Luang Prabang

The former royal capital of Laos, Luang Prabang is a dreamlike destination. Set on the banks of the Mekong River and surrounded by rugged mountains, this tiny town appears from the air like a vision of Shangri-La.

Luang Prabang was once known as Xiang Thong, which means ‘Golden City’, and it still merits this title, as the gleaming spires of its temple stupas dot the town’s skyline. Unesco recognized the importance of its temples and cultural heritage, in the form of French colonial architecture, in 1995 when the town was awarded World Heritage status.

Since then the town has become the top destination for visitors to Laos and one of the most popular places in all of Southeast Asia. While its main attractions are the beautifully designed and decorated temples, there are plenty of other activities, such as climbing the small hill of Phu Si to enjoy the view and taking a boat trip to the nearby Pak Ou Caves, which contains thousands of Buddha images.

The town’s popularity also ensures that visitors are spoiled for choice when it comes to eating, sleeping and shopping. Check out one of the atmospheric restaurants beside the Mekong River for superb sunset views, snuggle into one of the colonial mansions converted into boutique hotels, and pick up reminders of your trip at the Handicraft Night Market.

When to go

The best time to visit is between November and February, when days are fresh and sunny, but it’s also the most expensive time. The rainy season (June–October) sees fewer visitors and prices are lower. March to May is the hot season, when humidity is high, so sightseeing can be a sweaty experience.

Visa requirements

Singaporeans and citizens of other ASEAN member states can visit Laos for 30 days without a visa. Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months and that you have a return or onward ticket. Visitors from many other countries can get a 30-day visa on arrival at Wattay International Airport in Vientiane for between US$30 and US$45, depending on what passport you are holding.


Currency is the Lao kip. There are ATMs dispensing kip all over town and several banks will exchange foreign currency.


Tuk-tuks are the main form of transport around Luang Prabang, and a trip into town from the airport costs around 50,000 kip. Since the town is so small, hiring a bicycle is a pleasant way to get around.

Health and safety tips

There are no particular health risks in Luang Prabang, but it’s advisable to have health insurance that includes repatriation as there are no good hospitals in town. While theft is rare, hang on tight to your bags in crowded areas like markets.

Emergency details

The nearest Singapore Embassy is in Vientiane at Km 3, Thadeua Road, Ban Wat Nak, Vientiane
(tel: 856 21 353 939;

The tourist police office is on Sisavanvong Road (tel: 856 71252 903).

Basic greetings
English Laotian
Hello Sabai dee
How are you? Sabai dee baw
Fine, thanks Sabai dee
Nice to meet you Nyin dee tee hu chak
Goodbye (person leaving) La gon
Goodbye (person staying) Sok dee
Excuse-me Kho thoht
Thank you Kop chai
You’re welcome Baw pen nyang
What’s your name? Chao seu nyang?
My name is… Koy seu…
Where are you from? Chao ma tae sai?
I come from… Koy ma tae…
Where is…? You sai…?
Bus station Satanee lotmeh
Tourist office Hong kan tong teeow
Hotel Hong haem
Restaurant Han ahan
Toilet Hong nam
How much is…? Tow dai…?

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Royal Palace Museum

Sisavangvong Road

The Royal Palace Museum (no sleeveless shirts or shorts) was built in 1904 by the French for King Sisavang Vong, who lived there until 1959. The site has access to the Mekong River from where the king used to embark on river journeys. The architecture is a fusion of French and Lao design, and visitors can view the throne room and residential rooms, though the museum’s prize exhibit is the Pha Bang Buddha image after which the town is named. If you’re a vintage car enthusiast, don’t miss the Royal Palace Car Collection in the northern corner of the compound.

Wat Xieng Thong

Sakkarin Road

If you only visit one temple in Luang Prabang, make it Wat Xieng Thong, which is a masterpiece of Buddhist temple architecture. It was built in 1560 by King Setthathirath and remained under royal patronage until 1975, when the monarchy was overthrown. The temple is located near the confluence of the Mekong and Kham Rivers, and the large compound includes the sim (ordination hall) as well as several stupas, three chapel halls and a funerary carriage hall. Take your time gazing at the beautiful decorations on the inner and outer walls, especially the ‘tree of life’ made of glass mosaics on the back wall of the sim.

Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham

Sisavangvong Road

Along with Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham was the only temple in Luang Prabang to escape destruction in 1887 by gangs of Haw invaders, apparently because they found it so beautiful. It stands right next to the Royal Palace Museum and its sim (ordination hall) features a spectacular gold relief on the entrance wall that depicts scenes from the life of Buddha along with scenes of village life. The temple’s importance is shown by the fact that it is home to the Phra Sangkharat, the highest Lao Buddhist dignitary.

UXO Laos Visitor Center

Phothisan Road

Lest you forget that Laos was the most heavily bombed country per capita in human history, pay a visit to the UXO Laos Visitor Center, located behind the Chao Anuvong Monument on Phothisan Road. Here you’ll discover that around 25 percent of Lao villages are still contaminated with unexploded ordnance (UXO), over 2 million tons of bombs were dropped on Laos between 1964 and 1973, and lots of other scary statistics you probably never knew.


Handicraft Night Market

Sisavangvong Road

Open every evening from around 5–9pm, the Handicraft Night Market on Sisavangvong Road just southwest of the Royal Palace Museum is the place to go for souvenir shopping. Items on offer include T-shirts, bags, ceramics, silk scarves, wall hangings and hilltribe textiles. Vendors are generally not pushy and prices are reasonable.

Budget $

L'Etranger Books and Tea

Kingkitsarat Road

Though L’Etranger may be a second-hand bookshop with a wide variety of novels, guidebooks and non-fiction on sale, most people come here for the relaxing atmosphere in which to enjoy breakfast, a fruit shake or a cup of tea, while in the evenings there are free showings of movies at 7pm in the upstairs lounge. A great spot to chill out after a day of sightseeing.

Budget $$


Vatmou-Enna Road

The staff at Kopnoi (which means ‘little frog’) go to great pains to display their products in an attractive way and are always on hand to explain where different items originate and how they are made. The products range from silk scarves and cotton clothes to artwork, coffee, rice whisky and bamboo drinking straws. Kopnoi is a fair trade outlet, so you can be sure that a good part of the money spent goes to the creators of these delightful products.

Budget $$$

OckPopTok Boutique

Sisavangvong Road

OckPopTok’s purpose is to preserve the handicraft traditions of the various hilltribes in the area. They do this by selling beautifully crafted products such as wall hangings, table runners and shawls at their boutique, and by offering weaving classes at their other branch at 73/5 Ban Wat Nong (tel: 856 71 254 761). Prices are rather high but the workmanship is top quality.

Budget $$$


Lao Lao Garden

Kingkitsarath Road

The Lao Lao Garden is a great value place specializing in Asian and Western barbecue and cheap beers, so it’s a good spot for an evening out with a group of friends. Lanterns hanging from trees and a free shot of local hooch make guests feel welcome, but be prepared for a long wait for food at busy times.

Budget $

Le Banneton

Sakkarin Road

With an ideal location just down the road from Wat Xieng Thong, Le Banneton is the perfect spot to enjoy a fresh coffee and a pastry. The croissants are also delicious, and the menu includes quiches, sandwiches and fruit shakes. The café has a laid-back atmosphere and is very popular at breakfast time.

Budget $

Blue Lagoon

Ban Choumkhong

The Blue Lagoon is one of the most popular restaurants in town, so it’s a good idea to call ahead and reserve a table, particularly at peak eating times. It offers a range of traditional Lao dishes as well as international favourites. The setting is a relaxed patio garden in front of a pleasant two-storey building. Try the seafood platter and the lemongrass sorbet – yum!

Budget $$

Coconut Garden

Sisavangvong Road

The Coconut Garden is set right in the heart of Luang Prabang and has an attractive garden in which to enjoy Lao specialities or international dishes. Prices are reasonable and the service is attentive. Go for one of the ‘taster’ set menus, which offer nibbles of several Lao dishes for around US$10 for two people.

Budget $$


Kingkitsarat Road

Though Tamarind is a bit pricier than many restaurants in Luang Prabang, you get what you pay for. In this case that means polite and efficient service, a menu featuring unusual items like chicken stuffed with lemongrass and buffalo larb, a spicy dish made with chilli and roasted rice. If you enjoy the food enough, you can sign up for a cookery class here too.

Budget $$$


Xieng Mouane Guesthouse

86/6 Ban Xieng Mouane

Clean, cheap and quiet are the three main features of the Xieng Mouane Guesthouse. This centrally located budget accommodation occupies an old house full of character, and you can even see the monks’ morning alms walk from rooms out front, though for a peaceful night’s sleep, go for a room out back.

Budget $

The Apsara

Kingkitsarath Road

The Apsara is the cheaper of two hotels run by the same company on opposite banks of the Khan River, and its spacious rooms decorated with cool Asian art offer great value. It’s a quiet place with no TVs in the rooms, and the superior rooms upstairs are even bigger, with private balconies and sweeping views.

Budget $$

The Chang Inn

Sakkarin Road

The Chang Inn is a decent mid-range option located in the centre of Luang Prabang, so it’s within walking distance of all the main sights. There’s free Wi-fi, free bicycle use for guests, and for a touch of style you can arrange an airport pick-up in their 1970s Mercedes. The eight rooms all have hardwood floors and traditional furnishings, and the owners can help with sightseeing arrangements.

Budget $$

Mekong Riverview

Mekong Riverside Road

If you want the best views, comfort and service in Luang Prabang, head straight for the Mekong Riverview, a boutique resort with just 22 rooms scattered across five buildings. It’s located right on the tip of the peninsula at the confluence of the Mekong and Khan Rivers, so enjoys unparalleled views. All rooms have wooden floors, spacious balconies and stylish furnishings. Perhaps the best aspect of the place is the courteous staff who are on hand to assist guests in every way.

Budget $$$

Villa Santi

Sakkarin Road

One of Luang Prabang’s longest-standing hotels, the Villa Santi is a classic colonial pile with a few luxury touches such as a plunge pool and delightful suites. It was once home to the wife of King Sisavang Vong and retains a colonial air. There’s a beautiful upstairs balcony on which to enjoy breakfast and an open-air courtyard decorated with lanterns and candles in the evening.

Budget $$$

Pi Mai (New Year)

14 - 16 April

The nation’s biggest festival in which Buddha images are cleansed and locals douse each other with water.

Bang Fai (Rocket Festival)


A rain-making ceremony in which home-made rockets are launched to bring on the rain season, accompanied by bawdy jokes, drinking and singing.

Khao Pansa


This full-moon festival marks the start of the Rains Retreat, during which monks do not leave their temple and dedicate their time to study of the scriptures and meditation practice.

Ok Pansa


This joyful celebration marks the end of the Rains Retreat; laymen bring gifts for the monks and temple fairs are held throughout the country.

Lao National Day


This public holiday celebrates the victory of the Lao Communist Party over the monarchy and involves parades and patriotic speeches.

Luang Prabang Film Festival


Lasting over a week in early December, this event provides freee screenings of movies by emerging Southeast Asian directors, with subtitles in English. For more information, see


Begin the day by diving head first into the morning market, which occupies several lanes off Sisavangvong Road just south of the Royal Palace Museum. Here you’ll see many exotic fruits and vegetables, as well as leaves and roots that are used for medicinal purposes. Be warned that you’re likely to see dogs, squirrels and frogs ready for the cooking pot too.

A few steps east of the market, clamber up the prominent hill of Phu Si for fantastic views (on a clear day) of the town and its surroundings. The hill is only 100 metres (328ft) high and is topped by the golden stupa of That Chomsi. Keep an eye open for an anti-aircraft gun left rusting here, a reminder of years of war.

Descend the hill on the north side and go straight into the Royal Palace Museum. For much of the 20th century, this was home to King Sisavang Vong, and visitors can now see the throne room and residential rooms that have remained largely unchanged since the monarchy was deposed in 1975. The most important exhibit in the museum is the Pha Bang Buddha image, housed in its own building.

From the Royal Palace Museum, make your way northeast along Sakkarin Road to Wat Xieng Thong, which sits on a spur of land between the Mekong and Khan Rivers, and is one of the most exquisitely designed temples in all of Southeast Asia. Note how the temple’s eaves sweep down almost to the ground. The so-called ‘Red Chapel’ houses an unusual reclining Buddha image, and the funerary carriage hall is surrounded by some sensual bas relief images.

Places to visit:
Morning market, Phu Si, Royal Palace Museum, Wat Xieng Thong