Luang Prabang is the former capital of Laos and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a small city with a pleasant atmosphere. There are temples scattered around town, colonial houses from the time it was part of Indochine and much more. A day is not enough to enjoy Luang Prabang to the fullest but if you have just a day then the following 5 places are the must-see places. I recommend starting at Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham, then continue to the Royal Palace Museum and Wat Xieng Thong. It should be lunch time then. After lunch climb Mount Phousi and enjoy the views from the top. Finish at Wat Visounnarath & Wat Aham before heading to Utopia for dinner and a great evening out. I for sure had a great day! Now, let’s look closer at the must-see places in Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang #1: Mount Phousi
Mount Phousi is a 100-meter hill in the middle of Luang Prabang and can’t be missed. It’s an important Buddhist religious site with several temples and shrines on the hill and surrounding area. The entrance is opposite the Royal Palace and it takes 300 steps to get to the top. It’s not far up but I found it strenuous due to the extreme heat and bad air quality. I visited in March when the farmers burn the fields making the air very polluted. Mount Phousi is a must see so I simply could not skip it.
I went to the top after a visit to the Royal Palace Museum and decided to descent on the other side and visit another ancient temple called Wat Visounnarath. When you climb Mount Phousi there are sellers selling birds in a cage which you can release at the top of the mountain and make a wish. On the top of Mount Phousi is the Wat Chom Si stupa with several small shrines. Walking down you will pass Wat Tham Phou Si, another Buddhist temple on the hill. Best would be to climb during golden hour for the best views over the Mekong River, Nam Khan River and Luang Prabang itself. I decided not to do this because to the bad air quality didn’t allow me to see far. It was a pleasant hot walk up and down the hill but I can confirm it’s a must see if you visit Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang #2: Royal Palace Museum
The Royal Palace Museum is located on Thanon Sisavangvong street opposite the stairs leading up Mount Phousi. I recommend visiting the museum first and after going up Mount Phousi. The palace itself build for King Sisavangvong isn’t old, just a century, but it has exhibits from several centuries. It’s the place to go to learn about Lao history and culture. Various rooms include exhibits from the Lane Xang kingdom period, colonial area, and current time. I really enjoyed the Lao crown jewels and the royal apartments which are very well preserved.
You must leave shoes, bags, and any camera’s in a safe at the entrance; no photography allowed. I spend just over an hour inside and another 30 minutes exploring the Haw Prabang temple on the same grounds. Keep in mind the opening times of the Royal Palace Museum: 08:00-11:30 and 13:30-16:00 all days except Tuesdays. I recommend going at 8AM, after the Monks Giving Alms ceremony, to avoid the crowds.
Luang Prabang #3: Wat Xieng Thong
Wat Xieng Thong is located on the tip of Luang Prabang where the Mekong River and Nam Khan Rivers join. It’s one of the most important Buddhist monasteries in Laos and has been a royal temple until 1975. The Lao kings where crowned in Wat Xieng Thong making this a temple of interest. I really enjoyed the gilded wooden decorations depicting the life of Buddha, glass mosaics and other pieces of art. It’s one of two temples, the other being Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham, that didn’t get destroyed during times of war.
There are over 20 buildings on the grounds of Wat Xieng Thong which contain various Buddha images. One that I particularly liked and that’s a reclining Buddha dating to the mid-16th century when the temple was constructed by Lao King Setthathirath. Don’t miss the royal funeral carriage house which displays the 12-meter-tall royal funeral carriage. If you’re up to it try to lift one of the designated Buddha statues and make a wish. They are heavy! Plan an hour for visiting this huge complex and taking in all the details.
Luang Prabang #4: Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham
Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham is a “new” temple dating to the end of the 17th century. It was the home to the Phra Bang Buddha statue until the end of the 18th century. This statue is now on display in the Royal Palace Museum but taken to the temple during Lao New Year. Luang Prabang is named after this statue. Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham is located just next to the Royal Palace Museum and, in my opinion, the most beautiful decorated temple in all of Luang Prabang. A must visits for sure.
Luang Prabang #5: Wat Visounnarath & Wat Aham
Wat Visounnarath and Wat Aham are located just next to each other. Wat Visounnarath dates to the early 16th century and makes it the oldest temple in Luang Prabang. It’s a temple with beautiful images of Buddha but I really liked the That Pathum too, which is a large stupa. The stupa is the only one of its kind in all of Laos, therefore making it a must-see place.
Wat Aham is located just next to Wat Visounnarath and worth a visit too as it was built for the two guardians of Luang Prabang. Two large banyan trees can be found on the grounds. A visit to both temples doesn’t take long and it’s a perfect place to conclude the day and go for dinner at Utopia which overlooks the Nam Khan river.
Other places of interest in Luang Prabang
If you have just a day you won’t be able to see the following places of interest but if you have two days these are a few options to consider. One thing I recommend doing is to see the monk’s alms giving ceremony in Luang Prabang in the morning which I covered already in a previous article. In Luang Prabang there are a lot more smaller temples worth stopping by. Just wander around town and you’ll find them. In the evening the night market is worth stopping by for a local snack.
If you want to get out of town a visit to the tomb of Henri Mouhot is interesting. He was a French naturalist and explorer. He’s most famous for promoting Angkor Wat (near Siem Reap in Cambodia) in the west as he compared it to the Pyramids at Giza in Egypt. He died of malaria when visiting Luang Prabang, the capital of the Lan Xang kingdom in 1861. Nearby is the PhraThat Khong Santi Chedi which is of interest. In Luang Prabang itself the monument of President Souphanouvong is worth a short stop. If you got tired of walking around town go for a massage and rejuvinate.
Luang Prabang is lovely city and has a great atmosphere. I understand why it’s declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you have more days then make sure to visit the Pak Ou Caves, the Kuang Si waterfalls and do a country side tour. Laos is a country I want to return to one day to visit Vientiane and the south of Laos. I had a great time!Stay tuned for more stories and subscribe to the newsletter or follow CTB on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram including Instagram stories; on all social media you can find CTB @christravelblog) to get updated information.
Did you visit Luang Prabang too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!