Planning a trip to Laos? Find out if Luang Prabang is worth the detour or not with our unbiased guide.
Southeast Asia is an extremely in-demand tourist destination, with more than 140 million travelers visiting the 11 SEA countries in 2019. The most popular countries were Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop there — why not visit off the beaten path gems like Laos?
In fact, Luang Prabang is one of the most popular cities in Laos thanks to its beautiful temples, proximity to the Mekong River, and traveler-oriented atmosphere. Once you’ve gotten your visa for Laos from the UK, the next question is, is Luang Prabang worth visiting on your trip? We’ll look at the pros and cons so that you can ultimately decide for yourself.
Luang Prabang is Worth Visiting if…
You want to experience Lao culture
From intricate woodwork to traditional dances, ornate temples, and Buddhist monks in their quintessential orange-hued robes, Laos is a treasure trove of cultural gems — no wonder it has three recognized UNESCO World Heritage Sites!
The three UNESCO sites in Laos are the ruined Khmer Hindu temple complex of Vat Phou, the town of Luang Prabang, and the Plain of Jars. Best of all, you can see the latter two from Luang Prabang.
UNESCO notes that Luang Prabang is “an outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities.”
Interestingly enough, Laos is one of the least urbanized countries in Southeast Asia, which means you won’t see any skyscrapers or high-tech transport in Luang Prabang’s Old Town. Other cultural points of interest include the dozens of temples in the town (there are more than 30!), the colonial style buildings in the Old Town, and the handmade goods at the night market.
The newest UNESCO site, the Plain of Jars, was awarded the status of a world heritage site in 2019 and gets its name from more than 2,000 large stone jars scattered around multiple areas. The Plain of Jars is located in the neighboring province of Xiangkhouang and can be seen in a day trip from Luang Prabang.
You love nature
Luang Prabang is chock full of beautiful nature that is within arm’s reach. The town lies in a valley where the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers meet. This gives travelers plenty of opportunity to get in touch with nature.
Enjoy a river cruise along the Mekong, or visit the breathtaking Kuang Si Waterfall, which is only a 40-minute drive from the center of Luang Prabang.
Intrepid adventurers can hike up to Phousi Hill, which boasts stunning panoramic views of the town below and is a popular spot to enjoy the sunset.
You want to relax!
There are tons of adventures to be had in Southeast Asia: From weaving through tuk tuk in Bangkok to getting up at the crack of dawn to see the temples of Bagan, trying street food in Ho Chi Minh City, or wandering through the rice terraces in the Philippines.
However, it can get pretty tiring trying to cross off everything from your bucket list. The solution? Enjoy a relaxing break in one of the calmest cities in Laos!
Whether you want to perfect your Lotus Pose in a yoga class, chill out in one of the hundreds of riverside cafes, treat yourself to a spa day, or enjoy a cup of tea at the Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden, Luang Prabang has you covered.
Luang Prabang is NOT worth visiting if…..
You don’t like overtourism
Although Laos is still relatively ‘off the beaten path’ by relative standards, Luang Prabang is quickly positioning itself as a tourist town.
Take, for example, the Tak Bat, which is known as the daily ceremony of giving alms to the Buddhist monks that live near Luang Prabang. What was once known as a sacred ritual has now turned into hordes of tourists wielding cameras, trying to capture Instagram-worthy photos, while disturbing the monks’ meditation.
Another reason to avoid Luang Prabang — especially between November to February, the town’s high season — is the crowds of package tourists. These months are essentially Laos’ shoulder season, when the weather is comfortable and festivals (like Hmong New Year) are in full swing. Likewise, travelers on a budget may have trouble finding affordable accommodations due to the influx of tourists.
You only have a few days in Laos
While we’d love to travel around Southeast Asia endlessly, unfortunately many of us have limited PTO (paid time off). If you’re visiting Laos on a tight schedule, it’s better to see more cities and experience different parts of Laos instead of basing yourself only in Luang Prabang.
Some of our recommendations include the beautiful city of Vientiane (which is also the capital of Laos!); the river archipelago of Si Phan Don, which means ‘4,000 islands’; the outdoorsy Vang Vieng; and Pakse, a charming colonial town that can easily rival Luang Prabang.