True, the city of Luang Prabang has enough to keep one busy for a few days, but there are some sights outside town that should not be missed, not even if you only have a few days to visit the region. Here are our highlights in the outskirts of Luang Prabang that can be visited on a day tour or combined to make a longer loop.
1. Swim at the Surreal Kuang Si Waterfall
The Kuang Si Waterfall is located on the outskirts of Luang Prabang and, therefore, is very popular amongst locals and tourists alike. It is famous for its terraced cascades as well as its stunning turquoise-blue colour, caused by limestone particles of the rocks which are carried away by the water and reflect the light. Having one’s own transport, as we do, is definitely an advantage to reach the cascade without spending much money, but any tuk-tuk driver will happily make a deal to take you there and wait for two or three hours before bringing you back to town.
Price: 20,000 Kip
Location: Located 30 kilometres to the Southwest of Luang Prabang, Kuang Si is easily reached with one’s own vehicle, with a rented scooter or by tuk-tuk (Google map here)
2. Discover the Spring of Kuang Si Waterfall on a Raft
Not as popular as a swim in the waterfall is the trail to the top of Kuang Si. But if you come for the day, you have plenty of time and we strongly advise you to hike to the top pf the cascade for this experience. Rustic stairs with bamboo handrails on the left of the waterfall take you up and then you descend on the right side of the waterfall. Once on top, there is a raft that can be rented for a cruise to the spring of the Kuang Si. It is a very quiet trip that takes through the jungle, where one finds many opportunities to listen to and spot small birds.
Price: 5,000 Kip
Location: Located on the top of the Kuang Si waterfall
3. Help the Bear Sanctuary
The forest trail that leads to the popular and paradisiacal Kuang Si waterfall happens to pass through the Bear Rescue Centre. Each year, around 200,000 tourists pay a ticket fee to visit the waterfall and are rewarded with the bonus of seeing the bears that have been rescued by the centre.
Recently, the centre had the brilliant idea of turning this path into a Bear Discovery Trail.
It’s an educational trail that seeks to raise the awareness of the thousands of passers-by about the Lao moon bear population (also known as the Asian black bear: recognisable by a distinct white crest on their chests) and the various risks the animals face. Did you know that poachers hunt bears to keep them in jails in order to extract their bile, used in traditional medicine…
Price: Entrance included in the Kuang Si entrance ticket
Location: On the forest path that leads to the Kuang Si waterfall (Google map here)
4. Visit the Impressive Pak Ou Cave
Pak Ou in Lao means the mouth of the Ou river. Taking a long boat in Luang Prabang to Pak Ou will take you on a lovely cruise from the Mekong to the Ou river’s mouth. This is a popular trip not only because of the beauty of the landscape along the river (it’s a two hour upstream cruise from the centre of Luang Prabang), but also because of the Pak Ou cave.
Price: 20,000 Kip
Location: 30 kilometres to the North of Luang Prabang, 2 hours on a long boat (Google map here)
5. Visit Xieng Men Cultural Village in the Chomphet District
When you are in Luang Prabang and take the ferry to go to the other side of the Mekong, you will arrive at Xieng Men cultural village, a small and quiet (almost sleepy) village. To visit Xieng Men, you can simply walk out of the ferry, up the slope and once at the top, just turn right towards a narrow, but well-signed street. The village is a quiet alternative to Luang Prabang. There is one or the other guesthouse, and all the other houses are inhabited solely by locals, making this a more genuine place to stay. We found that here we experienced village life with a certain ‘glamour’, since many of the people who live here work in Luang Prabang. The houses are richer than in the really small and isolated villages. With hardly any cars, its architecture is thought for mopeds. For this reason, the few alleys of the village are very narrow, giving it a cosy feel.
Price: Ferry costs 5,000 Kip (10,000 if you are on a bicycle or motorbike), some temples charge entrance fee
Location: On the other side of the Mekong, take the ferry opposite the back side of the Royal Museum (Google map here)
6. Learn How to Work Clay at Ban Chan, the Pottery Village
You should not miss the opportunity to visit the historic Ban Chan Pottery village, which is just a short ride across the Mekong, from the ferry pier (one way costs 5,000 Kip per person; or 10,000 Kip if you are on a motorcycle or bicycle – these are the prices for farangs, the foreigners).
The village is a unique opportunity to get to see artisans creating Lao traditional ceramics by the means of ancient techniques which they have been using for more than 400 years.
Besides learning about the entire process of creation, you can also take a workshop with one of the families in the community and make your own ceramic piece to take home with you.
Price: Ferry costs 5,000 Kip (10,000 if you are on a bicycle or motorbike)
Location: On the other side of the Mekong, take the ferry opposite the back side of the Royal Museum, then cycle down the hill for about 3 kilometres until Ban Chan (Google map here)
7. Have a Boat Tour on the Mekong
There are several ways to have cruise trips on the Mekong. You can rent a slow or a long boat for quiet rides to enjoy the twilight, or take part in bigger boat cruises, which organise boisterous sunset parties. You decide. Whichever the trip, you are sure to find beautiful landscapes along the margins of the Mekong. This photo is taken after a boat trip that took us next to Pak Ou caves, north of Luang Prabang.
Price: Simple sunset cruises start at 50,000 Kip per person and last between one to two hours, but there are many more cruises for different budgets and lasting longer periods
8. Get a Bamboo Experience
There are at least two restaurants in Luang Prabang that offer a ‘bamboo experience’. We were taken by friends who live in Luang Prabang to try the ‘Bio Bamboo’ restaurant and do not regret their choice! The Bio Bamboo has all that a restaurant should have: tasty food, but it has got much more. Its huge terrace hangs over the Nam Khan river, making it an atmospheric and photogenic spot. All the cutlery, plates and glasses are all made of bamboo, and you can even buy some of these items at their shop. Don’t forget to visit the bamboo house to learn how it is possible to build a 100% bamboo house.
Meals: Starting from 15,000 Kip (we strongly advise the Or Lam, a traditional Lao dish that you will not find in many restaurants, it’s a stew cooked with sakhaan, a spicy wooden stick which is not supposed to be eaten, it’s just added for flavour. Locals love to suck the juices out of them.
Location: On the margin of the Nam Khan river, roughly 4 kilometres away from Luang Prabang’s city centre (Google map here)
9. Care for Elephants at the MandaLao Elephant Rescue Park
In ancient times, the Kingdom of Laos was rich in pastures where wild elephants could nurture themselves and live. Back then, the country was known as Lan Xang, or the kingdom of a million elephants. From then until modern times, the elephant population has declined significantly to a worrying total of around 700, almost half of which have been ‘domesticated’.
Many of these elephants are used as a work force in the logging industry, often exploited until exhaustion.
Another problem, which we are particularly sorry to acknowledge, is the domestication of elephants for entertainment purposes or to be ridden by tourists. Fortunately, a few elephant sanctuaries are trying to solve these issues by buying these animals, with the ultimate goal of re-introducing them into the wild.
Fee: The park offers half-day and day tours to join the elephants on a walk through the jungle at 100 dollars/person
Location: 16 Kilometres to the East of Luang Prabang (info centre here)
10. Wander in the Pha Tad Ke Botanic Garden
The Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden is a quiet escape from the city, if ever an escape is needed. The garden is a 40 hectare property with more than 1,500 species divided by different thematic gardens: the Ginger Garden (with more than 100 species of ginger), the Palm Garden (with more than 30 species of palm), the Bamboo Garden, the Ethno-Botanic Garden, the Arboretum (with over 200 species of trees from the region) and the Orchid Nursery (growing 260 different orchid species). Besides the gardens, the visit includes a series of free talks and workshops, as well as a tea tasting.
Price: 25 dollars and includes besides the entrance ticket and the boat trip to cross the Mekong, an orchid talk (at 11am and 3pm in the Public Nursery); a bamboo handicraft workshop (at 10am and 2pm in the Baci Sala) and an herbal tea tasting (all day in the cafe).
Location: On the other side of the Mekong, but the reception is on the peninsula (Google map here)
11. Don’t Miss the Buffalo Dairy Farm
Laos buffalo dairy is a sustainable farm whose aim is to develop buffalo farming in order to offer the local communities more sources of revenue. The farm achieves their goals by improving their animals’ genetics (by naturally breeding the stronger animals) and by giving veterinary care to their animals. Financially, their business is supported by their production of buffalo dairy products and by tourism, since the farm receives visitors and shows them around the farm. You should try their buffalo ice-cream!
Entrance fee: Walk-in tours cost 50,000 Kip per person
Location: On the way from Luang Prabang to the Kuang Si Waterfall, six kilometres before you reach the fall (Google map here)
12. Take a Long Trip to Nong Khiaw
The village of Nong Khiaw is not really around the corner. It is still a good ride away from Luang Prabang, and it is better to spend a few days there, in order to explore the region. Many people come to Nong Khiaw for the wonderful hikes available. You can do some of the shorter hikes on your own and for longer ones we suggest getting a local guide at one of the tourism offices in town. They can take you to hidden places and to the small ethnic groups of the north of the country. It is also a good base to visit the tiny village of Muang Ngoy by boat.
Location: 140 kilometres to the north of Luang Prabang (Google map here)
Disclaimer: Prices vary greatly from one year to the other, it could be that by the time of your visit you will pay other prices. Please take these amounts as a guideline only and not as a fixed price.
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