the ultimate café guide to Luang Prabang: where to find the cutest cafés + the best coffee

If you’ve scoured the internet looking for cafes in Luang Prabang, you’ve probably been pointed in the direction of Novelty Cafe {on the main road} or Joma Bakery. There isn’t anything wrong with either of these two cafes {they’re even featured on this list}, but there are so many other {better?} spots in Luang Prabang that deserve a visit.

A benefit of slower, more thorough travel {my fave} is that you get to hit up all the hotspots, find the hidden gems, and rub elbows with the locals wherever they “regular.”

This cafe guide includes local joints, social enterprises, and some of the more expensive but aesthetically pleasing spots in Luang Prabang to grab your morning caffeine intake— something for everyone.


KEEP READING TO FIND OUT WHERE THE BEST CAFES ARE IN LUANG PRABANG


saffron luang prabang

COFFEE CULTURE IN LAOS

Laos’ neighbour, Vietnam, gets a lot of attention for its thriving coffee culture and the delicious roasts it produces— and rightfully so. But, no one should count Laos out of the coffee game. In fact, Laos produces some of the most exceptional coffee in the world, especially if you like it rich and strong.

A majority of the coffee produced in Laos is grown in southern Laos. This area of the country forms a relatively cool and damp microclimate, ideal for coffee plantations. There has been a recent surge in coffee production in northern Laos, after agricultural researchers found the mountains great for growing coffee. Coffee up north has proven to be a valuable source of income for hill tribes who relied on opium production before the government banned it. Organic farming is increasingly popular, which has resulted in a wide variety of delicious organic coffee sold in major food and tourist shops around Laos.

cafe criteria

My criteria for a good cafe is pretty simple: good coffee, some food options, a unique atmosphere, and the right soundtrack {i.e. all the First Aid Kit, Matt Corby, Vance Joy, and Paper Kites}. It's always a bonus if the cafe is plastic-free, environmentally and/or community minded, and has good WiFi {for work purposes}. I like non-chains the best {typically} and try to always find that quality local experience.

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cafe le laos

While I wasn’t impressed with the service or selection at Cafe Le Laos, I was impressed by the quiet, antique interior that I had all to myself. It seems as if Cafe Le Laos is a Luang Prabang secret, and yet…it sits on main street. Perhaps Cafe Le Laos is relatively quiet because their prices are the steepest I’ve encountered in Luang Prabang {30,000 kip for an iced coffee…mmm…what}?

Regardless of the high prices, having the place to myself in a dimly lit cafe with green plants and wooden furniture had it charms. The WiFi is fast, but there are only two food items served, so I’d skip loitering here and make it a special spot for a coffee before moving along.

GOTTA HAVE A CUPPA: Iced black coffee is hard to mess up. I suggest trying their Italian Sodas on a hot day to stay cool and take a sip of something not offered anywhere else I’ve been in the city.

LOCAL’S TIP: Explain to the staff that you’d like to take photos and they’ll be more than accommodating with moving signs and opening the shutters of the cafe to let in that natural light!

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GRASS FLOWER LAO COFFEE SHOP

Locally owned and operated, Grass Flower Lao Coffee Shop is a cafe you’re likely to walk by a hundred times without ever stopping in. It sits behind a white wooden gate near Wat Siphoutthabat quietly surrounded by potted plants {thus the name I guess?}. Grass Flower isn’t a place to go for fast, reliable internet, fair trade coffee, or to improve your Instagram aesthetic. It’s not boastful or fancy, and that is exactly why you should go. The elderly, gray-haired Lao owner speaks better French than he does English, the remnants of French colonialization that lasted until 1954. A morning at Grass Flower is a morning spent in slow motion, like stepping back in time before matcha or frappucinos. When you order a cup of hot coffee here, that’s exactly what you’ll get. Hot coffee, served in a stained white cup under a noisy spinning fan. The day I visited, the owner spoke with me as he served me my morning joe and then came back to my table with a plate filled with wafers {leftover alms from the morning’s Tak Bat no doubt}.

GOTTA HAVE A CUPPA: Coffee. Go simple here. It’s part of the appeal.

Dao Coffee

I owe my love of Dao to Touk. While working away for the Women’s Empowerment Project, we’d often stop by Dao on our way to the girls’ learning center for a caffeine fix. I had never heard of Dao and this was truly shocking to Touk— we were in Laos after all, and Dao is the crème de la crème of Lao coffee. Interestingly, not many have heard of its beauty, and given its slightly off-site location just outside of the main town, it’s usually very quiet and nice. While the coffees here are decent, their signature is the iced coffee, and in particular, the iced mocha. While you’re at it, there’s also a selection of fruit chips for your purchase inside, complete with some innovative fusion food that’s again, on the high side.  

GOTTA HAVE A CUPPA: I’m not one for a mocha {I don’t even think I can trust people who order them, if we’re being honest}, but it is their signature after all.

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NOVELTY CAFE

Novelty has the unfortunate reputation of being a backpacker establishment, which doesn’t make much sense given its prices {a little steep for what you get}, but makes total sense thanks to its main street location. Unfortunately, Nanta, the owner, has to deal with a lot of travelers coming in to use the cafe’s clean and comfortable toilets without purchasing so much as a vegan brownie.

FAVOURITES OFF THE FOOD MENU: The vegan and gluten-free roasted pumpkin soup was a nice touch on an almost autumn day.

GOTTA HAVE A CUPPA: I’m very into Novelty’s peppermint and chamomile teas.

SIPPING ON SUNSHINE…AND COFFEE…SAME THING

SIPPING ON SUNSHINE…AND COFFEE…SAME THING

SWEET FRY BREAD WITH COCONUT TOPPING FREE FOR COFFEE DRINKERS

SWEET FRY BREAD WITH COCONUT TOPPING FREE FOR COFFEE DRINKERS

LOCALS DRINK THEIR MORNING CUP OF JOE

LOCALS DRINK THEIR MORNING CUP OF JOE

Pasaneyom Coffee Shop

My absolute favourite cafe in Luang Prabang doesn’t have WiFi or newspapers to read. It’s not made “Instagram-friendly” to entice customers and there isn’t air conditioning or a fan in sight. It opens at the wee hours of the morning {5:00 AM} and closes by lunchtime {12:00 pm}. So, why do I love it? For me, nothing beats that “locals only” feel. Of course, in true Lao fashion, they are hospitable and friendly to falang {foreigners}, but…foreigners don’t ever really go here. They miss out on the best coffee in town and FREE DONUTS AND FRY BREAD…like, a whole bowl filled with donuts and fry bread for you to eat complimentary as a coffee drinking customer. Pasaneyom is located right on the corner of the Kitsalat Road and the Khem Khon.

GOTTA HAVE A CUPPA: Iced black coffee with milk {by “milk”, they mean condensed milk}.

LOCAL’S TIP: After tak bat {alms giving}, the locals can be found at Pasaneyom grabbing a coffee on the river or a fried egg for brekkie. Go early and mingle with the locals; smiles cross every language barrier.

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BAGEL WITH CREAM CHEESE + AN ICED AMERICANO

BAGEL WITH CREAM CHEESE + AN ICED AMERICANO

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Indigo House

While Indigo has a beautiful interior and serves its food like art…its prices are silly. Indigo’s prices are fairly steep, even by cafe standards. For instance, a bagel costs 10,000 kip, but if you want butter, jam or cream cheese you have to pay extra 10,000 kip for each spread. Regardless, the quality of the product is high and everything I’ve ever had at Indigo is delicious. Indigo offers a bevy of vegan and gluten free options, which I highly enjoy, however, it is still not quite on the plastic-free bandwagon that so many of Luang Prabang’s cafes have jumped on {whoop whoop!}. Indigo is located right across the road from the sandwich stalls near the Library end of the main street.

Indigo's internet is dodgy and it kicks you off from time to time, which is a total pain if you’re trying to do anything online. You also have to sign onto the internet with a code and need a new code for each device, which is, again, kind of a pain, though not a deal breaker since working online isn’t my first priority at cafes.

Indigo has a fantastic atmosphere that offers mood music and dim lighting for those who want to sip away the evening in an intimate environment.

FAVOURITES OFF THE FOOD MENU: Sticky rice and jeow here is spicy and a nice taste of local cuisine. The vegan burger here is pretty dang good if you’re willing to spend.

GOTTA HAVE A CUPPA: The iced latte here is stellar. I order mine without sugar because I find the milk sweetens the coffee enough on its own.

LOCAL’S TIP: Head up to the rooftop at dusk for beautiful sunset views and to watch the night market being set up busily by vendors down below.

ICED LATTE + CASCARA BAGEL WITH BUTTER + ESPRESSO JAM

ICED LATTE + CASCARA BAGEL WITH BUTTER + ESPRESSO JAM

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FALAFEL WRAP AT SAFFRON COFFEE

FALAFEL WRAP AT SAFFRON COFFEE

Saffron Coffee

Saffron Coffee is my favourite cafe to work from in Luang Prabang. MY ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE. And, to be honest, it’s my favourite traditional cafe in the whole city. I don't know that there is anything I don't love about Saffron. It’s located close to main dots on the map, but not right on main street, making it feel a bit more local. The WiFi in Saffron is great, which makes it ideal for digital nomads and freelancers like myself to get work done. 

It’s the story of Saffron Coffee, however, that makes me a happy cafe regular. The ethnic tribes living in the high lands of Laos were unable to grow typical farm crops. In order to generate some form of income, they grew copious amounts of opium until the government banned its production. Eventually, an agricultural researcher realized that the hill tribes were in the perfect location to could grow coffee, and so Saffron was born. Saffron buys the entire coffee crop from these ethnic minorities in order to provide them with income and reinvest their profits to continue supporting the people of Laos.

If you take away the beautiful interior, the alternative brew bar, the air-conditioned upstairs, the friendly staff, the delicious food menu, and the option for Mekong riverside seating, I’d still recommend Saffron because it has my favourite tasting coffee in town not made the Lao way {for that go to Pasaneyom}.

FAVOURITES OFF THE FOOD MENU: Falafel wrap served with a side of fresh salad or french fries, Mango Coconut French Toast, Carrot cake, and watermelon salad are all big winners in my book.

GOTTA HAVE A CUPPA: The homemade Cascara Kombucha is ridiculously good, but I’d say Saffron gets bonus stars from me for offering alternative brew options similar to Crooked Tree {old readers will know my days as a barista have made me a coffee fanatic}. Alternative brew options include: Siphon, Cold Drip, French Press, Aeropress, and {the Tara favourite} Hario V60.

LOCAL’S TIP: Saffron offers a coffee card for regular patrons, where you can buy 7 coffees and get the 8th free. They also offer a free “Bean There, Drunk That” t-shirt to customers who try all of their alternative brew options with a cute little stamp card to mark off the ones you’ve given a go.

Le Café Ban Vat Sene

Air-conditioning, attentive staff, and a wide selection of coffee, tea, and food make Cafe Ban Vat Sene a great place to escape a sticky afternoon in Luang Prabang. The WiFi is very fast and fairly reliable {although Saffron beats them in the internet department}.

Located just off of the main Sisavangvong Road. With a connection to the upscale L’Elephant restaurant merely two blocks away, it definitely has more of a classier feel than the cafés I have previously been to. I was surprised to find that for only 9,000 kip, you get Coffee Lao served in a nice pot, equaling about two cups of coffee. I also ordered a freshly baked baguette, since it only costed 6,000 kip (not including butter or jam for an additional 6,500 kip each). There are up-to-date newspapers here from Vientiane, Bangkok, and even France (the Le Monde)! I felt like I was in heaven with a nice steaming pot of Lao coffee, a warm baguette, and the newspaper all in front of me. This also would be a great place to bring along your laptop to get some work done. However I preferred to enjoy this beautiful Sunday not behind a screen, but instead watching the world go by.

FAVOURITES OFF THE FOOD MENU: The eggplant vegetarian panini with feta is pretty dang good, though costly.

GOTTA HAVE A CUPPA: Cafe Ban Vat Sene does a great iced Americano.

LOCAL’S TIP: Up a steep set of wooden stairs is a part of the cafe that is typically empty of people but filled with traditional ethnic art. It’s also in a prime people-watching location, since Cafe Ban Vat Sene is on the main street of Luang Prabang with a school and temple across the road.

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Le Banneton Café {aka the French Bakery}

Laos’ historical connections to France are reflected in the delicious pastries at Le Banneton, a real French bakery that offers some of the best croissants I’ve had outside of France. I say that with extra confidence knowing that the large French expat population in Luang Prabang frequents Le Banneton and can be overheard catching up with one another in their native tongue just like they would on the streets of Paris. While the pastries are a hit, the traditional breakfast is what most Sunday locals come here. There’s no WiFi, but there is a sparkling clean Western toilet and friendly Lao staff.

FAVOURITES OFF THE FOOD MENU: You’ll find a traditional Western breakfast at Le Banneton {think eggs, toast, beans, bacon, etc.} if that’s what you’re looking for.

GOTTA HAVE A CUPPA: The coffee at Le Banneton is pretty top notch. Have a traditional black coffee if you need a jolt or an iced latte on a hot day; both are sure to hit the spot.

LOCAL’S TIP: Le Banneton is straw free and prides itself on being plastic free as well. You can grab baguettes, croissants, and other pastries to go and they’ll be put in a paper bag for you, or alternatively you can bring your own bag!

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the SILK ROAD CAFE BY OCK POP TOK

Nestled away on the quieter end of the main road in Luang Prabang is the Silk Road Cafe by Ock Pop Tok. Green plants surround colourful tables and a long list of shakes, fresh juices, and coffees is handed to you by the smiling staff. The fans and bamboo roof give the cafe something special— you’re not confined to the four walls of a cafe, but you still get a cool breeze and protection from the sun.

FAVOURITES OFF THE FOOD MENU: They have watermelon salad with FETA, people. And it’s freakin’ fresh!

GOTTA HAVE A CUPPA: Try the watermelon juice with ginger and cayenne pepper. This will clear out your gut and clear up your skin! And trust me, I have some seriously shitty skin, so when something works I live for it.

LOCAL’S TIP: The Silk Road Cafe has all kinds of events it offers in collaboration with the Living Crafts Centre.

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KAOGEE CAFE

While Kaogee’s food menu offers sandwiches and eggs, neither of which I personally enjoy, their coffee menu shines and the interior of the cafe is well though out. The soundtrack to Kaogee is light-hearted, with 50s classics on rotation. The WiFi is top quality— I sometimes walk by on the opposite side of the road and my phone “dings” with notifications.

GOTTA HAVE A CUPPA: As someone who avoids dairy and lives in a place where milk alternatives are a rare find, I’m not usually one to order a latte— iced or otherwise. For whatever reason I did, then immediately debated in my head whether to ask for just an iced coffee before the staff finished preparing it. I’M SO GLAD I GOT THE ICED LATTE. No added sugar, and served with a bamboo straw, my little glass of espresso heaven was exactly what I never knew I wanted. Get it. Try it. Live for it.

LOCAL’S TIP: The upstairs in Kaogee’s best kept secret. It’s a gorgeous space with cute, hand-painted murals and views of the Grand Palace {conveniently located next door}.

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JOMA BAKERY {CHAIN}

Typically on this blog, I try to stay away from sharing chain cafes or restaurants, simply because I believe in the one-of-a-kind, hidden-gem, can-only-get-this-here experience. But, I make an exception for Joma thanks to it offering vegetarian dining options and its end of the day discount on baked goods. Joma has outdoor seating with fans to help beat the heat or comfortable indoor seating with full air-conditioning and plenty of charging sockets.

Despite the ability to charge all your devices and stay in the cool, the internet is fairly temperamental, making it low on my list of places to get work done. Joma’s coffee is decent, but you can find better coffee for a better price at other places around town. I’d go to Joma for the Nam Khan river view and the 50% pastries at the end of the day.

FAVOURITES OFF THE FOOD MENU: I’m a major fan of the Veggie and Hummus Platter!

GOTTA HAVE A CUPPA: If you buy an Americano {iced or hot} and dine-in, you get free refills for as long as you’re there.

LOCAL’S TIP: There are two Joma locations in Luang Prabang. The quieter location offers views of the Nam Khan and is located away from the main street. These views are great, especially during the boat racing festival. The main Joma location, on main street, is better for remote workers, since it has better internet connection.

VEGETARIAN BURGER WITH WASABI SAUCE AND FRIES AT DEXTER CAFE

VEGETARIAN BURGER WITH WASABI SAUCE AND FRIES AT DEXTER CAFE

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Dexter

Dexter is stunning cafe. The floor tiles alone are photo-worthy. Unfortunately, while I do love the beautiful aesthetic of Dexter, I don't love the prices. Dexter costs a tad bit more than other cafes I love in the area {though it’s all inexpensive compared to a flat white in New Zealand}. The WiFi is fast, but I never get the vibe that they enjoy people working from Dexter, so I try to avoid doing any prolonged work here.

FAVOURITES OFF THE FOOD MENU: Dexter’s vegetarian burger is as filling as it is creative. The burger comes with a wasabi sauce that gives it a real kick. Every salad I’ve had here is served crunchy and fresh.

GOTTA HAVE A CUPPA: I’m a fan of their iced latte, but also recommend the Lao-style coffee.

LOCAL’S TIP: Promotional pamphlets for Dexter offer 10% off your purchase and can be found around town at tour companies and at various guesthouses, so keep an eye out to save some cash.

 

MAP

DON’T GET LOST! The cafés from this post are pinned on the map below in blue!


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he ultimate café guide to Luang Prabang: where to find the cutest cafés + the best coffee #laos #visitlaos #laostravel #luangprabangthingstodo