Where to go AFTER Luang Prabang (9 Ideas)

A dusty road with green jungle either side

When we were on sabbatical we arrived in Northern Laos with no clear plan of where to go after Luang Prabang.

It was a difficult decision to leave at all, as Luang Prabang was my favourite town in Southeast Asia, but once we decided to move on there was lots of fantastic choices ahead of us.

There are many great destinations accessible from Luang Prabang, either by air, road or boat but which should you choose?

Here (in no particular order) are nine great ideas to give you some inspiration….


1. Plain of Jars

a broken large jar in a green field with a cloudy sky and mountains in the distance

Reasons To Visit

  • The majestic and mysterious jars, whose use still causes disagreements among historians
  • The site has only become accessible relatively recently, so experience them before the transport links improve

How To Get There

You can fly from Luang Prabang to Pakse in 1h 30m or take a bus which leaves Luang Prabang at around 0830 and gets to Pakse at 1630. The bus is much cheaper and you get incredible views of Laos however, don’t expect luxury – our trip was in a minivan with no air-con and a driver who loved loud Laotian pop!

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Where To Stay

The Hillside Residence, Muang Phonsavan
There isn’t a huge amount of choice in Phonsavan but The Hillside Residence organised pick up from the bus station, helped us book a tour and had clean, comfortable rooms with a tasty breakfast.

Notes

Whilst the rest of this list is in no particular order, Plain of Jars would be my first choice of where to go after Luang Prabang.

The huge jars, which are spread across hundreds of sites have only been open to visitors again after the clearing of bombs after the Vietnam War. Only three sites are visited on the tours, but with UNESCO Heritage Status on the horizon hopefully, there will soon be the funding in place to clear more.


2. Vientiane

a monk in orange robes walking in front of a golden stupa in Vientiane, Laos

Reasons To Visit

How To Get There

It is only a 45m flight to Vientiane which is why so many people opt to visit after Luang Prabang.

Where To Stay

We’d been on the road for a while by the time we reached Vientiane so opted for a couple of comfortable nights at the Vientiane Luxury Hotel. At less than £30 a night it was still cheap by Western standards and in a great location to explore the city. It was good to have both a gym and pool on-site for a few days of R&R.

Suggested Tours

Vientiane is quite a big city so you will need to book a local guide to get around the key places. There are lots of tuk-tuk drivers who will happily set something up for you, but if you want a bit more certainty then try this private half-day Vientiane tour or set aside a whole day and with a tour that visits all the Vientiane sights, lunch at a local restaurant and also takes you out to Buddha Park.

Notes

Vientiane is a much bigger city than Luang Prabang and has a different appeal, more like a Bangkok or Hanoi.

As with most big conurbations in Laos, it is right beside the Mekong, and this is a hub of life, from night markets to open-air aerobics sessions.

Away from the river, there are huge numbers of historical buildings and temples, and a rapidly growing scene of cool little cafes which we made the most of.


3. Vang Vieng

Best Places to visit in Laos - Vang Vieng

Three Reasons To Visit

  • Tubing on the Nam Song River
  • Rent a motorbike and explore the local area
  • Visit one of the local caves

How To Get There

There is no airport in Vang Vieng so the best way to get there from Luang Prabang is by bus. Tickets are around $15USD per person for a 5h trip.

Find tickets using the search box below:

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Where To Stay

Vilayvong Guesthouse is great value but also offers a sense of luxury. More expensive than a hostel but much cheaper than the boutique resorts that have appeared around Vang Vieng this is a perfect middle ground.

Suggested Tours

Vang Vieng was once the tubing capital of the world but things have become a bit more restrained over recent years. There are still lots of adventures to be had in the area though, such as a 7-hour kayaking tour through caves for around $20USD.

Notes

Vang Vieng is to Laos what Queenstown is to New Zealand – or at least it was.

Laos’ adventure capital has calmed down in recent years after a string of drink and drug-related deaths.

Vang Vieng is now reborn and returning to its roots, with a much more relaxed atmosphere and a focus on getting into nature rather than getting drunk!


4. Thakhek Loop (via Vientiane)

Reasons To Visit

  • The Thakhek Loop is a 440km loop on dusty roads through lush landscapes and towering limestone karsts.
  • There are dozens of little caves and springs to enjoy on the drive, with the highlight being the famous Kong Lor Cave.
  • Thakhek itself is a wonderful little town on the Mekong

How To Get There

The Thakhek Loop is famously completed by motorbike, which can either be hired in Vientiane, Savannakhet or Thakhek itself (though we went for a big Toyota Hilux hired from Vientiane airport).

To get to Thakhek after Luang Prabang, you will either need to go via Vientiane and drive or fly into Savannakhet via Pakse.

Where To Stay

wooden huts amongst misty karst mountains in Laos

You have to – I repeat HAVE TO – splash out on a couple of nights at Springriver Resort (photo above) near the famous Kong Lor Cave. It was not just a highlight of our time in Laos, but out entire 3 months in SE Asia. From here you can get a local villager to take you upriver to the Kong Lor Cave, which is much better than arriving by car. You can also hire your own wooden canoe and paddle into a misty spring opposite the resort which was a magical morning.

We also stayed at the functional but pleasant Inthira Guesthouse in Thankhek and the rustic, rural retreat of Phosy Thalang halfway round the Thakhek Loop.

Notes

We spent three days on the Thakhek Loop, first driving down from Vientiane to stay in Thakhek and then two days driving the loop before heading back.

It was an incredible trip, one that is hard to sum up in words, because it just gradually unravelled outside the windows as we drove the windy rural roads.

The limestone landscape has led to hundreds of little caves and spring popping up, so these are the waypoints on the trip, but even without stopping this route is worth it! Some of the photos we took could have been on the set of an Indiana Jones movie, these were memories we’ll never forget.


5. Champasak (via Pakse)

Reasons To Visit

  • The ancient Khmer temple of Vat Phou
  • The sleepy town of Champasak with its French architecture

How To Get There

Champasak is accessible from Luang Prabang via a flight into Pakse (1hr 40m) and then jumping on a local bus for 45 minutes. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous you can go via the old road which includes crossing the Mekong on an old wooden river taxi.

Where To Stay

The Khamphouy Guesthouse was basic but in a great location and with optional bike hire to get to Vat Phou.

Notes

Sleepy little Champasak with it’s abandoned colonial mansions and sweeping riverside views was our favourite little ‘off-the-beaten-track’ town in Laos.

Whilst Champasak is a lovely town, the real reason for visiting in the UNESCO heritage site of Vat Phou, which is around an hour outside of town by bicycle.

Part of the Khmer empire that included the city an Angkor, Vat Phou is a gloomy set of ruins contrasted against a damp green jungle which is trying to reclaim them.


6. Chiang Mai

Reasons To Visit

  • Chiang Mai is like a living museum with crumbling temples, historic shopfronts and even a moat
  • There are numerous elephant rescue centres in the area that are fun to visit
  • Some of the best food we ate in Thailand

How To Get There

Despite being in a different country Chiang Mai is actually closer than most of the places in Laos I’ve suggested to visit after Luang Prabang. There are direct flights from Luang Prabang airport that take just over an hour.

Where To Stay

We split our time between the green oasis of Viangdara and living with elephants (yes really!) at Chai Lai Orchid.

Suggested Tours

Chiang Mai is famous for tours to elephant rescue centres. This tour has over 500 five star reviews and will give you a whole day of experiences from bathing to learning about Asian elephants.

Chiang Mai also has a host of historical temples, we took this half-day tour to learn more about them.

Notes

The compact city of Chiang Mai is a charming city, which has not gone unnoticed by tourists in recent years. It is well and truly on the backpacker trail now and has even become a hotspot for digital nomads.

We really enjoyed our time lazily wandering the narrow alleyways, sipping ice tea at road-side cafes and learning about the temples of the Lanna Kingdom.

Many of the big reasons for visiting Chiang Mai is actually outside the city walls, with local elephant parks, a golden temple atop a mountain at Doi Suthep and Doi Inthanon National Park.

Learn more about our Chiang Mai adventures:

5 Busy (and Slightly Luxurious) Days in Chiang Mai


7. Chiang Rai

a beautiful white temple in Thailand against a blue sky

Reasons To Visit

  • The multi-coloured temples – white, blue and black!
  • A laid back town that feels much more relaxed than Chiang Mai
  • A gateway to the rural north-east of the country

How To Get There

Getting to Chiang Rai is a bit more awkward than some of the places listed here. A bus is 18 hours and flying involves a stop off in Bangkok!

There is however the most exciting travel option on this list. It is possible to take a slow boat cruise up the Mekong from Luang Prabang to Chiang Rai a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Where To Stay

Baan Jaru is a peaceful guesthouse on a quiet street just outside the centre of Chiang Rai. You can walk to the main part of town within a few minutes but also know you have a relaxing escape to head back to. There is also a coin-operated clothes washing facility a few doors away which is useful for catching up on the laundry.

Suggested Tours

There are three famous and colourful temple near Chiang Rai – The White Temple (pictured above), Blue Temple and Black House. You can visit them all on this half-day tour.

Notes

Chiang Rai was our favourite city in Thailand and a great place to go after Luang Prabang as you can get there via a slow boat cruise.

We enjoyed this laid-back town and used it as a gateway to the north-east of the country, hiring a car and taking a three-day road trip to national parks and the Golden Triangle.

The town itself has a mix of ancient temples and buildings fused with modern touches such as a clock tower which does a nightly light display and rooftop bars that are perfect for watching the world go by.

Read more about our favourite place in Thailand:

8 Reasons Why Chiang Rai Was Our Favourite City in Thailand


8. Hanoi

Three Reasons To Visit

  • The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long
  • The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
  • Hanoi’s world-famous Old Quarter

How To Get There

There are direct flights from Luang Prabang to Hanoi which take an hour.

Where To Stay

The Pilgrim Hotel has incredible views over St Joseph’s Cathedral. Surrounded by narrow alleys filled with beautiful cafes and shops we found it to be in the perfect location to explore the beauty of Hanoi.

Suggested Tours

I would highly recommend taking an after-dark food tour. These are often run by local students to help them improve their English and we were taken to places we would not have been brave enough to enter without a Vietnamese speaking guide. Don’t eat beforehand, you’ll be stuffed by the end!

Notes

Hanoi was the endpoint of our three-month sabbatical around Southeast Asia and it felt like finishing on a real high.

We explored (some very one-sided!) museums, wandered around huge parks and ate …. a lot!

Hanoi is a beautiful mix of colonial architecture and Asian colour, calmer than Ho Chi Minh City and with a food culture unlike any I’ve experienced.

I would highly recommend it as an introduction to Vietnam and a perfect place to visit after Luang Prabang.


9. Siem Reap

Angkor Wat from the east

Reasons To Visit

  • The big one is the temples of Angkor, which stretch across a huge area and were voted by Lonely Planet Writers as the greatest place on earth
  • I would also highly recommend heading out to Sambor Prei Kuk, which is a bit further away but is from a different time in Cambodia’s history

How To Get There

You can fly directly to Siem Reap from Luang Prabang in 1h 30m.

Where To Stay

Despite having an awful name that makes it sound like a cheap hostel, Uncle Sam Villa proved to be a great place to stay. We were there for my Dad’s 60th and we all really enjoyed the location and the friendly hosts. It is only a few minutes from Siem Reap’s main cafes but far enough away that Pub Street’s late-night entertainment didn’t ruin our sleep.

Suggested Tours

Obviously, the big attraction is the temples at Angkor. There are tours available all over town, but this Full-Day Small-Group Tour visits the most famous of them and has a 4.8/5 star rating from over 600 reviews.

For something a bit different that will take you away from the crowds, I would highlight recommend a trip out to Sambor Prei Kuk. This Full-Day Tour will take you on the 2-hour journey to get there as well as give you a private guided tour of the old capital of Chenla. Read more about my trip to Sambor Prei Kuk here.

Notes

There’s not a lot to be said about Siem Reap, and more specifically Angkor, that hasn’t already been said.

The temples are unforgettable (leave yourself three days if possible) and the town exists to serve a huge tourist demand.

Away from the internationally themed ‘Pub Street’, Siem Reap has some lovely little markets, temples, bridges and parks, but let’s be honest, no-one visits Siem Reap to see Siem Reap!

Angkor was mind-blowing in an ‘I thought I’d seen it all in photos but hadn’t‘ kind of way. It is MUCH bigger than you expect it to be and spread out across an area that requires a tuk-tuk or car to get to.

It is hard to believe all this has existed for so long, a true wonder of our world.


Finishing Up

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and have found some inspiration for where to go after Luang Prabang.

If you have any questions leave them in the comments below and I’ll be sure to get back to you.

Ben

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