One of our favourite holidays of 2015, was visiting Luang Prabang with the kids. Luang Prabang sits peacefully on the banks of the Mekong River in Laos. Life here is intricately intertwined with Buddhism, and beautifully preserved temples greet you at every turn, while orange-robed monks stroll the streets as tourists look on from the street-side coffee shops.
Doesn’t sound like the most exciting town for a family vacation perhaps? But actually, this World UNESCO Heritage site is a great place to take the family, and we managed to find plenty of things to do in Luang Prabang with kids.
The lack of crazy traffic that so often characterizes Asian cities means that exploring with a buggy is infinitely doable, and with the town centre being compact, you don’t need to worry about little legs tiring out too quickly.
Explore the Temples
It’s hard to avoid the temples in Luang Prabang; they are everywhere. However, there is a limit to how many times you can instill excitement in a four-year old and two-year old to play “find the Buddha”, or convince them that taking their shoes off at every temple is a fun game.
So we dedicated one morning to exploring the temples. We were particularly taken with Wat Xieng Thong, or Temple of the Golden City, a complex of over twenty beautiful shrines and pavilions, with shimmering golden doors and hidden Buddha statues.
The other favourite was Wat Ho Pha Bang, the ornate temple within the Royal Palace Museum that safeguards the Phra Bang Buddha image – Laos’ most sacred Buddha image for which Luang Prabang is named. The Royal Palace Museum itself is also fun for the kids, where you can visit the throne room and bedrooms of the former Royal Family.
Kuang Si Falls
The Kuang Si Falls are a good 45 bumpy minutes in the back of a tuk tuk from Luang Prabang – much to the delight of my kids, who thought this was the height of adventure.
The Kuang Si Waterfall is one of the most stunning waterfalls I have ever seen, with layer upon layer of cascading water forming a tapestry of aquamarine pools, all leading up to the main fall: 60 metres of gushing water, surrounded by green tropical jungle. Incredible.
But the highlight of our trip to Kuang Si for the kids, was the Tat Kuang Si Rescue Centre, run by Free the Bears Fund and responsible for looking after 23 Moon Bears, or Asiatic Black Bears, who have been rescued by the Laos government from illegal poaching and trading.
We watched as the bear keepers hid food under tyres and inside logs, before the cute fluffy bears appeared and climbed up onto wooden platforms, swung in hammocks and frolicked around their playground.
Read more about visiting the Kuang Si Falls with Kids in our article here.
Probably the highlight of the whole trip to Luang Prabang for the kids, was our day training to be mahouts at the Elephant Village. This elephant sanctuary has rescued 14 elephants from hard labour in the jungle and looks after them in their picturesque and spacious riverside camp.
At the Elephant Village one-day mahout programme, we learned to speak Laos commands, ride on the necks of the gentle giants and feed them bananas. But the real fun came at bath time, where we rode them down into the river to give them a good scrubbing down, and receive a refreshing shower ourselves courtesy of our new elephant friends.
The loud shrieks of delight from my daughter were testament to just how much fun she was having – while my two-year old son remains fascinated by ‘elephant poop’ to this day!
Note that the mahout programme does include a short elephant ride to take them down to the river for their bath, which is a controversial issue at the moment. However, from what we saw, the elephants at the Elephant Village are well cared for and happy. They only ‘work’ in the mornings, and all visit the vet each day before they head back to the jungle to rest for the afternoon.
Cruising the Mekong
Sunsets in Luang Prabang are sensational, and we made it a point to be down by the river every evening to take advantage of this. Luckily the riverbank is littered with laidback rustic bars, all serving cold Beer Lao and offering front row seats of this colourful spectacle.
But our most magical sunset experience was taking a ride along the Mekong. We took a stroll down to the boat pier just before sunset one evening and after a couple of minutes of friendly bartering with a local boat driver, we had agreed on the sum of 200,000 kip (around $25 USD) for an hour’s private cruise up and down the river.
We loaded up our cool bag with sundowner drinks, clambered aboard the longboat and headed for the horizon. The memory of the pinks, oranges and golds that ripped through the sky as the sun sank behind the mountains will forever be imprinted in my mind.
Hungry? Read about the Best Restaurants in Luang Prabang.
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