Luang Prabang Day Trips

Plain of Jars
Plain of Jars © Christopher Voitus

Plain of Jars (Phonsavan)

Located in the Xieng Khouang Plateau of Northern Laos, the mysterious Plain of Jars is an unusual sight and a must-see attraction. Visitors will find hundreds of huge stone jars scattered about the landscape, some weighing as much as six tonnes and measuring around six feet in length. They're believed to be over 2,000 years old, though their origin and original function remain unknown. The gaps in their narrative have allowed for many theories and legends to develop. One story claims they were made to ferment rice wine to celebrate a victorious battle against a wicked chieftain in the 6th century. Other theories have them as sarcophagi or funerary urns. The jars are clustered into 90 groups, with Thong Hai Hin, or Site 1, being the largest and most easily accessible site. Only Sites 1, 2 and 3 are open to visitors, as unexploded mines from the war lie around the other locations. Many guesthouses in the town of Phonsavan offer tours to the sites. As a precautionary measure, town visitors should stop at the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and learn about the clearing of unexploded bombs in the area and throughout Laos. The site is situated several kilometres southeast of Phonsavan, which is a 30-minute flight from Luang Prabang. Travellers interested in visiting can hire a driver and either a 4X4 or a small tuk-tuk for the day. More adventurous visitors can hire a motorbike and drive out themselves. Sites 1 and 2 are well signposted and 3 is easy enough to find. The drive from Phonsavan is scenic and the people living along the road are generally friendly and helpful.

Pak Ou Caves
Pak Ou Caves © Matsuoka AkiraKaoru

Pak Ou Caves

The Pak Ou Caves lie about two hours away from Luang Prabang and are only accessible by boat. They tend to divide opinion among visitors. Some find the area to contain an intriguing spiritual power, while others don't see what all the fuss is about. Most agree that the scenic boat trip to the caves is fun and worthwhile. The lower and upper caves contain and an impressive collection of mostly wooden Buddha statues, which locals and pilgrims have assembled over the centuries. Hundreds of pilgrims journey to the caves every year, adding new statues to the gallery. The collection contains some unusual specimens, many of which are hard to reach. Visitors will need a flashlight to climb the stairs leading to the upper cave. The lower cave is visible from the river. Photos are permitted and visitors often light candles as tributes. Many tourists combine trips to the caves with visits to the villages along the river banks or activities like elephant riding.

Transport: Boat from Luang Prabang

Kuang Si Falls
Kuang Si Falls © Anne Dirkse

Kuang Si Falls

Tourists frequently rate the multi-tiered Kuang Si Falls as the top attraction in Luang Prabang. The serene location sees turquoise-green water tumble over a series of limestone terraces and collect in lovely pools, all of which are surrounded by lush greenery. Walkways lead around the base and to the summit, and visitors will find many places to picnic. The swimming is glorious, with rocks, branches and rope swings providing fun ways to enter the water. Given their natural splendour, it's no surprise that the falls get crowded. Travellers should visit as early as possible to fully appreciate the location and take good photographs. The falls are about 18 miles (29km) south of Luang Prabang.

Transport: Hire a motorbike or tuk-tuk and driver for the day. Motorbikes usually cost more for the day than tuk-tuks, and the latter can accommodate up to four passengers. It is possible to bargain with the drivers and get a better deal.; Admission: A small fee of about $2 is sometimes asked of visitors.


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