Spending time in Luang Prabang, Laos, and would love to make the most out of every moment? There are so many great things to see and do in Luang Prabang, yet this royal capital is small and compact and you can pack plenty into a three-day itinerary. Read on to discover what to do with 3 days in Luang Prabang and get a feel for this lush, golden town.
Luang Prabang, the former royal capital of Laos and the country’s capital until 1975, has long attracted Buddhists, backpackers, and those seeking off the beaten path travels. Lacking the flashiness of Bangkok, the Eat Pray Love vibe of Ubud, or the quaint small-town charm of Hoi An, Luang Prabang rarely makes the list of must-sees in Southeast Asia. With its French colonial architecture, vibrant markets, and exquisite temples, however, Luang Prabang definitely deserves your attention. Its unique monastic life, the shimmering golden temples, and the attractive nearby countryside all vie for your attention in this 3-day itinerary.
My 3 days in Luang Prabang guide is meant for culture lovers, active travelers, and adventure seekers. At the end of this guide, I also recommend a few centrally-located hotels at the end of this post.
The Best Time to Travel to Luang Prabang
Luckily for those of us from the land of winter versus summer, Luang Prabang is a beautiful temperature all year long. However, Laos has two seasons – wet and dry. The dry season runs from October to April, and the rainy season is from May to September.
It’s not an exact science, and Luang Prabang tends to get most of its rain overnight or in the early morning, so as long as you don’t mind the occasional downpour, you can travel to Luang Prabang at any time of year! April, May, and June offer the hottest temperatures in Luang Prabang, with daily highs usually in the 30s. For warm, sunny days, visit Luang Prabang between November and March.
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A comprehensive 3 day Luang Prabang itinerary
3 days in Luang Prabang: Day One
Kuang Si Waterfalls
Begin your day at one of the region’s most popular attractions. The Kuang Si, or Kuang Xi, the waterfall is located about 29 kilometers south of Luang Prabang. The tiered waterfalls are a favorite with travelers and tend to be crowded on hot sunny days.
Locals charge admission to the falls, which are well-maintained with a walking bridge and a trail to the top of the waterfall where the falls begin, which begins to the left of the falls. The water tumbles into a series of turquoise pools, almost all of which are open for swimming. It’s the perfect place to relax. Because the falls tend to be crowded, they’re a great place to either start or end your day.
Royal Palace Museum
The famed Royal Palace Museum in Luang Prabang is home to the Prabang Buddha, for which the city is named. This tiny golden statue was gifted to the warrior Fa Ngum on the occasion of his marriage to a Khmer princess in the 14th century and has gone back and forth between Laos and Thailand in a series of disputes. Since 2013, it has lived at the French-colonial Royal Palace in Luang Prabang. The living quarters interior of the 20th-century palace (it was built in 1904-1909!) is quite spartan, though the throne room is elaborately decorated with jewels.
Photos are not allowed inside the museum.
Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham
Nearby 18th century Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham (often just called Wat Mai) is the largest and most richly decorated of the Luang Prabang Buddhist temples. It’s well known for the emerald Buddha that sits inside. The complex five-tiered roof adds to its beauty. This exquisite temple is a must-see.
Wat Xieng Thong Temple
Further along the road, you’ll come to Wat Xieng Thong Temple, a 16th-century temple that is beautifully maintained and restored to protect its history and heritage. Its name roughly translates to Temple of The Golden City, and its gilded interior certainly lives up to that name. Its sloping roof, made from three levels, is impressive, as is the Tree of Life mosaic and the funeral chariot of King Sisavang Vong.
Wat Sen Souk Haram
Wat Sen Souk Haram, which literally means Temple of One Hundred Thousand Treasures, is yet another must-see temple in Luang Prabang. Its intricate facades and red roofs are among its well-known features, while legend says it was built from 100,000 stones from the Mekong River.
3 days in Luang Prabang: Day Two
Wake up early to participate or watch one of Luang Prabang’s most unique experiences, the alms-giving ceremony. Each morning, the young monks take to the streets of the old city to receive their alms, often in the form of rice which makes up their daily meal. There’s no reason why you can’t participate in this tradition, though there are strict rules regarding participation and photography so best to ask your host or hotel for instructions.
Visit the Morning Markets
Luang Prabang’s morning markets are a fascinating glimpse into an Asian morning market, which offers more than your usual fruit and veg on display. You can find everything from fish to grilled insects alongside the typical market fare. The market takes place along the streets near the Royal Palace, and usually concludes by mid-morning so be sure to go early for the best experience.
Pak Ou Caves
Jump on board a ferry boat for the short ride to one of Luang Prabang’s most unique experiences, the Pak Ou Caves. Located 25km north of the city, in cliff-caves overlooking the Mekong River, are two caves that are home to a multitude of Buddha statues.
Thousands of imperfect Buddhas line the caves’ interiors, all imperfect in their own ways – chipped, aged, missing hands or noses, tilted to one side – but all keeping watch over the Mekong and those who come to pray at their feet.
Each Buddha represents something different: meditation, education, or nirvana. Most boats go home via the Lao Lao rice whiskey distillery in Ban Xang Hai, where you can partake in a tasting of this potent homebrew.
3 days in Luang Prabang: Day Three
One of the highlights of any Southeast Asian trip is a cruise along the Mekong River. Luang Prabang is located at the confluence of the Mekong and Kahn rivers, making it an important trade and strategic military location as well as the royal capital.
A cruise along the Mekong River will introduce you to some of the rural communities of Laos and give you a chance to see some of the countryside. It can be a multi-day excursion through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos, or it can be a day trip during your stay in Luang Prabang.
Sunset from Mount Phousi
Located in the heart of the old city, Mount Phousi is more a hill than a mountain. Each evening, hundreds of people head up the hill across from the Royal Palace in order to watch the sky turn from day to dusk. This is a great place to get an idea of the size and scenery of Luang Prabang so I highly recommend doing this on your first evening. Give yourself enough time to make the climb at a leisurely pace, perhaps stopping off at Wat Tham Phou Si, a Buddist temple on the way up.
What started as a Christmas market in 2002 hasn’t stopped, and is now the famous Luang Prabang Night Market. It opens at 5 pm and is a great place to purchase local handmade crafts like artwork, scarves, and more. It’s expanded quite a bit since its inception, so you’ll also find wood carvings, prayer mats, and souvenirs. And if you’re hungry, have no worries. Stop by one of the many food vendors for a cheap, delicious meal. Known as the Caterer’s Evening Market, it features favorites like noodle souple, spring rolls, barbecued meats, and more. It is the perfect stop during your market explorations.
Where to Stay In Luang Prabang, Laos
There are plenty of accommodation choices in Luang Prabang, from budget backpackers and guesthouses to stunning five-star retreats and luxury hotels and spas. I was lucky enough to stay at the secluded Villa Santi Hotel and Resort, a five-star boutique resort with hotel rooms and suites alongside bungalows in a verdant tropical landscape.
Villa Santi Resort
The Villa Santi resort is the more luxurious of the two properties. Rooms are spacious and comfortables, with large, sumptuous beds, deep soaking tubs, and expansive views. The suites and villas offer private balconies, separate lounge areas, and more.
Guests can unwind in the wellness area, which offers a variety of treatments designed to rejuvenate and relax your mind and spirit. The swimming pool has a swim-up bar, perfect for those lazy afternoons after a day of exploring. Villa Santi also offers an on-site restaurant and bar.
Villa Santi Hotel
The Villa Santi Hotel is located in a 20th-century royal mansion in the center of the city. All rooms and suites offer comfortable beds and spacious surroundings. Suits also offer separate living space and a dining area for more privacy and comfort.
Guests can dine in the on-site Princess restaurant or enjoy drinks in the lobby bar. The hotel features a plunge pool in the garden as well.
Luang Prabang is a fascinating city. Its rich history and heritage that span the Khmer Empire to the French colonial era and into modern-day have made it a unique and interesting city to explore. My 3 day Luang Prabang itinerary has given you plenty of places to spend your time in this north Laotian city, and I hope you’ll take the time to explore it.