Sometimes there are times where you may find yourself with only 24 hours to explore a city. In this case I wanted to share with you a rough itinerary of what 24 hours might look like in the city of Luang Prabang, situated on the banks of the Mekong River in Laos.
Luang Prabang is one of Laos’ loveliest cities. Given its UNESCO world heritage status from the fusion of both European colonial and traditional Laos architecture that covers the streets, it’s also a place with high religious value for Buddhists. The town contains 34 Wats (or Buddhist temples) that house over 1000 monks.
To see the reasons why this town received its UNESCO status, and to also visit some of the main city highlights, I have put together the below rough itinerary for travellers with only a short amount of time to explore.
Yes that’s right… 6am. This is the time when the monks receive their morning alms and you can witness the local businesses providing offerings to them. This ritual can get crowded with tourists, and become quite disrespectful when people use the flash and get too close to the monks, so head down to the eastern part of Sakkaline Rd where there are less tourists and you can watch from afar.
Take a stroll along the river up towards Wat Siphoutthabath. Walk down towards the Bamboo Bridge and watch as the monks cross over to the other side. Admire the colonial architecture that lines the streets until you arrive at KopNoi café for some breakfast.
Spend an hour relaxing upstairs at KopNoi, a café/art gallery/fair trade shop that works closely with artisans, villages, non-governmental organisations and non-profit producers in the community. Try the homemade peanut butter with toast, they also make the most delicious hot chocolates.
Walk back down towards Wat Siphoutthabath and work off the breakfast with a hike up the trail to Mount Phousi, where you can take in 360-degree views of the city. Visit the ancient stupa, built in 1804, located at the top of the mountain and snap some pictures of Luang Prabang and its beautiful mountainous surroundings.
Head down Sisavangvong Road and turn left where you will find The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre (TAEC). On your way don’t forget to stop off at the Luang Prabang Public Library where you can buy a book and help to support the ‘Book Boat’ initiative, taking Laos & English books, by boat, to remote villages along the river and helping the children receive an education. 1 book will cost you only $2.
TAEC is a museum and resource centre dedicated to educating people about Laos’ diverse culture and ethnic groups, as well as preserving its history. In the museum you will find information on the cultural heritage of Laos and its people, including Laos’ most ethnic minority communities. It’s a great way to learn about the Laos culture, both past and present.
The entrance fee is 20,000 kip with the money going towards keeping the centre open and supporting the local community.
There are two options here. You can either grab yourself a sandwich from one of the many sandwich shops in the centre of town or wait until you arrive at the waterfalls and grab your lunch there.
From town grab a tuk tuk to visit the famous Kuang Si Waterfalls. It may seem like this is the place where everyone is going but once you arrive you’ll understand why. Don’t worry about the crowds too much because the waterfalls are big enough that you’ll be able to find yourself a nice spot to swim away from the tourists, if you climb a bit further up the falls. I would definitely say that these falls were one of the best, if not the best, waterfalls I’ve ever seen in my life and well worth the half hour tuk tuk ride out of town. To lower the price of the tuk tuk you can either join a group or get your own group together. We paid roughly 30,000 kip for a return trip.
One added bonus you get when arriving at the falls is the chance to visit the Luang Prabang Bear Sanctuary, situated on the path to the falls. The sanctuary, run by Free The Bears, is home to 23 bears that have been rescued from the illegal animal trade in Southeast Asia. Here you can learn about the threats to these wonderful creatures facing extinction, and watch as they play freely in their large enclosures where they are safe from harm. The sanctuary is free entry but donations are always welcome.
Once back from the falls you have the chance to visit the UXO Laos Visitor Centre, located behind the Chao Anouvong Monument in Luang Prabang. The UXO Centre raises awareness about the remnants of war in Laos and how there are still many unexploded ordnances that remain today. The centre has a display of ordinances found in Laos, a library and a small audio-visual room for visitors to learn about the aftereffects for the Laos people. The centre is run by volunteers and donations help towards the removal of over 80 million bombs still remaining. The centre is open until 4pm.
Time for some R&R before you head back into town for the night.
Head down to the waterfront and grab yourself a seat to watch the sunset over the Mekong River. Many restaurants line the river and most have great views. You can grab a cheap beverage at any of them or, if you’re on a budget, just skip the restaurant all together and walk down to the riverbank where you’ll also have a great view.
Time for the night markets! Save some room in your stomach to taste all the amazing street food on offer or head over to the vegetarian street buffet, where you can get a big plate of vegetarian food for only 10,000 kip. There are also plenty of fruit shakes and even a desserts stand for after your meal, if you can fit any more food in.
Walk it all off by wandering down the street with all the market stalls. See the handmade crafts being sold by the locals, some venturing all the way from surrounding villages. For a good cause pick up one of the bracelets or key-chains made using old bombshells. You’ll see the sign ‘make bracelets not war’, and all profits made go towards supporting the local communities that have been affected by land mines.
For a late night beverage or just somewhere to chill out with some good people and good music head over to Utopia. With their slogan ‘Zen By Day, Groovy By Night’, Utopia sure does get its groove on after dark. Dance the night away to some reggae tunes or sit back with a nice cocktail, or Laos Beer, and relax after an action packed day of exploring this wondrous city.
I hope this article will give you some advice on what to see if you have little time in Luang Prabang. If you have any other highlights please feel free to send them through in the comments below.