If you’re looking for free things to do in Luang Prabang, we’ve got your back!
I’ve teamed up with a number of travel bloggers to put together our favourite free things to do in this relaxing Mekong-side town.
So, with the intro out of the way, let’s dive into the best free things to do in Luang Prabang.
1. The Night Market
Luang Prabang night market is one of Southeast Asia’s most extensive collection of stalls selling everything you can imagine including food, clothes, paintings and souvenirs.
The market is held along Luang Prabang’s main road, Sisavangvong Road, which is closed off to traffic from 4pm to allow the vendors to erect their stalls.
Having visited a huge number of street markets during my 3 weeks in Laos, the size of this one took me by surprise with a maze of red and blue pop up stalls that seemed to go on forever.
Some interesting things to look out for as you roam the market include the handmade paper cards, local Lao Whiskey that really packs a punch and jewellery made from the unexploded bombs that have plagued the country for decades.
As you enter the night market, look for a small unnamed side street to the left, down here you’ll find all sorts of great food including my favourite spot in the city, an all you can eat vegetarian buffet for 15,000 kip (£1.30/$1.70).
2. The Alms Giving Ceremony
Before arriving in Luang Prabang I was interested in finding more out about ‘Tak Bat’ or giving alms to the monks during sunrise. The locals give alms every morning to show their appreciation. I had read various articles highlighting the negative effects of tourists participating in it and have to admit that I was a bit hesitant to try.
On my first night in Luang Prabang, I spent the evening in a cafe chatting with a few local Lao people and they insisted that I don’t miss out on this opportunity.
The next morning I rose early at 5 am to buy fresh sticky rice from the corner store. Offerings can be fresh sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves, candy or even money. I was staying on one of the roads that the monks walk down and the receptionist of our hotel invited us to kneel beside him. He provided us with bowls to put our offerings in and a blanket to put under our knees.
The monks passed by in single file as locals and visitors put their offerings in their bowls. As with any cultural/spiritual experience as a visitor, you must always show respect. This means wearing appropriate clothing, keep an appropriate distance and have honest intentions.
Overall, this was one of the most gratifying experiences I had when I travelled through Laos and if your intentions are true, I encourage you to do the same.
3. Watch the Incredible Mekong Sunset
A Mekong sunset cruise is a very popular thing to do in Luang Prabang, but what if it’s beyond your budget? Well, don’t tell the people who paid for the cruise, but you can see the exact same sunset from the bank of the river! And sitting there to watch the sunset is completely free, of course. Plus, you’ll have the added benefit of watching all the boats cruise passed you. Getting one or two of these boats in the frame of your sunset shot can really up your sunset photography game.
Be sure to arrive well before sunset too, as golden hour on the Mekong is equally beautiful. The golden light reflecting off the water, the mountains and the colourful boats is a sight that you won’t soon forget. Listen out for the drums and bells from the temples, calling the faithful for evening prayers. You could even bring along a picnic dinner and make a whole evening of it. Just ask a local restaurant to prepare some traditional Lao dishes for you to take away. And of course, while all those people on the cruise boats will be sharing their special moment with dozens of strangers, you’ll be able to savour the experience all by yourself.
Submitted by Wendy Werneth of the Nomadic Vegan
4. Volunteer to Teach English
Luang Prabang is a gorgeous city with a plethora of activities to offer. You can visit waterfalls, explore temples, eat at the markets, and more. There is so much that you can take away from your time in this city, but you can also give back.
When I visited Luang Prabang, I wanted to give back to the city that had welcomed me with open arms during their New Year’s festival. Luckily for me, I had learned from another traveller about Big Brother Mouse. Big Brother Mouse focuses on teaching its community, and you can help as I did.
Big Brother Mouse is always looking for volunteer English teachers. You don’t need to have a degree in English or be a teacher, you simply need to speak English at a native level. I spent one afternoon teaching conversational English to a group of teenagers. It wasn’t so much a class, as it was a conversation with some guidance. I asked them questions, they answered and then asked in return. They got to practice their English skills with me, and I helped them when they had questions.
It was a fantastic experience to help these young members of the community practice their English and hear of their dreams of the future. If you would like to give back while in Luang Prabang, take a few hours out of your day to stop by Big Brother Mouse.
GREAT LUANG PRABANG TOURS – BOOK NOW
5. Climb Mount Phousi
So, it’s not technically free, but it is VERY cheap and climbing Mount Phousi (or Phousi Hill) is an absolute must-do while in Luang Prabang. Phousi not only boasts an amazing temple, Wat Chom Si, that you can explore, but it gives you the best spot to watch the sunset over Luang Prabang, as you see the gorgeous little town laid out before you.
The hike is a popular pilgrimage for most travellers so you probably won’t find it deserted but it’s undoubtedly still worth it. The walk takes between 15 and 20 minutes depending on your fitness and includes over 300 steps, so you’ll need to definitely pack some water! That said, the steps and trail are quite well-kept so you don’t need sturdy shoes to tackle this one.
The temple itself isn’t the most fascinating you’ll find in Luang Prabang but since you are forced to pay the entry fee (20,000 kip) when you hike the hill, regardless of whether you visit the temple or not, it’s worth treating this like a combo deal. That said, the temple shuts at 5 pm and sunset usually starts around 6.30 pm, so you’ll need to time it just right. Considering the lookout fills up quickly, it’s worth heading to the temple at 4.30 pm and then heading up to snag a viewing spot.
Tip: Like all temples in Laos, the acceptable dress code must be followed when visiting Wat Chom Si. This means covering your shoulders and legs.
6. The UXO Museum
It is not well known outside the country, but more bombs were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War than on Europe during World War Two.
A horrifying statistic.
The legacy of the so-called ‘Secret War’ is that Laos’ countryside is littered with unexploded ordnance or ‘UXO’.
Learn more about the devastating effects these bombs have had on the rural community in this confronting and heart-wrenching museum.
And whilst it’s free to enter, be sure to leave a donation to help those in need.
7. The Morning Market
The local morning market of Luang Prabang is known for its authenticity and the burst of colour it brings to the city. Fresh fruits and vegetables are piled up in mountains, and traditional breakfast snacks are readily available.
The market is relaxed and crowds move slowly, wading through the wide selection available to them. Souvenirs Locally harvested mushrooms, spices, herbs, and traditional medicines are also available and sell out fast. Locals and tourists scurry for rare items such as honeycomb served in banana leaves, deep-fried mung bean rice-cakes, and cured pork.
Elaborating on the authenticity of the market, foods are made from scratch, such as the hand-rolled noodles sold separately, on order, or used in dishes such as Khao Soi. A variety of sauces and pastes are also available, and species of fresh off the hook. The morning market is a fantastic way to familiarise yourself with the rich culture of this area.
8. Take a Dip
Luang Prabang has always been one of my favourite places ever since I first visited back in 2015!
Since then I’ve been back 3 more times and have lived through all different types of budgets within that time.
I stayed at the beautiful 4* Sanakeo Boutique Hotel the last time I was there last year with my fiancee. The pool here is free to use even if you’re not a guest as long as you order something from the bar.
We had a wonderful time hanging out with the other travellers who weren’t staying there but who wanted to enjoy the beautiful weather outside relaxing by the pool. Personally, I really don’t like to swim as the water is usually too cold for me, but I found this pool to be the perfect temperature. If you’re travelling with your kids have no worries, as they’ve got life vests readily available to ensure their safety.
Poolside you’ll find a full-service bar and restaurant with an extensive Laotian and western menu…it’s far more expensive to order when you’re inside, so if you’re hungry order before you head to the hotel! Finding it will be of no problem as it’s perfectly located in the centre of town.
9. Cross the Bamboo Bridges
The Mekong river – one of the most important rivers in Asia – is a fascinating place, not only for its beauty but also for the local life along its shores. The city of Luang Prabang developed on both sides of the river. While the river’s southern bank is the touristy, part of the city, with all the main sights, restaurants and accommodation for travellers, the northern bank of the river remains pretty much untouched, with local dwellings, and a couple of minor monasteries.
In this area, there are two bamboo bridges to cross the river and despite there are so many things to see and do in the Southern bank, they are too cute not to fall into the temptation to go off the beaten path and check out what’s going on on the other side of the river.
Don’t expect to see any monument or top sights, it is all about a couple of dusty roads and some dwellings built up with what they found around. But it is interesting to see how locals live in Luang Prabang, what they do and how they spend their time. In the village there are also a couple of wats, being Wat Chomphet the closest and most interesting one, and an eatery.
This section was contributed by Elisa from TravelFranceBucketList.com.
10. Wat Xieng Mouane
The small historic town of Luang Prabang is composed of more than 30 Buddhist temples. Hence, temple hopping in Luang Prabang is inevitably one of the best things to do in town. While the popular Luang Prabang temples like Wat Xieng Thong and Haw Pha Bang require entrance fees, there are also a number of temples that you can visit for free.
Wat Xieng Mouane is one of the remarkable free temples to visit in Luang Prabang. The words Xieng Mouane translates to melodious sounds, associated with the harmonious drums used in the old times. The most distinguishing feature of the temple is the vibrant painting covering the front wall depicting the life of Buddha.
The temple complex also houses a UNESCO-funded training centre for Laotian Traditional Arts and Building Crafts. The school aims to preserve traditional Laotian arts by passing on artisan skills to novice monks. Young monks are taught mural painting, woodcarving, bronze casting and stencilling. Trained monks put these traditional skills into good use by helping in the restoration projects of historically-important structures in the area.
Read Next – More Luang Prabang & Laos Posts:
- Where to go AFTER Luang Prabang (9 Ideas)
- Visiting Kuang Si Falls, Luang Prabang – A Detailed First-Hand Guide
- The Bamboo Bridges of Luang Prabang
- 8 Awesome (& 4 Alternative) Things to do in Luang Prabang
- Watching Alms Giving in Luang Prabang
- UXO Museum, Luang Prabang | The Legacy of a Secret War
- Best Places to Visit in Laos: 14 of our Favourites