A terrific destination for children
Published: 2nd December, 2018
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 natural to have children around, and you’ll find that yours will be most welcome everywhere you go.
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. Swimming is possible at the falls, but it may be easier at restaurant beside the falls outside the park like Carpe Diem, where steps and handrail have been added to a calm natural pool.
About six kilometres shy of Kuang Si in Ban Muang Khay, Laos Buffalo Dairy farm rents, milks and cares for buffaloes from local villages. That milk gets turned into cheese and other dairy products, which can be enjoyed at their cafe—we’re guessing that ice cream and cheesecake will be a hit with both adults and kids, as will feeding the farm animals. Open daily 10:00-17:30.
Tad Sae, a seasonal waterfall, is another good one for kids. A low concrete wall has been built around the bottom of one of the cascades creating a pool that makes it easier to swim, though be aware that the limestone underfoot is still naturally slick. Tad Sae can feel more touristy and less authentic, with zip lining and sad elephant rides, neither of which we recommend. Still, the waterfall itself is worth the visit after ticking Kuang Si off the list.
Living Land Farm’s “Rice Experience” teaches both young and old about rice growing and let’s you try everyone of the 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 terrorising other participants. Know thy children.
Cycling around town should be a hit too—bring your own helmets as these aren’t provided. You’ll be hard pressed to find children’s bicycles to rent but it’s easy to find adult bikes with a child seat or padded passenger seat at the back. Look for one with a wheel cover to protect feet from getting caught.
Ock Pop Tok offers a half-day kids dyeing class at their Living Crafts Centre. Kids get to make their own tie-dyed T-shirt (cost for an adult and 1 child US$69, additional adult US$35, additional child US$26). 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.
Running one of the most popular cooking classes in town, Tamarind now offers a family cooking class suitable for all ages. Participants still get to make traditional Lao dishes except these are suitable for kids to make and eat. It’s safe, fun and best of all, adults don’t have to clean up the kitchen after! It is a private session, a cost of US$50 per person (minimum US$200 per class).
We’re not presuming that your children won’t enjoy local food, but Lao cuisine 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 so even the fussiest eater is likely to be catered for somewhere.
The town’s many cafes and bakeries are a reliable go to as the are straightforward and customisable. 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. There’s two locations: Sisavangvong Road, near the post office, and Kingkitsarath Road, along the Nam Khan River.
Coconut Garden on the main street has a huge international menu with something for everyone, from Lao and Thai dishes to salads and pastas. Food usually comes out fast and it’s all well done.
To try Lao food, above-mentioned 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 Saturday 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. There’s also a Chinese-owned grocery store across the street at Dara Market. If you can’t find what you’re looking for at these three shops, you aren’t likely to find it at all in Luang Prabang.
In general, all Luang Prabang hotels are welcoming to children and usually they’ll have at least one big suite that will fit a cot or extra bed.
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 note, it’s 1.6 metres deep and usually unattended.
As you should with any trip to Southeast Asia, bring a 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. Slap on sunscreen and a hat, stay hydrated, cool off at a waterfall or pool and make plans for down time. On the flip side, winter months (December to February) can be cold at night.
Take advantage of low season rates (May to October), when hotels reduce their rates to half of their high season rate or offer perks for longer stays. 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.
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you'll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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