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Right after I quit my job as a lawyer to travel the world, I embarked on a monthlong whirlwind trip around Southeast Asia. During that month, I visited 13 cities in six countries. Luang Prabang, Laos was one of my top three favorite cities, mainly because of its chill vibe and beautiful landscapes. It certainly deserves more than a mere 24 hours, but for the time poor, here is how you can make the most of your 24 hours in Luang Prabang.
Mount Phou Si
Start your day off with a sunrise hike to Mount Phou Si, a 100 meter high hill in the middle of Old Town that offers 360 degree views of Luang Prabang. You’ll be able to glimpse the Mekong River, Nam Khan River, several buddhist temples, and nearby forests. While it is typically pretty crowded during both sunrise and sunset, it is usually less crowded during sunrise, so I would recommend going then. Plus, what better way to start out your 24 hours in Luang Prabang than with one of the most beautiful views you can find there?
“Phou Si” means “sacred hill,” so it is no surprise that there is a small buddhist temple at the top of the hill and another cave temple about halfway up. There are also buddha images scattered throughout the hill, so you’ll feel the full effect of the sacred Buddhist tradition there. The best way to visit Mount Phousi is to take one stairway up and the other stairway down. That way, you won’t miss anything.
As of 2018, there is an entrance fee of 20,000 Kip ($2.30 USD).
Alms Giving Ceremony
On your way to Mount Phou Si to watch the sunrise, you might see monks dressed in orange robes lining the streets. Alms giving is an ancient traditional among Laotian buddhists originating from the 14th century that is still practiced today. At sunrise every morning, around 200 monks take to the streets with a large container to gather their daily meal. Locals wake up much earlier to start preparing food for these monks. Sometimes, you’ll see children kneeling on the side of the streets and monks dropping food into their baskets to take back to their families.
If you’d like to participate, you can purchase foods, such as rice, fresh fruit, and traditional snacks, in advance to give to the monks. In order to ensure that you’re exercising proper etiquette, observe what the locals are doing and imitate their actions. Make sure your shoulders, chest, and legs are covered, and that your socks and shoes are removed while sitting. Refrain from talking to or touching the monks as they pass. Simply place your offering in their container and let them move on. Also, make sure you arrive with plenty of time to spare in the morning as it is considered rude to disrupt the ceremony once it has begun. If you do have the unique opportunity to participate in this centuries old tradition, it will undoubtedly be something you’ll remember forever.
Kuang Si Falls
After your morning hike, take a day trip to Kuang Si Falls. I am one of those people who never bores of waterfalls and will go out of my way to see one – especially one you can swim in! Kuang Si Falls are one of my favorite in the entire world. You can swim in all of the pools, as well as hike around the area. There’s also a bear sanctuary near the entrance where you can see the cute, cuddly creatures play.
While you can find plenty of companies that offer day trips to Kuang Si Falls, I would recommend booking a trip with Banana Boat. The company was started by an Australian woman in 2012, and I was very happy with how my trip was organized and executed. I took the day trip to the Pak Ou Caves and Kuang Si Falls, but I thought the caves were a bit of a doozy. I would have much rather had more time at Kuang Si Falls, as you can easily spend an entire day playing in the falls and exploring the forests there.
Ock Pop Tok
If you have time after you get back from Kuang Si Falls and before dinner, check out the Living Crafts Center at Ock Pop Tok. You can get a free 30-minute tour here, during which you’ll learn all about Laos textiles. Not only will your guide educate you on the history of Laos textiles, but you’ll also have the opportunity to watch experts on site weave and create beautiful masterpieces. After your tour, you can wander around the property, have a snack at the cafe, and purchase your own handmade souvenirs in the shop.
After dinner, take a stroll through the night market before heading back to your hotel or hostel for the night. The night market opens every evening at 5pm and takes place at the corner of Settathilat and Sisavangvong Roads in the middle of Old Town. The entire street is closed off to vehicles so that you can wander around and shop safely. Many vendors come from the nearby Hmong Market, which closes right before sunset, and others come from the hill tribes with their clothing, ceramics, lamps, blankets, bed covers, handicrafts, silk scarves, and more. Haggling is absolutely acceptable here, but just remember to be polite, as many of these vendors make their living from selling their products.
For just $7 USD per night, you can get yourself a dorm room at this jungle oasis. Located just a short 20 minute walk from the center of town, Sa Sa Lao lets you enjoy peace and quiet in a beautiful landscape while still being close to all the bars and restaurants in the center of town. If you prefer your own space, you can also get a private room here for $25 USD per night.
Located in the center of town, Villa Pumalin is the perfect launching pad for all your adventures during your short 24 hours in Luang Prabang. The spacious rooms and full guest amenities, including massages, laundry service, and bicycle rentals, make staying at Villa Pumalin a no brainer.
I mean, the views speak for themself, right? These private villas hidden in the forests of Laos offer the idyllic retreat for couples, families, or group getaways. You can read more about Mekong Estate here.
Start your day off like the locals do with a big bowl of khao soi noodle soup. This hearty soup will keep you powered throughout the morning for whatever adventures you decide to embark on. As one of the most popular local dishes, you won’t be hard pressed to find khao soi. However, I recommend going to a street stand like Khao Soi Noodle Shop on Sakkaline Road for a fully immersive local experience. Khao Soi Noodle Shop is open every day from 7:30am until midnight.
For lunch, head over to Coconut Garden and order some more local specialities, such as sticky rice (khao niao), minced meat (laap), lao sausages (sai oua moo), or steamed fish (mok pa). Can’t decide what to order? Then you might want to get the tasting menu for 150,000 kip ($17 USD) so you can try it all. You can find the full Coconut Garden menu here.
Whatever local dishes you weren’t able to fit in your stomach during lunch, try them at dinner! One of my favorite places to try local dishes for dinner is Tamarind. If you can’t decide what you want, try one of their tasting menus – and don’t forget to wash it all down with a Beerlao. If you have extra time in Luang Prabang, you can also book a class at the cooking school there so that you can bring some of your favorite dishes back home with you.
If you’re able to hit all of these spots during your 24 hours in Luang Prabang, then you’re doing great! And if you have extra time to spare, you’ll get so much more out of Luang Prabang by spending a few extra days there. Did we miss any of your favorites on our list? Let us know in the comments below!
Looking for other fun things to do in Southeast Asia? Then you might want to check out these posts:
- 24 Hours in Singapore
- Ha Long Bay Cruise and Yen Duc Village Experience
- The Perfect 3 Day Itinerary for What to do in Chiang Mai
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