Luang Prabang: A Haven of Responsible Tourism
As a parent who loves to travel with my two children, I often find it hard to do so while trying to keep focused on responsible tourism practices and not let my core values slip based on convenience – or should I say lack thereof! It can also be quite a challenge at times to find places off-the-beaten-track that are suitable for the kids and myself, and trying to please everyone at once is not always an option.
On my recent business trip to Laos to get the teams there updated on Travelife certification and to encourage the development of new Khiri Reach projects, I discovered – much to my delight – that Luang Prabang has so many of the right kind of travel alternatives that are fun, interesting, educational and sustainable. These are the kind of options that make the kids happy, and make me even happier!
This city on the Mekong River offers some delightful places where you can eat a variety of fresh local products and customary fare, or opt for quaint cafes with fabulous baked goods, where the French influence is more than apparent.
However, unlike before, many of these eateries now promote the use of refillable bottles and even offer a small discount if you bring your own coffee cup. They do not provide plastic straws and offer you the chance to buy the traditional bamboo straws once found everywhere in Laos.
Many establishments have also stopped using polystyrene take away boxes and are replacing plastic bags with paper carriers – and instead of getting weird stares when presenting a washable reusable box for take outs the staff knowingly smile and nod in appreciation.
The local Luang Prabang Tourism Association with the support of the German development agency, GIZ, and other partners, have even launched a campaign with a ‘Refill My Bottle’ map showing the local businesses that offer free or cheap water stations, so now there is no excuse to ever buy a plastic bottle of water again.
A 40-minute drive out of the main town brings us to the only Buffalo Dairy farm in the whole country. Here I had the privilege of meeting the inspiring ladies behind this miraculous operation – Rachael from the United States and Susie from Australia – who as they themselves explain: “This is a mid-life crisis with a purpose not a Porsche”.
The Buffalo Dairy farm is a must stop where you can spend hours learning about ethical animal husbandry and new cruelty free practices. Besides the cleanest happiest buffalos I have ever seen, there are piglets to feed, rabbits to cuddle and numerous winged two-legged friends – all of which seem content to waddle and cluck about together. Among other things, the kids can bathe the buffalos, help with the milking, bottle-feed the calves that are almost weaned, before they are reunited with their mothers, and returned to the farmers they were rented from.
And in case you didn’t know, Buffalo milk is not only very nutritious but also a suitable alternative for those suffering from cow milk allergies and intolerance. The entire range of products made on the farm is sustainable and prepared with true artisanal passion.
In all my years in Asia, I have never had better homemade cheese, let alone buffalo milk cheese – blue, mozzarella, ricotta, feta and many more. Then there is a baked ricotta cheese cake that is perfection-on-a-plate and your kids will fall in love with the ice-cream, which is too good not to have at least two scoops of, with lots delightful flavors on offer such as homemade caramel, tamarind, black sesame and lemongrass.
The road from the farm back to town is dotted with organic farms, coffee roaster plantations and other interesting places, but this time we went to Ock Pop Tok, one of the most important textile and artisanal institutions in all of Laos, located just outside the main UNESCO protected area of Luang Prabang.
At Ock Pop Tok the kids were enthralled with the cycle of silkworms, the basket weaving, the working looms and much more. This riverside gem works with over 500 locals in villages across the country keeping ethnic traditional handicrafts alive, while educating and providing income for Laotian women.
The institution’s brightly coloured textiles and designs are not just to be found in its shop, but also in its gardens, café, living crafts center and even in its little boutique resort. The concepts and applications at work here are a true example of how responsible practices and a focus on sustainability can be both luxurious and ethical, and it not only benefits a business financially, but contributes to people’s lives and conserves nature in the best way possible.
With all this, tons of biodiversity and a growing movement toward ecological awareness and implementation, Luang Prabang is the right kind of place to holiday with your children whether you are alone or in a group.
For more interesting projects and information about sustainable events and responsible tour, please contact [email protected].