Landlocked Laos is the least-known of the Indochina triumvirate. In fact, most visitors to the region totally overlook it, making a beeline for the exciting cities of Vietnam or the grand Khmer ruins of Cambodia. What could little old Laos have to tempt travellers away from these awesome attractions?
Actually, a lot. Laos may not have world-famous landmarks of its venerable neighbours, but its charms are totally underrated. Northern Laos has scenery as beautiful as any in Vietnam, southern Laos has its laid-back river islands to compete with the coast, and exotic Luang Prabang is easily the nicest city in Indochina. What’s more, there are far fewer tourists to jostle with at all these sites than in either Vietnam or Cambodia. Where better to take your family for a Southeast Asian adventure?
But I don’t expect you just to take my word for it – read on for just a few of the great things to do with your kids in Laos.
1. Get weaving at Ock Pop Tok
Quaint-sounding Ock Pop Tok (it means “East meets West” in Lao) is a social enterprise that aims to introduce visitors to Lao culture through textiles. Based beside the Mekong River just outside of Luang Prabang, this is a beautiful setting in which to learn how traditional Lao fabrics are made, from preparing natural dyes to rearing silkworms and weaving on a loom. This is the perfect morning for crafty kids, giving them the chance to weave their own place mat on one of the looms – and the adjoining Silk Road Café is the perfect place for lunch.
2. Discover Luang Prabang by e-bike
As I’ve mentioned already, Luang Prabang is the nicest city in Indochina – and in fact if you ask our team, it’s one of the nicest cities in the world. Forget the hectic swarm of mopeds that plagues larger metropolises in Cambodia or Vietnam, forget skyscrapers and flashy bars and dirty, smelly backstreets. Sunny Luang Prabang is a laid-back, palm-fringed, overgrown town of a city, steeped in evocative history and a tropical atmosphere – and the most enjoyable way of seeing the sights (in our opinion) is on an e-bike tour. You’re on holiday, right? Who wants to pedal? This is the perfect way of combining World Heritage Sites (for the grown-ups) with fun (for the kids).
3. Swim in Kuang Si Falls
Another fantastic destination within striking distance of Luang Prabang is Kuang Si Falls, a stunningly beautiful, multi-tiered waterfall hidden in the jungle just outside the city. All you need to do is jump in a tuk-tuk for 40 minutes and you’re there – and surprisingly for such a beautiful spot, visitors are allowed to swim in the cool, turquoise waters. What with the surrounding forest to explore and the splashing about to be done, this is sure to keep the kids entertained for a very pleasant couple of hours.
4. Kayak on the Mekong
The north of Laos is absolutely stunning, especially if you visit straight after the rainy season when the scenery is lush and verdant. Here the great Mekong winds lazily through jungle and mountains, passing sleepy villages and towns and offering endless opportunities for exploration. Nong Khiaw is just one of these towns, where we recommend checking into the Riverside Resort and embarking on a day of kayaking on the river.
5. Try your hand at farming at The Living Land
A fantastic way to introduce your children to rural Laos – without even straying far from Luang Prabang – is a visit to The Living Land, an organic farm where you can get stuck into planting, harvesting or ploughing. The type of activity you’ll take part in will depend on the time of year, but whenever you visit – this is a great, hands-on way for kids to learn a little more about the everyday lives of the people of Laos.
6. Meet the elephants
The Sayaboury Elephant Sanctuary is guaranteed to delight the adults as much as the children – or at least it delights us. Laos was once known as Lan Xang, or “Land of a Million Elephants”, though sadly there are now only around 1,600 of them left in the country. At Sayaboury, you’ll be able to meet some of them, learn about the challenges they face in modern Laos, and observe their day-to-day lives.
7. Have an adventure at Kamu Lodge
Three hours upstream from Luang Prabang is Kamu Lodge – otherwise known as paradise for adventurous children. This “Sustainable Village” has been designed to preserve the environment and cultural heritage of rural Laos, offering a wide variety of activities such as rice planting, gold panning, jungle hikes, waterfall visits, fishing and archery – enough to keep you busy for several days at least! The lodge works closely with local villages, providing employment opportunities to the local people and helping to bring tourism to the area in a sensitive and unobtrusive way. This is the kind of tourism we like.
The family travel section of our blog has more ideas for trips for travellers with kids in tow – and you can take a look at more family-orientated experiences on our website. For starters, our Laos Family Adventure itinerary includes most of the activities listed above – or we can plan a tailored trip just for you!