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Laos with kids

Asia

The best of Laos can be experienced with a visit to the bite-sized Luang Prabang, Marianne Rogerson and family discovers.

Sitting on the banks of the Mekong River and encircled by mountains, Luang Prabang is host to one of the most magical sunsets in the world. After taking a stroll down to the boat pier one evening – and following a couple of minutes of friendly bartering with a local boat driver – my family and I embark on an hour-long private cruise down the river. Our cooler bag brimming with sundowner drinks, we clamber aboard the longboat and head for the postcard-perfect horizon, drifting pass rustic bars serving Beer Lao and listening to the distant sounds of temple bells.

Tranquil temples
Life here is intricately intertwined with both Buddhism and tourism, and in a fascinating fusion of East meets West, remarkably well-preserved temples greet you at every turn while orange-robed monks wander the streets as travellers look on from street-side coffee shops.

Following two days in bustling Hanoi, my family and I are lulled into the sedate pace of Luang Prabang. Wandering through the UNESCO World Heritage Site, absorbing the French provincial architecture and getting lost in its 32 temples, it is easy to see why the town is Laos’ most-visited destination. We particularly love Wat Xieng Thong – the Temple of the Golden City – a complex of over 20 shrines and pavilions with shimmering golden doors, scattered stupas, hidden Buddha statues and an intricate Tree of Life mosaic.

A lack of traffic means that exploring with a stroller can be done with ease, and with the town centre being so compact, we have no worries about little legs tiring out too quickly. However, there is a limit to how many times you can instil excitement in a two- and four-year-old for another game of ‘find the Buddha’, so it was soon time for us to look for some more child-friendly pursuits by heading to the surrounding rice-terraced countryside.



Chasing waterfalls
Around 30 kilometres southwest of town, our first outdoors expedition is a visit to the Kuang Si Falls. Much to the delight of my kids – who think this is the height of adventure – the drive takes a good 45 bumpy minutes in the back of a tuk tuk. I had seen many photos online of the waterfalls but nothing could have prepared me for the natural beauty of the real thing. Trickling cascades flow over white limestone rocks and the waterholes get larger and larger as you ascend the hill, forming a tapestry of aquamarine pools inviting you to dive in and splash around. There’s a rope swing for mini thrill-seekers and a café overlooking the waterfall for parents wanting to relax.

The bear necessities
Just a short walk past the entrance gate, don't miss the Tat Kuang Si Rescue centre on your visit to the falls. Run by the Free the Bears Fund, the foundation is responsible for looking after 23 Moon Bears who have been rescued by the Laos government from the illegal wildlife trade. The playful feeding time, around 1pm, is the best time of the day to stop by. We watch on with glee as the bear keepers hide food throughout the forested enclosure - even under tyres and inside logs - and the mischievous black bears magically appear on the wooden platforms. Swinging in hammocks, frolicking in the playground and posing for photos like movie stars, the kids are mesmerised with the cubs and declare it is the highlight of the trip.



Befriending elephants
In ancient times Laos was known as the Kingdom of the Million Elephants, so a visit must include a close encounter with these majestic animals. The next day we are off on another adventure – this time to the Elephant Village – a sanctuary that has rescued 14 elephants from hard labour and now houses them in a quaint riverside camp.

We sign up to the one-day Mahout Experience where we learn to speak to the elephants, take a joyride on their necks and feed them lots of bananas. Though the real fun comes at bath time! We ride the big-eared behemoths down to the river for a good scrub down and receive a refreshing shower ourselves – courtesy of our new friends. The shrieks of delight from my daughter are testament to just how much fun she is having.





***Laos Report Card***


Information
www.tourismlaos.org

Getting there
Emirates (with Bangkok Airways) flies to Luang Prabang daily.
www.emirates.com

Stay
Angsana Maison Souvannaphoum
www.angsana.com
The Luang Say Residence
www.luangsayresidence.com

Do
www.elephantvillage-laos.com
www.freethebears.org.au

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