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A weekend in the UNESCO city of Luang Prabang

A weekend in the UNESCO city of Luang Prabang

Laos is one of the last few places in Southeast Asia that manages to preserve its traditional, authentic appeal. At the heart of Laos is the sleepy town of Luang Prabang, a true gem blending French colonial influences and panoramic rural beauty. Situated in a valley hugged by greenery and mountains, this UNESCO-listed site is home to approximately 56,000 residents.


Day 1 in Luang Prabang, Laos

7pm: Night food market at Sisavangvong Road

You will likely reach Luang Prabang in the evening. Make your way to Sisavangvong Road, which comes to life in the evening with food vendors hawking all sorts of meals, from Lao noodle soup to laap (minced meat salad) to ping kai (grilled chicken) to aw lahm (eggplant stew with bark from a pepperwood tree) to skewered meats to French-inspired baguette sandwiches.

Sisavangvong Road, Luang Prabang, Laos

Day 2 in Luang Prabang, Laos

8.30am: Wat Xieng Thong

Luang Prabang is a city of many temples, and the 16th century Wat Xieng Thong is the oldest and most quintessential temple in the city. Ornamented with colourful gold and red designs, entrance fee to this intricate monastery is 20,000 kip.

Khem Khong, Luang Prabang, Laos
Open 6am-6pm daily

10am: Wat Sene

Wat Sene, as its English name which translates to “Temple of 100,000 Treasures” suggests, is arguably the most beautiful gem among the temples, with its deep ochre colour and a strong touch of gold architecture.

11.30am: Lunch at 3 Nagas Restaurant

Walk along Sakkaline Road from Wat Sene and you will reach the famous 3 Nagas Restaurant, known for their authentic Laotian culinary fare in a relaxing environment. Top dishes include mhok het (steamed mushroom in banana leaf), phaneang khai (local version of chicken curry), naem kao (steamed rice crepe stuffed with minced pork) and oua si khai (stuffed minced chicken in lemongrass).

Ban Vatnong, Sakkaline Road, Luang Prabang

1pm: Pak Ou Caves

After lunch, head to the pier to board a round boat tour to Pak Ou Caves, costing typically around 65,000 kip (first boat takes off at 8.30am, though the ticketing office opens as early as 8am). The cruise will lead you to the famous Buddha caves. Packed with as many as 4,000 Buddha statues, the shrine dates back thousands of years and is dedicated to Lord Buddha and the river spirit.

The journey to Pak Ou Caves takes around 1.5-2 hours one by boat. Yet the journey of getting there is an experience in itself, as you cruise through the Mekong River (the 12th longest river in the world) and observe the beautiful sceneries surrounding it.

An afternoon cruise is recommended, and try to coincide your return journey with the sunset, which is typically around 6.15-6.35pm depending on the time of year. As you drift down the river, you can enjoy a drink as the sun sets over the water.

7.30pm: Dinner at Tamarind Restaurant

Tamarind is another go-to choice to discover authentic Laotian cuisine, with dishes such as meuyang (noodles and vegetable wraps with herbs) and pumpkin with kaffir lime and ginger. Not the kind of food you usually find on your dinner table! But here in Laos, it’s perfect for your taste buds.

Kingkitsarath Rd, Luang Prabang, Laos
Open Mon-Sat 11am-9pm


Day 3 in Luang Prabang, Laos

5.30am: Morning almsgiving

Wake up early to join in the city’s most spiritual event, the almsgiving or known locally as Tak Bat. Every morning, saffron-robed Buddhist monks walk along the Luang Prabang streets to collect food.

You can participate with the devotees by preparing rice or cookies beforehand, and place them inside the monks’ bowls as they pass by. If you are female and would like to give alms, it is suggested that you cover any revealing parts of the body, even your shoulders. The almsgiving ceremony is held nearby the key temples. One of the best temples to observe the ceremony is at Wat Mai Temple.

8.30am: Tat Kuang Si Waterfall

After the ceremony, make your way to Kuang Si Falls, approximately 30-45 minutes away from the city. Try to get there as early as possible before the crowd starts flocking in so that you get to observe the beauty of this blue travertine without having to squeeze among selfie stick-holders. Admission fee is 20,000 kip.

You can reach the waterfall with shared tuk-tuk for about 30,000-50,000 kip, or on a private excursion for 150,000 kip.

Open 8am-5.30pm

11am: Free the Bears Rescue Centre

At the bottom of the waterfall, you will find a rescue centre where plenty of Asiatic Black Bears are housed and taken care of. They were previously rescued by the Lao authorities from the illegal wildlife trade, as their bile are believed to be an important ingredient in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Watching them from the viewing platform is an experience in itself, as we ponder the impact of human activities on the fate of these bears.

1.30pm: Lunch at Dyen Sabai

Cross to the other side of the Nam Khan River through a bamboo bridge (during the rainy season when the water level is higher, you can cross with a boat, free of charge). Dyen Sabai will surely quench your thirst for authentic Lao food, especially if you crave barbecue delicacies. Their eggplant dip is a must-try!

It’s also the perfect spot to escape the busy atmosphere of the main streets, while you admire the scenic view of the Phousi mountain and the Luang Prabang peninsula from the comfort of the restaurant.

Ban Phan Louang, PO Box 805, Luang Prabang 06000, Laos
Open 8am-11.30pm daily

4pm: Mount Phou Si

It’s time to trek up the icon of Luang Prabang. After about 300 steps, you will be rewarded with panoramic views of the sleepy town of Luang Prabang. Take your time and stay awhile at the top, or you will regret not seeing the sunset over the Mekong from the top of the hill!

7pm: Dinner at The Apsara

After the long day, relax by the terrace of The Apsara for a beautiful view of the Nam Khan river.

But on top of the gorgeous views, The Apsara is a top pick because of their interesting menus which blend Western and Eastern influences, with key specialties such as dried beef and lemongrass salad with mint, coriander and cashews, as well as deep-fried Panin fish with lime and tamarind sauce. Other highlights include the Lao sour and spicy fish soup, yellow curry with pumpkin, apple eggplant, bamboo and Lao basil.

They also offer an eclectic choice of wine and dry martinis to close off the night.

Ban Phanluang, Luang Prabang

Day 4 in Luang Prabang, Laos

8.30am: Royal Palace

A great museum to dive into the rich Luang Prabang history and a peek into the life of its royalty. The Palace was built during the French colonial era in 1904 for King Sisavang Vong and his family. Signs and explanations are minimal, so it is recommended to hire a guide to help narrate the stories behind this spectacular slice of history.

Open 8-11.30am and 1.30-4pm daily

11am: Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham

Right next to the National Palace is another major temple, especially well-known for the incredible ceiling detail of its tiered roof. This is without a doubt the largest and most richly decorated among the Luang Prabang temples, with an emerald Buddha statue seated inside in between red-gold interiors.

Thanon Sisavangvong, Luang Prabang, Laos

12nn: Lunch at Tamnak Lao Restaurant

Definitely not one to miss if you are really keen for more Laotian cuisine. Tamnak Lao is popular not only among tourists, but even the locals endorse this! Try their say ua moo (pork sausage with chutney) and ua nor mai (crispy bamboo shoots filled with vegetables).

Tamnak Lao, Sakkaline Rd, Luang Prabang, Laos

1.30pm: Vat Visounnarath

Built between 1500 and 1520 during the reign of King Visounnarath, this is a very important temple with a huge Lotus Stupa which is bizarrely shaped like a watermelon! Inside the temple are hundreds of Buddha statues dotting every corner of the interior.

3pm: Head to the airport

Get there at least 2 hours early to catch your international flight back home!


Places to stay in Luang Prabang, Laos

Prices listed are based on average daily rates for a Standard Room.

Affordable

Xieng Mouane Guest House is a decent no-frill option just a stones throw away from the main streets of Luang Prabang. This guest house has rooms with a private shower and offers facilities such as luggage storage and laundry facilities.

Price range: SGD 60-83

Address: No. 88 Sotikoumane Road Xiengmouane Village, Riverfront, Luang Prabang, Laos, 06000

Mid-range

Satri House is set in a serene ambience with design inspired by traditional Lao culture with a touch of colonial style.

Price range: SGD 160-416

Address: 57 Phothisarath Rd | Ban That Luang, Luang Prabang 85671, Laos

High-end

Amantaka Luang Prabang is set on a large garden estate and it’s furnished in an elegant French colonial style. Located just south of Phousi Hill, this luxury resort is within strolling distance from the city centre.

Price range: SGD 1,272-1,604

Address: 55/3 Kingkitsarath Road | Ban Thongchaleun, Luang Prabang 1090, Laos

Getting to Luang Prabang, Laos

From Singapore to Luang Prabang (via Vientiane):

  • SilkAir flies 14.20-18.00 every Monday, Thursday and Saturday
  • Lao Airlines flies 14.15-17.45 every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday

From Luang Prabang to Singapore (via Vientiane):

  • SilkAir flies 18.50-23.05 every Monday, Thursday and Saturday
  • Lao Airlines flies 07.40-13.25 every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday

Upon arrival at the airport, it costs around US$5 for a 10-minute ride to the city centre in an air-conditioned van.

Getting around Luang Prabang, Laos

Once you are in Luang Prabang, it is easy to explore the city entirely on foot. As with other Southeast Asian cities, the ubiquitous tuk tuk is a common mode of transport in Luang Prabang.

Getting out of town to the caves and waterfalls, however, can be a bit trickier as they are further away. In such cases, you may want to consider renting a bike for around US$2 per day or a motorbike for around US$15 daily. Else, you can always join many of the commercial tour organizers to visit these out-of-town attractions.

Other important notes

Time difference

Luang Prabang is GMT+7, which is 1 hour behind Singapore.

Best months to visit

Luang Prabang can be visited anytime of the year. However, the October-February period works best, as the climate will be cooler and it is before the monsoon season.

Helplines

  • Police: 191
  • Tourist police: 192
  • Fire: 190
  • Ambulance: 195
  • Electricity: 199

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