AVANI+ Luang Prabang | Courtesy of AVANI+ Luang Prabang
The former royal capital of Luang Prabang has so many natural wonders, cultural gems and fun activities that it’s hard to choose only 10. While you won’t find Tad Kuang Si or Tad Sae on this list, we’d be remiss if we didn’t wholeheartedly recommend a visit to both waterfalls. Instead you’ll find a mix of attractions and activities that get to the heart of the people and culture in the former royal capital.
With over 80 temples and many monks, Luang Prabang has become a tourist destination for visitors who want to witness the religious practice of Tak Bat or almsgiving from the faithful Theravada Buddhists to the monks, who are prohibited from growing or preparing their own food. Every morning before the sun rises, monks across Laos walk barefoot with their alms bowls to silently collect rice and other food items that they will eat before noon, when their fast begins. If you participate, be respectful and take photos from a distance. As the practice has gotten more touristy, some enterprising tour operators sell tourists food or offer the option for tourists to give alms. Exercise discretion and do what feels right to you.
Right on the bank of the Mekong, Luang Prabang’s Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Center teaches visitors all about Lao textiles. Take a free guided tour and see the silkworms and meet the weavers. Try your hand at a full-day or half-day batik or weaving workshop lead by Lao weavers and taught in English. Stay for a meal or a drink at Silk Road Cafe on the premises. Check out the incredible handicrafts by weavers from all over Laos at their shop in the Crafts Center or at the store in town. Proceeds help support local weavers and keep Lao textile art thriving.
Tamarind Restaurant is located on the Nam Khan in historic Luang Prabang. The longer day class and shorter evening cooking classes are taught in Tamarind Gardens, an idyllic outdoor setting surrounded by lily ponds. Transportation to and from the Gardens is included in tuition. Day participants start with a trip to the market to purchase ingredients for dishes such as chicken stuffed in lemongrass, jeow dipping sauce and mango sticky rice. If you are vegetarian, inform the instructor in advance as there is a veggie-friendly menu available.
Big Brother Mouse is an incredible organization that’s been promoting literacy in Lao and English since 2006. Filling a need by publishing Lao language children’s books and educating rural villagers from pre-k to young adults at the new Big Sister Mouse school, you can contribute by volunteering! Join an English conversation hour in town, or spend a day at the school. A suggested donation of 100,000 kip (around $12) takes visitors to the province to read with students, learn Lao language and Lao sign language, play board games, eat lunch and more. The bus leaves on weekday mornings at 9 am and returns to town around 4:30 pm.
Laos Buffalo Dairy, the first commercial dairy business in the country, is located on the road from Luang Prabang to Kuang Si Falls. The dairy products include yogurt, ice cream, and cheeses from the milk of a buffalo. Take a tour and bottle feed the babies, give greens to the adult animals and check out the pigs and chickens on the farm as well.
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Get out of town
With so many beautiful hiking trails, natural features and untouched landscape, the opportunities for outdoor recreation seem endless. Book a tour through one of the many operators in town and set off on a kayaking, trekking, zip lining or cycling adventure. If you’re not one for tours, many tour companies will rent bicycles and motorbikes for you to explore the surroundings on your own. Wear a helmet and bring your camera!
Lao Green Group specializes in sustainable eco-friendly tours. If you’re looking to see as many temples as possible, take the Half-Day City Sharing Tour and ride an electric vehicle. Meet your guide at the fountain near the post office and head to the morning market. From there visit Wat Mai and the Royal Palace Museum. Drive to Wat Choumkhong, Wat Xieng Muan and visit a traditional Lao wooden house. Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Wisunalat, Wat Aham, Wat Wisunalat, Wat Kili and Wat Sen round out the tour.
AVANISPA is located at the newly acquired AVANI+ hotel in downtown Luang Prabang, which was rebranded in March 2018 at the property that was formerly Azerai. AVANIFit highlights lifestyle elements that focus on healthy bodies and minds, including a gym and daily yoga classes at the on-site studio. There is a swimming pool and pool bar. The spa offers two single and two double treatment rooms with a communal relaxation lobby.
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The majority of rural Lao people are subsistence rice farmers. The Living Land Lao Rice Experience takes visitors through the process of planting and harvesting rice in the paddies. The farm is in an idyllic mountain setting on rice terraces. Learn to thresh and bundle rice, along side Lao people and try your hand at tilling the earth with a plow pulled by buffalo. A restaurant on-site offers beautifully prepared Lao food on a balcony overlooking the fields. If you like the farm so much you don’t want to leave, a homestay option is available to spend the night.
While smaller and less elaborate than Vientiane’s COPE Visitor’s Center, Luang Prabang’s UXO Laos display still packs a punch. A small theater shows documentaries about the Lao Civil War, citizens affected by Unexploded Ordinances, and the slow, painstaking clean-up efforts. The center is free to visit, but you will be compelled to leave a donation before you leave. Information about tools the bomb removal teams use as well as the myriad reuses for war remnants are both informative and will tug at your heartstrings.