If you are looking for a way to experience a glimpse into Laos culture, the best place to do that is out in a village. And, if you have never tried a local homestay in Asia before; a Laos homestay is a great place to experience that first.
You don’t have to go far. There can be a lot of discrepancy with authenticity of homestays in Asia. You can stay in a ‘homestay’ in the city, or a homestay that is miles from civilisation and way off the beaten track. But sometimes, you get lucky. And you will find a homestay like we did in Ban Lae, that seemed to be the best of both worlds.
Ban Lae village is only about an hour from Luang Prabang. However, it felt so far removed from the city it was like stepping back in time! The village is home for both Lao Loum and Hmong communities. We experienced local, rural Laos life with Kham as our guide, and were warmly welcomed by Mr Khoun and his family as hosts.
We went swimming in the river, tried net fishing, visited the village school, took part in an alms giving ceremony and met elders in the village who showed us around…
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How do homestays work in Laos?
A homestay is a type of locally owned or private, family-run accommodation that offers travellers a place to stay. How it differs from other types of accommodation (such as an AirBnB listing or hostel) is that it typically also provides meals and other activities as part of the accommodation experience. Our experience of a Laos homestay was exactly that.
Many Laos homestays are established by community-based development projects or ecotourism projects to help locals generate income. Privately owned homestays are also coordinated under the supervision of the Lao Tourism Administration to ensure that the money you pay will directly benefit the host families and local village community.
5 Reasons to choose a homestay
1. You will meet a local Laos family.
This is not easy to do in mainstream travel in Southeast Asia as tourism is a huge proportion of GDP. Finding genuine culture beneath that tourist market is not as easy as it perhaps once was. But the beauty of a homestay is that you are quite literally staying at a home with a local family. Our boys loved the fact that the host family had a daughter and son, and the kids played happily in the evening. Kids are amazing like that!
2. You will taste the best home cooking.
This goes without saying; home cooking in Asia is always the best! The food we ate was tasty and beautiful presented. The boys particularly loved eating the sticky rice.
3. You get to experience village life.
Village life is an integral part of Lao culture and society and staying in the village is the best way to experience it. [You couldn’t read about it in a book!].
4. You will be supporting the local village
It felt good to buy souvenirs in the village and hand money over directly into the hands of locals who we could plainly see were making the products. We bought a beautifully woven fishing net from a man who had been making the same kinds of nets for literally decades!
5. You get to sleep in a Lao house
This experience is very different from a hotel or hostel! The house in Ban Lae village is owned by friends of Kham’s family, and has been for generations. The house is run by a local family and so staying at the homestay meant we shared the house with them for the night.
Highlights of our homestay in Ban Lae
Fishing, the local way
The homestay is situated directly above the banks of the Nam Xuang River. After lunch we set off on foot a short way through the banana plantation to the family’s longboat and headed off upstream for an afternoon of fishing.
For both Gavin and I, this was one of our most memorable moments of Harry from our entire trip. Watching our six year old netting on one of the Mekong feeder rivers, with our host Mr Khoun, who didn’t speak a word of English… It was a pinch-me moment for sure.
Harry just took to it. He loved it, and they spent most of the afternoon on the river together.
Harry was so determined to master casting the fishing net, that he kept trying and trying until he got it.
When we left the homestay, the family gave Harry a small gift of a little handmade fishing net. They were so touched by his genuine passion for fishing and for learning to net on the river the way that they do it. [We were pretty much just speechless as parents at that point!]. The whole experience was incredible.
A village version of Alms Giving
We really wanted to share the experience of alms giving with the kids while in Laos. It was a great choice to take up the opportunity in the village, and a very different experience to the modernised alms ceremonies we have experienced in other Southeast Asian cities.
It was an early start. We set off at 5:30am from our homestay and walked through the awakening village to the small buddhist temple on the riverbank.
The boys were excited to be waved and welcomed by the monks we had met the evening prior.
For full disclosure; Oscar ate most of his sticky rice offering before it even got to the monks… But, that aside, it was a cool experience and a beautiful morning to be up and about in Laos!
Visiting the school
The teacher in me is always curious for any opportunity to experience how other cultures and countries practice education and play.
Harry came with me into the new entrance classroom in the small primary school at Ban Lae village.
The children were just as excited to meet us as we were them – they even seemed to appreciate my singing of the ABC’s!
What to bring
- Insect repellant
- Water bottle (a water dispenser was provided to refill our bottles)
- Sleep sheet or sarong (blankets will be provided but a sarong is always handy)
- Photos of your home and family
- Long trousers or skirt for adults (to dress modestly for the alms ceremony)
- Snacks (this turned out to be not necessary as our boys loved the food, but you never know when traveling with kids!).
It is a thoughtful idea to bring a small gift for the host family or villagers, but check with your guide about this first and ask what is appropriate. (If you can, avoid giving gifts directly to any children as this can encourage begging). Instead, think of a few games or songs that you can amuse the children with or ask and learn their names. Even without knowing the language you can communicate with children and it is one of the most rewarding parts of being in a village. I sang “A,B,C” to the initial shock of my own kids, but even they joined in and helped me with the teaching the actions to Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star...!
Booking a homestay in Laos
We booked our homestay with Laos Homestay; a family run business with great reviews. The entire process was friendly and easy, and Kham and Henri were happy to answer any questions we had. If you are in Luang Prabang and looking for a genuine experience; I can’t recommend them enough! Check out their website for Laos Homestay and send them an email.
Ban Lae village is a short 40 minute drive north of Luang Prabang. Kham picked us up from Visay Guesthouse in Luang Prabang where we had been staying the days before our homestay.
Where to stay in Luang Prabang
- Luang Prabang: Villa Visay (Visay Guesthouse)
- Village Homestay: Laos Homestay
- Luang Prabang: Jasmine Hotel
For a great hotel within a budget price range; Visay Guesthouse was awesome (quad. room $73 NZD per night, including breakfast). We stayed the first few nights in Luang Prabang there, and ended up going back for the last three nights. PLUS we ended up renting an extra two rooms for my sisters to stay in. The accommodation is basic. But overall it was great value, with a decent sized quadruple room and private bathroom. The staff were amazing, and were able to answer questions about anything, plus point us in the right direction for the different sights of Luang Prabang. We were very appreciative of the free drinking water, and enjoyed a great breakfast each morning. They even loaned us courtesy bikes to explore the town on.
For a mid-range hotel accommodation with a swimming pool, the Jasmine Hotel was beautiful. We stayed here for three nights when my family first arrived. The location is central to town, and in easy walking distance of both the main markets. The included breakfast is beautifully presented, and came with the option of a fresh fruit juice or smoothie – a great start to each day!