morning Alms ceremony


Not surprisingly, this sacred city (whose Lao name translates roughly to “Golden Buddha image”) is home to countless gorgeous temples, namely the famous Wat Xienthong. However, the crowning cultural attraction here is actually an event that occurs every morning: The procession of monks along Sakkarine Road, also known as the Alms ceremony. While I’d be lying if I said the spectacle tourists have built up around this has left it feeling completely authentic, I will say that your pictures will definitely be amazing.

What’s funny is that while I remembered myself as having attended this ceremony back in 2010, I had literally no recollection of that occurring when I went in 2024. I think I might’ve fully fabricated this memory!

Skip Phou Si Hill—go here instead


No matter how many days in Luang Prabang you decide to stay, you’ll want to see the city from a higher perspective. However, while conventional wisdom would tell you to scale Phou Si Hill in the city center, I have a different recommendation. Instead, head to the ferry terminal along the Mekong and cross the river. Then set your GPS for Wat Chompet. While overgrowth of trees does partially obscure the view of the city from here, it’s by far the best view you can enjoy.

Take a day trip to Kuang Si


Conventional wisdom among the backpacker crowd is that Kuang Si Waterfall is among the best waterfalls in Southeast Asia. Like the Alms ceremony, however, this was an experience I missed back when I was a backpacker. As a result, I’ve visited dozens of waterfalls in the interstitial period, namely Thailand’s Erawan Falls, which is very similar in appearance to Kuang Si. I won’t go so far as to recommend against coming here, but I will say that if you’ve seen many other waterfalls, this one may slightly disappoint you.

End at a famous night market


One experience I definitely had back in 2010 was eating my way through Luang Prabang Night Market. I know this not only because I have multiple (not very good) pictures of the market, but because this (specifically, ice in one of the famous “fruit shakes”) was the origin of the food poisoning that ended up spoiling my time here. Irrespective of how many days in Luang Prabang you stay, do take care when consuming things prepared on Lao streets.

Ride the slow boat to Thailand


There are many paths you can take away from Luang Prabang, with the most common among them being a high-speed train (at least these days; I took a minivan back in my day) to the backpacker paradise of Vang Vieng. A more adventurous option? Ask your hotel to book you a spot on the two-day “slow boat” that travels from a port just outside Luang Prabang to Huay Xai (just outside of Chiang Rai, Thailand), via the impossibly cute town of Pak Beng.

Is Luang Prabang Worth Visiting?

In the years that passed between my first visit to Luang Prabang and my second one, I always kind of wanted to go back—I’d had food poisoning back then, and had never been able to enjoy myself fully—but not desperately so. Had that been the case, I likely would’ve gone between 2017-19 when I was living in Thailand; that obviously didn’t happen.

Indeed, for the first day or so I was back in the city this time, I actually questioned whether my time might be better spent somewhere else—the charms of Luang Prabang took some time to wrap themselves around me. That’s why, when it comes to the question of how many days in Luang Prabang, I do recommend staying more rather than fewer. With 2, 3 or even 4 days here, you maximize the chances that you’ll feel the love.


Other FAQ About Visiting Luang Prabang

Is 2 days enough in Luang Prabang?

Functionally speaking, two days is more than enough to see what there is to see in Luang Prabang. You can explore all the temples in the center along Sakkarine Road, and also watch the Alms ceremony at least one morning. You can make an excursion to Kuang Si Waterfall, and also take a ferry across the river to see the city from a more distance perspective.

Is 3 days in Luang Prabang enough?

With 3 days in Luang Prabang, you give yourself breathing room. Presuming you can get most of your “sightseeing” done in two days, having a third allows you a full 24 hours simply to feel your way around the city, and to focus on enjoying yourself. If you have space within your Southeast Asia itinerary, in fact, I’d almost go so far as to say that three days is the ideal amount of time to spend in Luang Prabang.

Is it better to visit Vientiane or Luang Prabang?

Luang Prabang is a far better city than Vientiane, at least for tourists. While Laos political capital is not totally without its charms, the reality is that its tourism capital is far easier to love, whether because of cultural reasons like the Alms ceremony every morning, or the more dramatic scenery that surrounds Luang Prabang compared to the flatter environs around Vientiane.

The Bottom Line

No matter how many days in Luang Prabang you decide to spend, I know from personal experience that your first impression of the city can last years. The good news is that the city, as charming as it is, is not really big at all. You can see the entire center in one full day, as well as any parts of other days you spend in the region. Once you finish exploring nearby attractions like Kuang Si Waterfall, to be sure, you’ll be ready to set off, whether that’s southward to the ecotourism hub of Vang Vieng, or westward down the Mekong to Thailand via slow boat. Need personalized help planning your trip to Laos? Consider hiring me as your Travel Coach!


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