A couple of weeks ago, we spent a few days in Luang Prabang, the darling of Laos. Nicknamed "Meuang Falang" by locals due to its cult tourism status, it is nevertheless a charming place to visit. As a falang, I can say that shamelessly.
As parents know, travelling with young kids is never a 'holiday' but rather an endurance test interspersed with bemusing cultural encounters, 'authentic' shopping purchases or doggedly sought out adventurous experience. Relaxing is what happens when the kids nap or watch the ipad for an hour, while you doze in your unmade hotel bed. By the end of the trip, everyone can't wait to get back to the familiar comforts of home. When you sift through your 12,000 photos a few weeks later, the few unblurred ones seem to suggest you had a great time. Honestly, you can't remember.
If you are anything like us, determined to 'make the most' of your overseas life and imbibe your mini me's with as many cultural experiences, languages, peoples and visas in their passports as possible, you need to find some common ground. For our family, that means food. After all, you've got to eat.
So, we planned our days in Luang Prabang not around activities or sightseeing but around meals. At breakfast, we planned second breakfast, then lunch, then dinner. in between we visited the Elephant Village, the Tat Kuang Si bear rescue centre, the temples, the night markets, handicraft shops, and episodes of My Little Pony.
And this is what we found...
The markets are a good starting point
A visit to Luang Prabang's nightly markets is a must. From cooked-on-the-spot sweet rice cakes to fresh juices and BBQ'd meat skewers, you'll likely to find something to attract (or at least distract) the kids for a while.
Second breakfast is a must
Second breakfast is a regular weekend meal in our house. It's also known as first breakfast for the grownups who choose, strangely enough, not to eat a full meal at 7am but rather, wait for the more leisurely hour of 9am. In Luang Prabang, we loved Novelty cafe on the main street in town for its array of breakfast dishes, including pastries. And az proclaimed it to have the best coffee in town.
Pizza is perfectly acceptable
While I normally wouldn't track down an Italian restaurant while travelling, I was glad that we tried La Rosa. It is off the main street towards the river and opposite Khaiphaen. The food was excellent, the service was prompt and they were very generous with the fresh bread. The owner also came out several times to ask about our meal.
Khaiphaen was our favourite
Sometimes the Lonely Planet favourites are so for a reason. Khaiphaen, sister to Makphet in Vientiane, are both vocational restaurants for disadvantaged Lao youth. We found Khaiphaen the better of the two. The food was fantastic, the service excellent and it was open for dinner at 4.30pm. We were promptly back the very next day.
As on any trips, there were a few less-than-exciting meals, notably one no-name joint by the river. They took so long to produce our meal that 40 minutes after we had ordered, I just left with Lara back to the hotel and put her to bed. Tamnak Lao was the other disappointment. We went on the back of a glowing article that claimed it as Luang Prabang's best restaurant. If so, it's gone seriously downhill. We found the food very average, the service sketchy, and one of our dishes simply never arrived, despite follow ups.
Such is life. This is by no means a complete account of Luang Prabang restaurants but it's a start. When we return, we'll continue. For of course we will return, as we appeared to have had such a great trip.