Southeast Asia is a hot tourist destination. Why? Because aside from the cost of airfare, the rest of your trip can be very budget friendly. If you haven’t ever visited, you might be surprised to find that Southeast Asia offers plenty of fun experiences for families.
The country of Laos calls itself “The Jewel of the Mekong,” boasting a laid-back populace, beautiful scenery, and plenty of wide open spaces. Laos is the least densely populated country in Southeast Asia, so there is room for everyone!
A birds-eye view of many of the sculptures at Buddha Park
The capital city, Vientiane, is a provincial town with international qualities. Nearly every kind of international cuisine can be found here, catering to the foreign workers of embassies and non-governmental organizations, as well as ever increasing numbers of tourists.
Besides shopping in the markets or enjoying a good swim, here are four fun things that families can do on a visit to Vientiane, Laos:
1) Visit the COPE Museum
Did you know that Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the history of warfare? It’s unfortunate geography left Laos stuck in the middle of the Vietnam-U.S. War.
Unexploded Ordinance, or UXO, continues to be a problem in Laos even today. It is estimated that over 260 million cluster bombs were rained down on northern Laos between 1964 and 1973. Of these, it is estimated that 78 million remain unexploded.
UXO causes injuries and deaths each year as unexploded bombs are discovered lying dormant in the earth, usually by children or farmers. In a country where medical care is inadequate, these accidents are especially devastating.
The COPE Center (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) is a non-profit organization that provides prosthetics and mobility devices for those in need, on a “pay what you can” basis. COPE also provides community education and training and support for national staff to be able to provide the best services possible.
The COPE Museum is a thought provoking tour, suitable for all ages. You can see deactivated UXO on display in artful arrangements, go inside a replica of a typical Lao house, try out some wheel chairs and tricycles designed specifically for developing countries, and learn about the programs at COPE. The gift shop offers handicrafts and COPE t-shirts and books, the proceeds all going to the cause. Visit the ice cream stand before leaving!
Deeds tries out a wheel chair made especially for village conditions
2) Explore Patuxay Victory Monument
Modeled after the Arch de Triumph in France, Patuxay Victory Monument was built in the 1960s, purportedly out of cement donated by the U.S. for the purposes of building an airport. This legend has earned Patuxay the snarky nickname, “The Vertical Runway.”
The admission price is less than fifty cents a person, and the climb to the top of the monument gives you an excellent birds-eye view of down town Vientiane. As you climb, you can leisurely shop for souvenirs like t-shirts and handicrafts, displayed on three different levels of the structure.
Patuxay is surrounded by a park where many locals come to exercise in the evenings.
3) Go Fishing!
We were invited to a catch-and-release fish farm on the outskirts of Vientiane. I wasn’t expecting a cultural experience but we turned up on the day of a tournament. The bait of choice was handfuls of bread crumbs, squished and compacted around a metal frame, with a hook in there somewhere. We didn’t catch anything but my boys had a way more fun than I anticipated.
The scenery of green rice paddies while eating a leisurely meal reclining on floor cushions at a low table made for a memorable afternoon.
Locals line up for a Saturday fishing tournament
4) Trek to Buddha Park
Buddha Park is on the outer edge of town, close to the Lao/Thai border crossing. Buddha Park was built in 1958 by a very imaginative monk named Bunleua Sulilat. It includes large sculptures of both Hindu and Buddhist deities.There is a lot of space for children to run around, and an outdoor restaurant for a snack break. Entrance to the park is about 40 cents per person.
The central attraction is a large concrete dome that can be entered from the bottom. Once inside, you can spiral up to the top, viewing various sculptures depicting aspects of creation, heaven and hell. The highest point is a bit harrowing, far above the ground with no guard rails, but the view of the park is breathtaking.
Laos is a friendly destination and can deliver lots of adventure on a budget. Lao people love children, so traveling as a family opens the doors to a deeper cultural experience.
Are you considering a trip to Laos or do you have a favorite activity or site in Laos that you'd like to share? Let us know in the comments!
Candice Broom is a teacher and a world traveling mother of two. She has lived in Asia for eight years, including seven years in Laos. Candice works at Vientiane International School and blogs her family travel adventures at MomMostTraveled.com.