Walking along the dusty streets, taking in the red bricked pavements running along outside french inspired cafes, there is a familiar feel to Luang Prabang that makes you feel at home. Compared to it’s neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam, there is a slower, easier pace that allows you step back, relax and truly take in the world around you. It is this combination of relaxed atmosphere, stunning natural beauty and the ease of finding a good cup of English Tea that made us fall in love with Luang Prabang.
Travelling to Luang Prabang
We began our journey to Laos on a sleeper bus from Chiang Mai, which took us through the mountains. While as a single traveller this wouldn’t be too much of an ordeal, it was a long and difficult travel day with young children, so my first bit of advice when travelling to Luang Prabang via Chiang Mai, is to travel in by plane.
Where to stay
We stayed in Matata Garden Guest House, which was quite nice (although a little noisy) for a relatively low budget. The rooms were clean and spacious, the staff were incredibly helpful and there is a small outdoor area for children to run around in.
What to do in Luang Prabang with young children
Pha Tad Ke Botanical Gardens
On our first day in Luang Prabang, we took a stroll down to the river and came across the offices for Pha Tad Ke Botanical Gardens. After purchasing our tickets, we climbed down the steps to the river bank and boarded a boat. Cruising down the river, we got our first glimpses of the beautiful landscape surrounding Luang Prabang, before reaching our destination a short 15 minute ride across the river. Disembarking from the boat, we stepped across a slightly wobbly platform before reaching the steep steps, lined with bamboo rails that lead the way to the botanical gardens.
The Botanical Gardens is split into a number of different sections, from medicinal plants and a orchid nursery to a bamboo pathway and a palm tree garden. We made our way along the different pathways taking in the exotic plants and running underneath a canopy of butterflies, before having a lunch of fruit salad and coconut water beside the pond.
We spent the afternoon taking the gentle hike up to a bamboo viewing platform, where we took in the backdrop of picturesque blue mountains, against the green fields of grazing buffalo. To end the day we boarded back onto one of the regular timetabled boats and made our way back across the river.
Kuang Si Waterfalls
Kuang Si Waterfalls is the natural gem of Northern Laos and something not be missed when visiting Luang Prabang with young children. The vibrant blue waters, cascading waterfalls and gentle hike is an outdoor haven for nature loving children. There is also a bear sanctuary, a butterfly farm and many different street food vendors nearby, which are all great for little explorers.
We like to get out into the rural heart of the destinations we visit, as that tends to be where we find the most authentic experience of what life is really like in that area. We stumbled across a great countryside excursion that had only recently been set up. The tour takes you two villages on the outskirts of Luang Prabang, where local people show off their skills weaving bamboo and fishing before sitting down with you for lunch. It isn’t the polished sort of tour that you will find in the bigger cities, but it is the perfect excursion for travellers looking to learn more about life in rural Laos.
Luang Prabang Night Market
Luang Prabang’s Night Market is one of our favourite night markets that we visited since beginning our travels in South East Asia. There is less hustle and bustle compared to the night markets in Thailand and Vietnam, which allows you to slowly make your way through. There are beautiful items from carefully crafted 3D cards to beautifully stitched cuddly toys. The street food on offer is also absolutely amazing, especially the crepe and coconut pancake stands. The prices are reasonable and the market traders are brilliant with children, making it a great opportunity to teach children how to pay for their items.
Giving Back in Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is generally a lot less developed that western countries, with bookshops being a rarity and limited career opportunities. However, there are a number of different people and initiatives in place that are a catalyst for change in the country.
The guide for our countryside tour was a man called Jer, who has set up a great after school initiative that teaches children from rural villages to speak English. He told us that in Luang Prabang, tourism is the most lucrative way of earning money and in order to work in that industry it is essential to speak English as most tourists are English speakers. He invited us down to his class, where we discovered a classroom built by Jer and his students from materials they had sourced themselves. It was such a humbling experience and one that I recommend looking into if travelling to Luang Prabang. To learn more about Jer’s initiative, take a look at his website Laos Learns English to see how you can support his work through volunteering and donations.
Earlier in this post I mentioned the bear sanctuary at Kuang Si Waterfalls. This is a great conservation effort that not only offers a sanctuary for bears saved from a life of misery, but also works hard to protect bear in the wild. You can donate to this sanctuary specifically on your visit, or you can donate to the organisation Free the Bears that run a number of projects alongside this one to help protect bears.
In the heart of Luang Prabang sits a quaint little bookshop called L’Etranger, Books and Tea that sells some well worn books. L’Etranger, Books and Tea was the first licensed bookshop in Laos since the communist Era and is a great spot for grabbing a good cup of tea and sticking your nose into a book. Books are difficult to come by in Luang Prabang, so donations are always welcomed. We had a few books that we had finished by the time we reach Luang Prabang and it seemed silly to continue carrying them around, so we took them down and donated them. If anything it frees up a bit of space in your pack for some traveller souvenirs from the market.
Alternatively if you have children’s books, you can take them down the children’s cultural centre. There is also the option to teach a class or donate other supplies. You can find out more about this by visiting their drop off centre while in Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang isn’t really the first place you think of visiting with little ones, but we absolutely loved our time there and found it a great place to visit with little ones.
Take a look at vlog about our time in Luang Prabang: