Luang Prabang, Laos will instantly captivate you with its picture-perfect location and stunning jungle-mountain backdrop. Nestled between two rivers, this small town is a dream for those looking for a bit of adventure. With so much natural beauty there are fantastic opportunities for outdoor activities in Luang Prabang.
Kuang Si Falls
There’s a reason this is the number one thing to do in Luang Prabang. It’s unbelievably beautiful and you can swim. Even in the pouring rain. Usually, the waterfall is crystal clear, but the rains bring muddy waters to the falls. Trust me, it didn’t matter. The rain meant that no one was swimming in the most popular pools, we (my German travel buddies) had the place to ourselves.
Plan on arriving there early to beat the crowds. We left town around 9am and there were still plenty of people, but it wasn’t mobbed. You can easily hike to the top in about 20 mins if you’re in reasonably good shape. It’s well worth it to peer over the edge!
Mandalao Elephant Tour
Enjoy hiking with the elephants on this ethical elephant encounter. Mandalao is the only non-riding tour company in Luang Prabang. At the end of the hike, cool off in the river and relax with your newfound friends. All under the backdrop of the verdant jungle mountains. Hiking with the elephants was hands down, my favorite outdoor adventure in Luang Prabang. The Into the Wild tour includes transport, lunch, snacks, bug spray, sunscreen, and hours of playtime with the elephants. Bring a change of clothes for after the tour, you will get wet and muddy!
Cooking Class with Tamarind
Learn all about the cuisine of Laos in an open-air kitchen! This class not only features cooking in an authentic Laotian way, but the instructors tell you what you need to do to modify the recipes at home. A great way to connect with other travelers, and enjoy a feast! The class is held at an off-site location at a nearby village nestled in yet another beautiful setting. Just be sure to bring some bug spray!
Check out this comprehensive guide to solo travel in Luang Prabang (prices included!).
Explore Villages by Bicycle
For around 80,000kip you can rent a bicycle for the day. You can peddle around the main drag of town, or opt to get outside of the touristy area and do some exploring. I used Google Maps with a local SIM to navigate and had a blast seeing the more local areas of town. Just remember, most of the bikes have tires meant for pavement, I had quite a bit of trouble once I hit the dirt!
Mount Phousi, at Sunrise
This 300-some-odd-step march up to the top of the hill is well worth the crowds. At sunset, the crowds move in quickly, so plan on either arriving around 5:00 pm and settling into a bench (my approach), or fight the hordes of people trying to take photos. Due to the weather, I couldn’t go at sunrise, but I would recommend it to avoid the crowds.
Open-Air Night and Morning Markets
If you’ve never seen markets in Asia, both of these are decent examples for a smaller town. The night market caters to tourists but is still worth a look. While the morning market has a more local vibe, with the exception of ridiculous photographers getting in peoples faces. Some of the local fares includes BBQ’d rat on a stick, boa constrictor meat, fried frogs, and other intriguing menu options.
Wander the Temples
For such a small city, Luang Prabang has an endless sea of temples, most of which are accessible by walking the main drags of the historic “downtown.” Alternatively, you can ride a bike from temple to temple. Please remember, your shoulders and knees need to be covered, so bring a shawl or wear long pants or a skirt. Also, be prepared to take off your shoes as well. Here are a few must-see temples in Luang Prabang:
- That Pathum (That Makmo). A beautiful, old stupa
- Wat Xieng Thong. Many beautiful golden buildings.
- Wat Wisunarat (Wat Visoun). The oldest temple dating back to 1513.
- Wat Sensoukaram. Featuring a giant golden Buddha
- Wat Sibounheuang. Incredible craftsmanship and intricate designs are mesmerizing.
- Wat Nong Sikhounmuang. Another stunning piece of architecture.
Walk Along the Nam Kam River
The Nam Kam is the quiet side of the touristy area. Meander the water’s edge and stop to take in the view. Bring a book or snack and enjoy a little peaceful time by the river. Watch life on the river slowly creep on by. There is usually a bamboo bridge connecting the two sides as well, so be sure to enjoy the view from both banks!
Help Kids Learn English
The outdoors community understands the importance of supporting the local community. Every evening from around 5 until 7 pm Big Brother Mouse invites native English speakers to come to talk with local English students. You sit down and have a conversation with mostly high-school-aged kids in English. It’s certainly an experience, most did not understand that I was traveling alone. Nonetheless, even just dropping by for an hour is a unique experience. So volunteer an hour of your vacation and connect with a local student!
Luang Prabang is filled with adventure, culture, and fun outside. If you love the outdoors you’ll love Luang Prabang.