Must-See Sites in Luang Prabang, Laos

Where to Go, What to See when Visiting Laos' Cultural Capital

Visiting Luang Prabang? These landmarks represent the can’t-miss destinations you should visit if ever you’re in Laos’ cultural center. As Luang Prabang used to be the royal capital, the royal family still makes its presence felt, if only through the buildings they created in their heyday and the Buddhist rituals that permeate daily life in the city. (Read our article on the morning alms-giving in Luang Prabang for an example.)

If you’re looking for a place to stay near these landmarks, check out these lists of Luang Prabang Luxury Hotels and Mid-Range and Budget Hotels in Luang Prabang.

  • 01 of 06

    That Phousi and Wat Chom Si

    ••• Image © Allie Caulfield/Creative Commons.

    That Phousi is a hill in the middle of the town; its central location and height of 100m affords it amazing views of Luang Prabang, the Nam Khan River, and the National Museum. Visitors ascend 328 steps to the top of That Phousi and the temple at its peak. The temple, known as Wat Chom Si, was built in 1804, and its gilded stupa can be seen from almost every point in Luang Prabang.

    Entrance fee to Wat Chom Si costs LAK 20,000 ($2.36) if you’re a foreigner. Wat Chom Si is highly regarded by Laotians as one of the city’s most sacred sites; if you’re planning to ascend to this point, you’ll need to dress and behave properly as befits a sacred Buddhist temple.

  • 02 of 06

    National Museum

    ••• Image of National Museum © Getty Images.

    The National Museum was once the Royal Palace, built between 1904 and 1909 out of brick and stucco. Within its walls stand a number of significant religious and cultural artifacts; one of them stands out in importance, the 50kg golden standing Buddha known as the “Pra Bang” that gave the city its name (Luang Prabang means “City of the Pra Bang”).

    After the French presence in Indochina disappeared, the Communist government imprisoned and exiled the last of the royal family when they took over... but the authorities have wisely preserved the royal treasures at the museum. The royal throne room and the private chambers have been kept as they were, and the royal regalia have been put on display along the corridors.

    Entrance fee into the museum costs LAK 30,000 ($3.76); photography and shoes are prohibited inside.

  • 03 of 06

    Wat Xieng Thong

    ••• Image © Nick Hubbard/ Creative Commons

    Completed in 1560 by King Setthathirath, Wat Xieng Thong grew in importance to become a revered royal temple under the direct guardianship of the Lao Kings; in fact, the monarchs were often crowned in the wat itself.

    The temple is one of Laos’ most beautiful, and is decorated as befitting a royal site: a three-layered roof tops the structure, gilded doors at the entrance show moments from the Buddha’s eventful life, and the Red Chapel’s walls are adorned with mosaics.

    One of the buildings on the site houses the intricately carved and gilded funeral vehicle of one of Laos’ former kings.

  • 04 of 06

    Wat Visoun

    ••• Image © John Pavelka / Creative Commons

    First built in 1520 by King Visounnarat, Wat Visoun was first constructed out of wood and served as a sanctuary for a number of sacred objects. Invading Chinese desperadoes burned down the original structure and plundered the melon-shaped That Makmo stupa; Wat Visoun was then rebuilt in the 1920s with French help, and now houses a number of religious and cultural artifacts. The largest Buddha statue in Luang Prabang – the Phra Chao Ong Luang – calls Wat Visoun home.

    Entrance fee costs LAK 20,000 to the Wat’s interior. The compound is open to visitors from 8am to 5pm every day.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Night Market

    ••• Image © Esme Vos / Creative Commons

    Over 300 hawkers selling handicrafts, spices, souvenirs and food crowd the night market along Sisavangvong Road. Their wares are relatively cheap, and can get even cheaper if you put your haggling skills in play.

    Even if you’re not buying anything, you can get a feel of the local culture just by walking among the stalls and watching business go down in the night market. Just like Luang Prabang, the vibe in the night market is more relaxed; you can look around without hurrying through the stalls. The night market opens nightly from 5pm to 10pm.

    Read about other markets in Southeast Asia worth visiting.

  • 06 of 06

    Ban Phanom Village

    ••• Image © Michael Coghlan / Creative Commons

    Just 2 miles north of Luang Prabang stands a village dedicated to the fine art of weaving traditional fabrics. Ban Phanom Village used to be the official purveyor of silks to the Lao royal family; the town’s accustomed business goes on even without the kings today. Many of their wares find their way into the night market mentioned above.

    Even in today’s modern times, Ban Phanom’s methods and techniques remain firmly rooted in the past; most village families own one or more weaving looms, and a village cooperative will happily sell you the fabrics you want at a price you can haggle down if you wish. Even if you’re not buying anything, you’ll appreciate the sight of the women working the looms.