Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage City that’s an easy direct flight from Singapore. Sassy Mama’s founder gives her top tips for seeing Laos with Kids.
Since Silk Air started offering direct flights to Luang Prabang from Singapore (with a 40 minute touch-down in the Laos capital of Vientiane on route), Luang Prabang has been on my bucket list. Until this year I was worried our kids (aged four and six years old) would be a little young for some of the cultural aspects of visiting Laos, but now that they’re old enough to do a bit of walking in the heat without too much moaning, my husband and I decided now was the time to cross another place off our list!
Even though we had heard it’s possible to cover the main sights in a long weekend, we preferred to set a more leisurely pace, and five nights was the perfect length of stay to enjoy the main landmarks but also have some pool and hangout time.
We split our five-day stay in Luang Prabang between two hotels, because we like to get a bit of a change of scenery when doing a city stay, and also because we had heard that the two best hotels in Luang Prabang are so different from each other in vibe (despite being less than a five minute drive from each other!) that it’s worth trying both if you possibly can. We spent our first three nights at Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao, a hillside retreat with a beautiful view down into the valley and of the famed golden Phou Si temple stupa, visible from the gorgeous infinity pool. We were given a suite, with two twin beds set up in the living room so that the four of us could all be in a single room. The rooms are traditional Laos-style with dark woods, beautiful textiles and balconies overlooking the charming courtyard garden area.
Staff at Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao were warm and friendly, helping our children to feed the fish in their koi ponds, and accommodating of our kids’ food choices. Although there isn’t a kids’ menu as such, their chef cooked up pasta, grilled chicken or fish, and veggies on request; portions were more than generous and the quality was lovely. For adults, there was a great selection of local Lao dishes mixed with Western options.
As we were staying at Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao during low season (May to August – high season is from December to April) they weren’t offering their usual breakfast buffet but had an a la carte menu, from which if you don’t try their amazing pancakes with honey, or their basket of breakfast pastries, you are really missing out.
Side-note: One of the remaining French colonial influences in Luang Prabang, aside from some stunning architecture, is in the amazing croissants and pastries available at most of the cafes in town – we couldn’t get enough and definitely took a couple of extra kilos home with us from over-indulging! Click here to see some of our favourite restaurants that we came across in Luang Prabang!
A real highlight of Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao is their beautiful infinity pool surrounded by lush foliage. The depth of the pool is only about 1 metre through the whole pool, so while it’s not ideal for jumping or diving, you can feel confident that your kids will be able to touch the bottom, and there are no steep drops off the side! Staff kept us well taken-care of around the pool with cold drinks and ice cream.
For adult “treats”, my husband was very happy with the air-conditioned gym, and I had one of the best massages of my life (no exaggeration!) – the 60-minute Energising Oil Massage – at the in-house Mekong Spa. The therapist made my usually-tense back and shoulders feel like butter, and I was walking on air for the rest of the day.
Sassy Mama Tip: Neither hotel we stayed at had blackout curtains in the rooms for the kids, and the sun does rise a little earlier than in Singapore (at 5.30am when we were there in June!), so make sure to build early nights into your plans!
Tat Kuang Si Waterfalls + Black Bear Sanctuary
The Tat Kuang Si waterfalls are around one hour’s drive from Luang Prabang, through scenic countryside. Entry to the national park also gives you access to a Black Bear conservation project which houses Asian black bears (moon bears), who have been rescued from bear bile farms.
Wander through this little mini “zoo”, and you will then be on the path through to the waterfalls. It’s a fifteen minute gentle uphill walk (in the shade thankfully) past multiple lovely little pools which you can swim in, up to the main waterfall which you can see from a bridge. Bring your own towel and wear your swimmers under your clothes, as this is a rustic experience and the changing rooms are to be avoided.
Sunset Cruise along the Mekong River
A wonderful experience (so good we did it twice!) is to take the hotel’s luxurious private boat upriver for a leisurely cruise at sunset. Choose a bottle of wine to enjoy an aperitif and ask the staff to pack some ice cream or snacks for the kiddos. The cruise lasts around two hours, so bring some colouring or sticker books for the little ones, and you will even be able to enjoy a little bit of romantic time. We found this a real highlight.
The National Museum (Haw Kham)
Located on the main road, The National Museum is housed in the former Royal Palace, and includes peeks at the former King and Queen of Laos’s bedrooms, clothing, thrones and howdahs (a kind of saddle used to ride elephants). Don’t miss going through to the stables at the back to look at the King’s vintage car collection. Going around the museum only takes about 30 minutes, and so is good for short attention spans. Just bear in mind you’ll need to check your bag in the cloakroom.
Phou Si Temple
The Phou Si Temple is a steep, sweaty 25-minute climb up a series of steps and slopes up from the main street, and while the summit affords a gorgeous view of the Mekong and the valley of Luang Prabang, the Stupa itself isn’t a “wow” from up close, so keep your expectations pretty low and try to go at an off-peak time (sunset is especially crowded with tourists). On your way down, look at for the Cave with Buddha’s footprint, which for our kids was a real highlight.
Xieng Thong Wat
Known as one of Luang Prabang’s most scenic wats (temples), this is worth a look-see and is located very centrally in the town.
Places to Eat
Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao
On our first evening we were too tired to venture out of the hotel, and enjoyed a lovely Lao dinner at the hotel, with candlelight and lovely traditional music. The menu, while small, is varied, and service was friendly and efficient.
Serves lovely, fresh-tasting Lao cuisine in the street-side garden of a traditional house.
Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao, Phou Vao Road, Luang Prabang, Laos Telephone: +856 71 212194, [email protected], www.belmond.com/la-residence-phou-vao-luang-prabang