We spent three days in Luang Prabang and it really is a wonderful city with so much to do. It is a chilled out city that has stood the test of time thanks to its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are plenty of places to grab a bite to eat and watch the world go by, but if you want to be a bit more active, I'd recommend the following five things:
1) Take an elephant trek.
We booked through All Lao Travel services which is on the main high street. The staff were very friendly and helpful and there are lots of choices for elephant trek, depending on what level of involvement you want. You can go on all day trips that involve trekking through the jungle and washing the elephants with scrubbing brushes! We opted for an hour long trek and it cost about £20 each. This included transfers to the trek start which is only about 15 minutes from the city centre. We got to sit on howdahs (seats on the back of the elephant) whilst the guide took us through some beautiful scenery. There was a stop in the middle whilst the guide took photographs and then my husband got to take the reigns and ride on the elephant's back, which he loved! There is an opportunity to feed the elephants at the end which was amazing. We loved our little taster trek and would definitely recommend it if you are short on time.
2) Watch the alms giving ceremony.
Luang Prabang is one of the very few places in the world where this deeply religious ceremony takes place. It basically involves the local monks receiving food donations from local residents in return for a blessing. It takes place very early each morning throughout the city - ask at your hotel for details of specific times and routes that the monks take. I'm not a religious person but I really enjoyed the simplicity and spirituality of the ceremony. There are a few things to bear in mind when you are watching: don't offer food unless it means something to you, don't approach the monks and be respectful of what they are doing.
3) Visit a temple.
Luang Prabang is nicknamed the city of a thousand pagodas. it is a self explanitory nickname really, but you should definitely make time to visit one of the impressive temples that are scattered throughout the city. We enjoyed Wat Xieng Temple which is on a little complex and includes a number of different religious buildings. it costs a few pennies to get in and there are lots of big and small buildings to explore. It's a nice introduction to temples in general. Another thing to bear in mind when visiting is that the monks are happy to talk to visitors about their experiences - especially if it means they can practice their English.
4) Try some local food
Lao food is different to anything you'll find anywhere else in the world. It isn't as heavy and rich as some of the dishes you get from neighbouring countries like Cambodia and Thailand. Instead it focuses more on fresh ingredients and lovely flavours like lemongrass and chilli. There are a couple of places where you can get a good local meal. For first time visitors you should try Tamarind which is a restaurant and cooking school. They have a tasting platter set menu which gives you a little bit of everything. The best thing about this restaurant is that the staff will explain what each dish is and how to eat it which we loved. We also went to another place across the river called Dyen Sabai, a restaurant where the signature dish is fondue. This is a cook your own dish where you get plenty of fresh ingredients for not much money. The ambience of the restaurant is great and it's a lot of fun.
5) Visit a waterfall
Kuang Si waterfalls are about a half hour drive from the city centre, but they are so worth a visit. You can organise a trip through one of the many tour operators on the high street and you can visit by themselves or combine it with lunch and an elephant trip for not much money. (About £10 for just the falls and £30 per person for the combination). The falls are in a beautiful almost jungle like setting and the walk to them is lovely. The colour of the water is just amazing; a lovely turquoise green colour. If you are feeling adventurous, you can monkey swing into the water from one of the trees above, but beware the water is cold and there are lots of little fish in there! On the way out of the falls area, there is a little enclosure that houses rescued Malaysian Sun bears. Its quite interesting and is included in the entrance price. There are a few shops outside the park where you can get cheap food and souvenirs.
However long you are in Luang Prabang, you should do at least some, if not all, of the things above so that you can really get the most out of your stay.