Nestled in between China, Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam, Laos is a cultural melting pot – and not just because of its French colonial past. Twenty years of war, followed by three decades of strict communist rule, kept much of the outside world out of Laos, and it was only as recently as 1989 that the country opened up to tourism. Laos’ charm lies in its simplicity, a place where ‘slow travel’ is the order of the day, where encounters with people are genuine, and pleasures are unassuming. Life continues here as it has done for centuries.
Laos is a friendly and welcoming country for families; the Lao people adore children and will shower your kids with attention. In general, it is easy to travel in Laos with kids, especially if you stick to the well-worn but still worthwhile destinations of Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. You can always fly between Vientiane and Luang Prabang to spare your kids the long bus trips.
Here is a list of activities available for families, which can make your traveling with kids in Laos fun, educational, and most importantly safe for travelers of all ages.
For a capital city, Vientiane is tiny. Even so, it’s a fabulous place to explore by tuk-tuk, winding through the streets where colonial buildings sit cheek-by-jowl with modern day buildings. With the Mekong running through, it’s also a great place for a sunrise or sunset river walk. Here, your family can visit Patuxai Victory Monument, one of the best-known landmarks of the capital; famous and sacred temples including Pha That Luang Stupa, Ho Phra Kaew and Wat Si Saket; as well as the Lao National Museum.
Vang Vieng, halfway between Vientiane and Luang Prabang, is famed for its spectacular karst limestone scenery and extensive cave systems. Whilst Kong Lor cave may not be the biggest complex, the ‘hidden Eden’ − a pool only accessible after traveling through one cave into another by boat, comes pretty close to paradise. Cue lots of excited swimming!
Luang Prabang, is an enchantingly quiet royal town, dozing in ancient splendor on the confluence of the majestic Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers. Today it is one of the richest provinces in the country, with its mix of gleaming temple roofs, crumbling French colonial architecture and stunning scenery. It is one of those rare destinations where you feel that this is the genuine article; even the hardest of hearts would struggle not to warm to Luang Prabang.
While you are here, you should not miss Wat Xieng Thong, the Royal Palace Museum, Mt. Phousi, and the Traditional Arts & Ethnology Center. Be sure to see the Alms Giving Ceremony, which takes place daily at dawn when the monks leave their temples to collect offerings from the people. Your kids will have the chance to observe the saffron robed monks walking along the streets gathering alms before returning to their temples to study and pray.
You will need to wake up early (5 am – 6 am), dress appropriately, prepare offerings and patiently wait for the monks on the streets.
Although the trekking routes can be a challenge for kids, Lao’s hill tribe villages are well worth a visit. You will encounter warm and welcoming people well off the beaten track who will happily engage with you and your family − children being the ultimate icebreakers when a language is not shared. An overnight stay at one of the homestays is something that all your family can enjoy.
Living as a local, trying new and fulfilling educational activities, cooking, and being hosted by a local family is a unique experience.
One of the most popular waterfalls in the country is Kuang Si, about 20 miles south of Luang Prabang. You can cool down in the pools or go on a hike to see magnificent views. There’s also a bear rescue center nearby where you can observe some local animals that have been saved and are being rehabilitated. Another nearby waterfall is Tad Sae, which is only accessible by boat thereby making the journey more adventurous.
The Elephant Village Sanctuary near Luang Prabang is an educational facility dedicated to the rehabilitation and protection of Asian elephants in Laos. This is one of the most comprehensive, hands-on experiences in the country and a rare chance to get up close to these magnificent animals. You and your children can take part in interesting activities such as feeding the elephants and bathing with them in the milky-brown waters of the Nam Khan River, creating memories that will always flow…
No-one quite knows why this area of Laos, near Phonsavan, is covered with ancient stone ‘jars’, a bizarre collection of ancient cylinders scattered in their hundreds around the war-scarred country in Xieng Khouang province. Whatever their original purpose, the Plain of Jars will prove THAILAND to be both curious and impressive.
Until 1946, Wat Phou, Champasak was a seat of royalty. This might be hard to believe, given that the temples now lie in ruins and the town is so quiet that you’ll be sharing it with only a few vehicles and maybe some chickens. For younger children and culture vultures, though, these ruins are fantastic to explore. Your kids will love them as they’ll be able to clamber over them, quite undisturbed by other tourists.
This is a wonderful 24-hour trip that includes a night safari and an overnight stay in an eco-lodge. You will travel by boat and on foot through the remote Nam Et-Phou Louey National Park, located in the northeast of the country. Here, you’ll spot the best birdlife in Indochina, while looking out for tigers (although you’re unlikely to see one), Sambar deer, otters, civet cats and more.
Conservation is top of the agenda and the guides will tell you all about how they’re helping protect tigers and other wildlife in this area. You can also relish a dinner by the campfire on a riverbank as the night draws in, which is fantastic family fun.
In Laos’ far south, where the Mekong is at its widest, is an area called Si Phan Don, or 4,000 Islands. For a land-locked country without a beach, this is a fabulous alternative. Colorful ‘beach’ bungalows are dotted along waterfronts, backed by coconut palms and banana trees.
Where better to swing on a hammock, swim in the river and enjoy some well-earned rest and relaxation. You might also want to take your kids on a boat trip to spot the Irrawaddy dolphins, which is a slight misnomer as they’re in the Mekong.
The mighty Mekong River looms large in Laos and has influenced life here for centuries. One of the best ways to experience it is by taking a slow boat from the border with Thailand down to Luang Prabang. As you move through the changing landscapes, you will be waving at river communities in their simple shacks.
Children will shout as you pass by, unsure as to whether you or they are having the best time. Timeless, relaxing and a quintessential ‘Laos’ experience.
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