For a small town, Luang Prabang offers myriad fun, outdoor, active things to do. After two trips there, I’ve done most of the top-rated activities (except for the nature hikes, which I plan to do when I return sans munchkins or with much older kids!). Here are my recommendations for fun frolicking in Luang Prabang!
Stroll through town
Luang Prabang is all about chill – strolling through town, visiting the numerous wats sprinkled throughout, sitting at a café, and walking along the river. A climb up Mount Phousi is worth it for the sunset views (and the exercise)!
Luang Prabang strolling scenes
The Elephant Village was hands-down the best part of the trip. We loved it so much the first time, we did again! The Half-Day Elephant Experience includes time at the sanctuary, an elephant ride, a boat ride up the river to meet a baby elephant, a cruise to a waterfall, and lunch. And at around $50 a person (kids under four are free and kids 5-8 are 50% off),for 5+ hours it’s a total steal.
Feeding “our” elephant bananas
The sanctuary is beautifully done. Situated on the banks of the Mekong, it offers beautiful views of the river, fishermen, and farms, below. Unfortunately, the waterfalls were dry so we couldn’t do that part of the trip this time. But instead, we hung out at their beautiful pool, complete with an elephant fountain, stunning views of the river, and a swim up bar.
Ock Pop Tot
Ock Pop Tok or “East Meets West” is a stunning weaving center, restaurant, and shop just outside of the LP town center (with another shop centrally located in town). They offer a free tuk tuk to and from the center and I recommend taking it. I convinced my family to walk and we ended up hot and on a street that dead ended in the Mekong (true story: we tried to hail a fisherman to take us up the river in his boat but it didn’t work out):
The restaurant is the ultimate chill – overlooking the Mekong and surrounded by beautiful gardens and women weaving. The food is good too!
Exploring the gardens
After lunch, we took a tour of the grounds and learned about Ock Pop Tok’s mission and the beautiful they textiles create. Their mission? To elevate the profile of Lao textiles and artisans, to increase economic opportunities for artisans, and facilitate creative and educational collaboration in Laos and worldwide. Can’t argue with that. And after witnessing the completely natural products firsthand, I’m even more of a supporter.
Our tour guide showed us the silkworms that produce the silk, and explained the process.
Once the worms have produced the silk, the artisans dye them using locally-sourced, natural dyes (e.g., indigo).
Naturally dyed, handmade silk drying in the Laos sun
After the silk is colored and dried, the weavers begin using their looms to create beautiful textiles.
This lovely woman was creating batik textiles in traditional Hmong patterns using local beeswax and indigo.
Interested? Next time you’re in Luang Prabang, you can sign up one of their weaving courses. I’ll happily join you!
LP’s night market is the best I’ve visited in Southeast Asia. Unlike other markets in the region, it’s not all imported items from China – there are actually local Laos handicrafts. While you can find the ubiquitous “elephant pants” and Lao Beer t-shirts, you’ll also find hand-carved wooden bowls, paintings, cutlery and tokens fashioned out of old bombs, and homemade rice wine with cobras inside (I didn’t try that!). My favorite purchase was an adorable handmade quilt of a Laos jungle scene – it hangs over my daughter’s crib, reminding us of our fabulous trips.
People at the LP night market are friendly and not aggressive – it’s fun to stroll through the aisles, checking out the items for sale and enjoying the delightful cool, fresh, night Mekong air. Best part? At the end of the street you’ll find a series of “fruit shake” stalls, where you can get a fresh-blended smoothie. My favorite was mango ginger, while the banana Nutella was a big hit with my girls.
As we sat, sipping our smoothies, we encountered a fun variety of people – locals, backpackers, expats, senior travelers – all friendly and happy to be in Luang Prabang.
My favorite purchase (much prettier than it appears in my terrible pic!)
Mekong River Cruise
On my last trip, I went on a half-day Mekong River cruise. We boarded the boat mid-morning, cruised out to see a cave, and visited a small village. En route, we enjoyed lunch and stunning views of the Mekong, including people riding elephants on the beach. The cave was cool, but nowhere near as impressive as the caves in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, and – frankly – I could take it or leave it. The best part was cruising down the Mekong, a slight breeze in my hair, a Lao Beer in my hand, and soaking up the incredible scenery.