Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang
Photo by Els Slots.

The Town of Luang Prabang is an urban landscape that is partly traditional Lao and partly colonial.

Luang Prabang originated as a defended royal administrative complex, with adjacent temples and monasteries. It was the royal capital and seat of government of the Kingdom of Laos and its predecessors, and also the centre of Buddhism in the region. The fusion of Lao and 19th and 20th-century colonial art and architecture can be seen in the town’s religious buildings (richly decorated wooden pagodas), vernacular buildings (also in wood) and colonial buildings (in brick).

Community Perspective: “Luang Prabang is maybe the last bastion of this region that still can perfectly keep its bygone age atmosphere of Indochina” as Frederik puts it. But it is a bit low on outstanding sights: the Wat Xieng Thong temple probably is the best of them.

Map of Luang Prabang

Load map

Community Reviews

Write a review


24-Oct-23 -

Luang Prabang was my second stop in a trip that was bookended by Chiang Mai (currently on the T List) and Angkor (one of the most widely regarded WHS sites in the world), and even though it is smaller than the other two, I believe it deservedly belongs to the WHS List. Although some reviews liken the Lanna-style temples in Chiang Mai architecturally similar to those in Luang Prabang, I think there are subtle differences that differentiate the two. Nonetheless I don't think the temples are the main draw for Luang Prabang, unlike that in Chiang Mai, although you can very well cover most of it along Sisavangvong Road in half a day. In fact, forget most of what was written for the OUV of Luang Prabang - I think it is just quite hard to describe Luang Prabang, and the hodgepodge about French-colonial structures blended with the old temples don't really articulate properly the true juxtaposition of clashing things ongoing in LP that gives it its charm. In this vein I don't feel either Chiang Mai nor Angkor has that similar immaterial charm that I believe gives LP its OUV.

What to see

As mentioned, there's really not much to see in terms of architecture in Luang Prabang, instead, a lot of Luang Prabang is seeing things that are transient. Architecturally, the structures in Luang Prabang are not as impressive as the ones in Chiang Mai. Even though there is a French colonial vibe to it, I can't exactly pinpoint a specific interesting French-colonial building one should see, unlike in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. But temple-wise other than Wat Xiengthong (a must-visit), Wat Manoram and Wat That Luang (both at the edge of the inscribed site) are worth a detour if you have time.

The Old Royal Palace is nice but there isn't really much to see within the site. Pay for entrance if you'd just like to snap pictures of it and of Haw Pha Bang (the temple built on the Royal Palace grounds).

Most things to see and things happening will lie along Sisavangvong Road, including the daily night market (go at least once) and the morning market (which happens on a street adjacent to Sisavangvong Road), as well as the major sightseeing sites of Wat Xiengthong and the Old Royal Palace area. The viewpoint across Haw Pha Bang/main entrance to the Old Royal Palace Grounds is a good spot to observe the night market being set up and to take more pictures of the Old Royal Palace Grounds (especially of Haw Pha Bang). People use that path as a way up to Phousi Hills, but I skipped that.

Getting in

There are multiple ways by road (and even river boat!), but the easiest is probably by airplane (largely from Bangkok or Hanoi, or from/to Siem Reap as the Hanoi service sometimes extend to, or one of the Lao Airlines services elsewhere), and thankfully now also by train on the newish Laos-China Railway either from Kunming or Vientiane. Unfortunately it has become harder to visit Luang Prabang these days by air - while Nan noted that there were international services to China, this is now reduced to only Changsha (on Lao Airlines), and the direct service to Singapore has been suspended since the pandemic.

I took the plane from Chiang Mai via Bangkok (although it has to be noted a direct service operates from Chiang Mai on Lao Airlines), and exited to Siem Reap to visit the Angkor WHS site.

Getting around

Honestly the core bit of the inscribed site is walkable, but if you are like me and are staying a bit off the city centre (where it didn't seem too judicious to walk due to the sometimes-lack of street lamps), LOCA is the local ride-hailing app. Grab (the go-to Southeast Asian ride-hailing app) doesn't work here.

Other tips

I figured I add other tips here since Luang Prabang (and by extension, Laos) isn't really a major travel destination - and from what I observed is that the people who end up in Laos tend not to end up in Chiang Mai (people tend to do one or the other) or Angkor (Angkor attracts a different, more well-heeled crowd compared to LP), unless of course covering WHS (and the T List) is your thing. Having done all three in one go here are some of my suggestions:

I suggest one carry a bit of Laotian kip with you (however, as the currency can only be exchanged within the country, don't change too much), or Thai baht. You have to change money at a money-changer, and from memory they accept most major currencies, but also almost all ASEAN currencies too. Unlike in Cambodia I find US dollars not a great idea even though it can be technically accepted in lieu of kip - for example, the person selling tickets to the Old Royal Palace eyed my 20-dollar bill quite intensely and didn't want to accept my 4 one-dollar bills to the point I felt a bit weirded out by the interaction and got some kip exchanged nearby instead. If you use the LOCA ride-hailing app they do a thing called LOCA Pay which works seamlessly with the local Lao QR payment system, which helped me minimise the amount of Laotian kip I need to change/hard cash I carried on the trip.

If you are coming from Chiang Mai, be prepared for Luang Prabang to feel a lot more humid. That caught me off guard considering how cool and pleasant Chiang Mai's weather felt. However, the humidity was not as bad as Angkor.


Germany - 06-Nov-18 -

Luang Prabang by Nan

As my first stop in Laos I visited Luang Prabang, the former capital of Laos. The main components of the site are situated at the confluence of Mekong and Nam Khan rivers.

The town boasts several temples, some French colonial buildings and the former royal palace, albeit that last one is rather amusing than impressive. My highlight was the Wat Xieng Thong temple. And the overall relaxed mood of the city. 

Getting There

Luang Prabang has some domestic flights. It has also a few international connections to China, Vietnam and Thailand. My impression was that it's actually better connected internationally than the capital, Vientiane.

Apart from the flights there are also busses and the more touristy mini busses taking you to most parts of the country. Specifically, Luang Prabang is the closest major town for Phonsavan and the Plain of Jars.

While You Are There

I think the town can be visited in half a day (or even a bit less). Still it would be a pity if you left early. Plus, the bus connections may very well force you to stay at least a night.

You have plenty of good restaurants to choose from in Luang Prabang. The town also offers Laotian cooking classes and daily yoga classes. Only isssue I had that it get's really warm around noon so it's not a good time to stay outside and move around.

If you plan to venture outside (I didn't) there are daily boat excursions to the Pak Ou cave. You can also go via tour or by shared cab to the Kuang Si Waterfalls.


Malta - 07-Sep-12 -

Luang Prabang by Clyde

I visited this WHS in February 2011. Luang Prabang is a perfect fusion of traditional architecture, Lao urban structures and European colonial structures built in the 19th and 20th centuries. There are several wats to visit and nearby Buddhist caves. The highlight of my visit though was giving early morning alms to the Buddhist monks of the town. A totally unique experience and one of my favourite WHS.

Els Slots

The Netherlands - 16-Mar-11 -

Luang Prabang by Els Slots

I am sorry to say that this was another disappointment, another case of probably expecting too much (like the Ellora Caves). Luang Prabang is almost unanimously praised. And sure, maybe I was "late" and the town is too commercialized now. But I don't believe that the essence was much different 10 years ago: Luang Prabang has a great location and a charming atmosphere. But let's be honest: there's not a whole lot to see.

I think that a lot of people enjoy coming here because of its Mediterranean feel - it's slow, sunny, and romantic. There are dozens of cafés and restaurants. You can unwind, and relax. It's also quite a contrast with Bangkok or Hanoi, two cities where most people fly from into Laos. I travelled through Laos from South to North (leaving Luang Prabang for the last), so I had already gotten used to the country's quietness, the baguettes and Lao Beer.

Luang Prabang certainly is lacking authentic historic sights. I have read the AB evaluation a couple of times now, and it's thin, very thin.

All's bad then, avoid it? No, certainly not. I loved Wat Xieng Thong with its glittering exterior mosaics. The former Royal Palace is also worth a visit. But don't confuse Luang Prabang with the whole of Laos - I enjoyed my stay in the South (an almost different country from the North), the East (with its Plain of Jars and turbulent history) and the various forms of land and river transport that will get you around the country, eventually.

Frederik Dawson

Netherlands - 18-Jun-09 -

Luang Prabang by Frederik Dawson

I have to admit that I really do not want to write this review as I do not want Luang Prabang to be changed by influx of tourists that may decided to visit this one of the most stunning places in Southeast Asia after read this review. Luang Prabang as I mentioned one of the best places to visit in this region was the former capital of ancient kingdom of Lan Xang or the land of million elephants, Luang Prabang was one of the cultural centers of this region; many temples in such small town are the greatest testimony of local wealth and civilization. Sadly that Luang Prabang as present is just the shadow of its former glory as the town had been destroyed by Chinese invasion, most of the temples and town were rebuilt in 19th and 20th centuries, so this town is quite unique as the town had been rebuilt in the time that French had started its influence in Indochina, so this town has unique blend of local and colonial architectures as well as urban layout.

For amazing local architecture and art, temples are the places to see, Luang Prabang has many temples, although the town can not compete on the number of temple like Bangkok or Chiang Mai in Thailand which has more than 300 temples in each city, the art of Luang Prabang temple is in the same league of beauty and maybe more appreciated to admire. The top three of the must see temples are Wat Xiang Thong, the former royal temple and the sole survivor from the town destruction is famous for it graceful main chapel called “sim” and colorful mosaic decoration, the tree of life mosaic behind sim is one of the best art in Asia. Wat Sene, this stunning temple has beautiful golden decoration and is one of my favorite. Wat Mai with its 3-cm thick golden coated wooden wall is maybe one the most stunning art in this small town.

Not only temple the town offered, its old palace and colonial quarter are also interesting. The palace’s main hall and its chapel that build to keep Prabang Buddha, the holy Buddha statue that the town named after, are the must see. However for the colonial quarter is not a top sight, the buildings are pretty, but most of them have been turned to be restaurants or shops for backpackers. Actually the colonial area is easily divided into two areas to serve two groups of tourists, backpackers and well spend tourists – a real tragic of tourist business for this town. In the palace area, many small tour agencies and restaurants making this area to be liked the infamous Khaosan of Bangkok, while in Wat Sene area is full of beautiful restored colonial houses that turned to be boutique hotels, spas and really nice art galleries!

Tourism has already changed this town; everywhere seem to be for tourists, the old colonial buildings become hotel complexes, daily well organized night market for tourist to shop with no product for locals, double price for foreigners, Buddhist ceremonies have been treated like cultural shows and etc. Luang Prabang is suffering since its soul is gradually destroyed by tourism; UNESCO only can keep the buildings, but can not protect the town characteristic. In my opinion, Luang Prabang is not so such special or unique in terms of architecture; there are many similar beautiful temples or towns in nearby northern Thailand, the former Lanna Kingdom, the sister kingdom of Lan Xang, but Luang Prabang is maybe the last bastion of this region that still can perfectly keep its bygone age atmosphere of Indochina, and that is the uniqueness of this town that should be kept and the only thing that we can help this town is being a responsible tourist with lots and lots respect to its glory heritage. Luang Prabang is truly depended on our decision while we are in this fragile jewel.

Site Info

Full Name
Town of Luang Prabang
Unesco ID
2 4 5
Urban landscape - Asian

Site History

1995 Inscribed


The site has 1 locations

Luang Prabang


The site has

Art and Architecture
Human Activity
Religion and Belief
WHS on Other Lists
World Heritage Process


Community Members have visited.

A. Mehmet Haksever AC Adam Hancock Adiaro18 Alex Goh Alex Marcean Alex popescu Alexander Parsons Ali Zingstra AliciaLee711 Allnamesused Ammon Watkins Ana Lozano Andrea Gormley Arnaugir Artur Anuszewski Aspasia Atila Ege BenReeve Bob Parda Bochecha111 Boj Bram de Bruin C82wc1 CHJLondon Carlo Medina Carlo Sarion Carlos Garrido Carstenhansen Cav004 Cgrannem Chalamphol Therakul ChenMing Chenboada Cheryl Chiuliqi Chris Law Christravelblog Cirene Moraes Claire Bradshaw Clem C Cluckily Clyde DL Dachangjin3 Dat Nguyen David Aaronson & Melanie Stowell David Marton Delphine Delaunay Dennis Nicklaus Dgjohansson Dibro Dimitar Krastev Disnsam Djpatten Dkabanov Don Irwin Donald M Parrish Jr Donia Donnico Dorejd Doubanjiang DouglasR Drazsika Drk9Stormy ELVAN YURDUSEN Edstar500 Eleonora Els Slots Emili Xaus Eric Lorentz Eric PK Erik Jelinek Errol Neo Eva Kisgyorgy Excursionista_net FGKJR1492X FS Fan Yibo Fedekiwi Fernweh Frederik Dawson Garrett Gary Arndt Ge zhang George Evangelou GerhardM Gianni Bianchini Gisella Gooseta2 Greg Guy00 Hammeel Hanming Harald T. Harry Mitsidis Headventure Henryjiao18 History Fangirl Homadism Howe Siang Tan Hsjamsil Htupaz Hungarian Geographic Hyoga IC Iain Jackson Ian Coldwell Ingrid Inomusay Iriss Ivan Rucek J Mitchell Jacob Otten Jana and Matt Janklak Javier Coro JeanK Jeanne OGrady Jeezas Joachim Nölte-Baumann Jochem Taanman Joel on the Road JoeriNortier John booth Jonathanliao Joshuakirbens Jovanjovan Joyce van Soest Jtb105 Judit Dalla Judith Tanner JudyWalsh Junwang111 Juropa Justin Rickey Juwels KAO KB1 KarenBMoore Karl Grossner Kasper Kbtwhs KeithBailey Kelise Kellyfries Kevin247 Kgeographer Kjlauer Klaus Bondar Knomadc Kokoro Kurt Lauer Lars Jensen Leontine Helleman Lichia Loic Pedras Londonium Long Longdutch Lorenzo Mejino Lubos Lier Lucio Gorla Ludvan Luis Filipe Gaspar MMM MaYumin Maciej Gowin Mademmer Maki Wang Malgorzata Kopczynska Maltishah100 Marcel staron Marcobrey Marleen Speelman-Kooijmans Martina Rúčková Matthewrw Michael Ayers Michael Novins Michael Turtle Michael anak Kenyalang Michal Kozok Michal Marciniak Mikek Mikko Miloš Tašković Miriam laschever Mirjam L. Mnikish730 Morodhi Mtlmr Nafis N Naim Y Nan NataliaS Nihal Ege Nomad99 NonDuality Nongbulinqing PJ PabloNorte Pandapearls Pang Liang Fong Patphilly Patrik Patrik_globe Paul Schofield Paulino Michelazzo Peter Day Philipp Leu Philipp Peterer PhotographyBar Pieter Dijkshoorn Piotrurbanski Potsdamer Rach Rob Randi Thomsen Red Reddargon Reinhardt Reza Rica Duchateau Riccardo Quaranta Rickard Alfredsson Riomussafer Risson Rob Wilson Rocky Roland Ronan B Royacurt Ruth SHIHE HUANG Sascha Grabow Saxondean Scubarrie Seethebee Sergio Arjona Shandos Cleaver Shannon O'Donnell Sibariam Simmot2019Z Sncjob Socon Solivagant Stanislaw Warwas Stephanv Stephanvermeulen Stephen S. Kamin Susan Stair Sutul Svein Elias Szucs Tamas Tammy Gouldstone Tevity The Salmons Thomas Buechler Thomas van der Walt TimAllen Timothy C Easton Tingmelvin Tjark TonicSupernova Tonioto Trevni Truls Brekke Vernon Prieto Vlad Lesnikov Voyager WHS Lux Westwards Wolfgang Sander Wouter YAO WEI Yi Han Goh Yinming Zhang Zach Zos M Zoë Sheng