Photo: Pak Ou caves.

Luang Prabang for kids

Our rating:

Luang Prabang is a great holiday for easygoing parents and curious, adaptable children -- but not children who must have access to modern distractions as you won’t find cinemas, malls or flashy theme parks here. We’ve seen many families with young kids enjoy a week in the town, finding plenty to do while not having to travel far. Luang Prabang is convenient to explore, with everything close and relatively safe. And Lao people are very family-oriented -- it’s very natural to have children around, and you’ll find that yours will be most welcome everywhere you go.

A picnic and a cool dip at Kuang Si Waterfall is a must and kids will also be delighted with the bear sanctuary and Kuang Si Butterfly Park. Opened in early 2014, the butterfly park has netted gardens with a beautiful variety of local butterflies that kids can get up close to and observe.

Kids are welcome in Luang Prabang.
Kids are welcome in Luang Prabang.

Tad Se is another great waterfall for kids. A low concrete wall has been built around the bottom of one of the falls creating a pool that makes it easier and safer to swim. Though far more people visit Kuang Si, by comparison Tad Se can feel more touristy and less authentic. Elephants are available for a ride and there’s zip lining, but we do not recommend this here. Still, the waterfall itself is worth the visit.

Living Land Farm’s “Rice Experience” teaches both young and old about rice growing and let’s you try each of the 14 steps. We’ve heard parents and kids rave about what a fun, educational experience it was. We’ve also heard stories of kids completely disinterested, spending the entire time fooling around and terrorizing other participants. Know thy children.

Cooling off in Tad Se Waterfall.
Cooling off in Tad Se Waterfall.

Cycling around town should be a hit too, but remember to bring your own helmets as these aren’t provided. You’ll be hard pressed to find children’s bicycles to rent but you’ll easily find adult bikes with a child seat or padded passenger seat at the back.

Ock Pop Tok offers a half-day kids dyeing class at their Living Crafts Centre (236,000 kip or US$30), where kids get to make their own tie-dyed T-shirt. Youths and teens might also be interested in the bamboo weaving class.

A short boat trip on the Mekong is a fun way to end the day. Local boats can be hired for around 100,000 kip per hour. For a comfortable boat with life jackets and toilet, book ahead with Banana Boat.

We’re not presuming that your children won’t enjoy local food, but Lao food is full of strong herbs and spices that can be challenging even for an adult palate. Luang Prabang’s dining scene offers plenty of choice though so even the fussiest eater is likely to be catered for somewhere.

Joma Bakery Cafe has a kid-friendly menu of pizzas, make-your-own sandwich, soups, salads and desserts, including ice cream sundaes. They also have sliced bread and bagels for self-catering. It has two locations: Sisavangvong Road, near the post office, and Kingkitsarath Road, along the Nam Khan River.

A turkey sandwich from Joma might be more familiar fare.
A roast turkey sandwich from Joma might be more familiar fare.

Coconut Garden on the main street has a huge international menu with something for everyone, from Lao dishes to salads and pastas. Food usually comes out fast and it’s all well done.

To try Lao food, Tamarind Restaurant offers a gentle introduction and they are good at accommodating dietary preferences. Your kids might enjoy stir-fried pumpkin, fried chicken stuffed in lemongrass and sticky rice boiled in sweet coconut milk for dessert.

For self-catering, Luang Prabang has two small grocery shops, both on the same strip on Kitsalat Road, across from Dara Market (open Monday to Saturdayt 08:00–17:00, Sunday 08:00–12:00). Don’t expect much. At Chitanh Minimart and Thansamay Epicierie you’ll find the basics: milk, cheese, peanut butter, good quality salamis and other cured meats, cereals, juice and dry goods. Always check the expiry date. Thansamay sometimes has delicious organic salads and veg from Living Land Farm. If you can’t find what you’re looking for at these two shops, you aren’t likely to find it at all in Luang Prabang.

At the moment there are no big flashy resorts in Luang Prabang – and we consider it a blessing – but that will change soon as Accor has broken ground on a massive Pullman Resort, which will be unlike anything this town has seen. In general, you’ll find all Luang Prabang hotels welcoming to children and usually they’ll have at least one big suite that will fit a cot or extra bed.

Maison Souvannaphoum Hotel
Pool just waiting for a splash at Maison Souvannaphoum.

In particular, Maison Souvannaphoum Hotel hits all the right notes when it comes to travelling with children. The 24-room boutique property is in an ideal location, only a seven-minute walk or a quick bike ride to the night market, but being outside of the town centre means more space, including a large lawn and garden to run around and a swimming pool. The ground floor of their charming two-storey garden wing is stroller accessible and some rooms have interconnecting doors.

Mekong Estate is the only self-catering villa/vacation residence in Luang Prabang. The property is in Ban Saylom, a five-minute drive from town. Five different houses are offered to rent, all boasting river views, or you can also book by suite. The benefit of staying here is plenty of outdoor space, a private vacation home feeling and your own kitchenette to prepare meals and snacks. There’s also a large infinity pool but beware, it’s 1.6 metres deep and usually unattended.

Practical tips
As you should with any trip to Southeast Asia, bring your own well-stocked medical kit and any children-specific medication. Don’t count on Luang Prabang pharmacies having what you might need. Consult your travel doctor about necessary vaccinations a few months ahead of your trip to ensure plenty of time for any series of shots required.

Be warned that the sun in Luang Prabang is intense in the middle of the day, even during “winter” from December to February. Slap on sunscreen and a hat, stay hydrated, cool off at a waterfall or pool and make plans for down time.

Take advantage of low season rates (May to October), when hotels reduce their rates to half of their high season rate. Temperature and weather is best in October, November and February. Do correspond with the hotel and give them notice about requests like extra beds and neighbouring rooms so there are no surprises.

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