Two Days in Vientiane.

A visit to Laos, without exploring is Vientiane, is an incomplete trip to Laos. Although we had travelled to other South East Asian countries prior to going to Laos, this capital city instantly told a different story. Vientiane is the largest city in Laos and sits on the bank of the Mekong River, overlooking Thailand. There are aspects that are impressive and glamorous – the palaces and the temples; however, there is a rich feel of history and devastation which must be acknowledged and honoured.

We stayed in the heart of Vientiane, at Champa Garden Hotel, which is in walking distance to many local restaurants, the Mekong River and the night markets. We love being able to explore by foot as much as possible, despite the pair of little legs we have on board with us these days! We love to eat in local restaurants, the friendly faces in Laos were so welcoming, we often returned for a repeat dining experience and were so happy to see the owners faces light up when they remembered us from the night before. As well as walking, we enjoy the fun of a Tuk-Tuk, so on our first night in Vientiane we travelled out to Kong View Restaurant and Bar where we watched the sunset over the Mekong River and Thailand, this was such an incredible way to start our adventure, one of those ‘pinch yourself moments’. We spent three nights in Vientiane and loved being able to take our time to wander the streets, find a playground for the kids, travel by local bus outside the city centre, navigate our way around some of the tourist spots and one of the highlights for our boys was seeing Monks, of which they had heard so much about in the lead up to our trip.

Day 1 – The Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan)

For us, going to the Buddha Park, was a full day outing! Getting to the Buddha Park was an adventure in itself and one we’re very proud to be able to say we surprisingly managed, without having to go to ‘Plan B – get a taxi’. We navigated our way to Talat Sao Bus Station and somehow managed to get on the correct bus out to the Buddha Park. It was an unsealed, bumpy road and what we imagined would be an easy one-way 25km trip, ended up an hour and a half each way on a not-so-comfortable ride; that said, the experience and adventure was worth it in the end!

The Buddha Park is an open-air sculpture park which was founded in 1958 by a monk and local sculpture artist, who studied Buddhism and Hinduism. The park features an incredible array of statues of Buddhas, Hindu gods, dieties, demons and animals from both beliefs. One of the highlights of the park was the large pumpkin structure near the entrance where the opening was made to look like a demons mouth, with a ladder inside taking you to the top where you had panoramic views of the entire park. The 40 metre reclining Buddha was also very impressive. We took a picnic lunch as there was plenty of space to pull out a rug, however, there is also a cafe at the back of the park serving light refreshments.

Day Two – C.O.P.E. Visitor Centre, Patuxai Victory Monument and Pha That Luang.

C.O.P.E. Visitor Centre

Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise. Since the foundation of C.O.P.E. in 1996, the organisation has helped thousands of people with mobility related disabilities; allowing and enabling mobility and dignity. It is estimated that 50,000 people have been injured or killed, to this day, as a result of the UXO incidents since 1964; C.O.P.E. have worked hard to support survivors; as well as to provide prosthetic and orthotic devices, clubfoot treatment, physio and occupational therapies and related surgical procedures.

The Visitor Centre was eye opening for all of us, an education for our children but a reality to all of us, the trauma and devastation that individuals in Laos have and continue to experience is very apparent. A brilliantly set up museum and free to wander through, it is definitely worth a visit. The exhibits cover the history of UXO, how C.O.P.E. works to assist the people of Laos and improves the quality of life of individuals to go on and live a valuable life.

An interesting fact – the need for prosthetic has increased since helmets for motorbikes has been introduced – more people are surviving accidents, however, not without injury.

Patuxai Victory Monument

Patuxai, a war monument, was built between 1957 and 1968. The Patuxai has been dedicated to those who fought in the fight for independence from France. It is also commonly known as the Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane as it resembles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Pha That Luang

From Vientiane

WITHIN LAOS: Get yourself on a bus to Vang Vieng for some great fun, adventure and natural beauty. Or fly to Luang Prabang for great culture, French inspired Laos food, city exploration, relaxation and just generally a fantastic time!

OUTSIDE LAOS: Fly or get a train into Thailand to experience more South East Asian greatness!

The best things to do in Port Macquarie

Bago Maze and Winery

Twenty-five minute drive from Port Macquarie

A visit to Bago was one of our most favourite outings from Port Macquarie. We love food, wine and a bit of fun adventure – this visit had something for everyone, in fact more than that, it was fantastic! We loved getting lost in the 2km well cared for hedge maze, enjoyed a picnic we’d packed on the massive grassed area under a shady tree, us adults sampled the cheese platter featuring local cheeses, followed by some tastings of the unique range of whites, reds and fortified wines; all of this while the boys ran around on the grass and in and out of the cubby house. They have live music once a month and Baba Lila Handmade Chocolates is also onsite! You cannot go wrong with a visit here!

While you’re on the road to or from Bago, take the short drive into the Burrawan State Forest, the home of the ‘Old Bottlebutt’. Enjoy the 600m rainforest loop to see the ancient Red Bloodwood tree, which is astonishingly the biggest recorded species of it in the world. Our boys were highly amused by the name, if you need to convince your kids to take the extra trip, tell them the name of the tree, it worked for us!

Dunbogan

Thirty-eight minute drive south of Port Macquarie

We instantly fell in love with this beautiful coastal town on the Camden Haven Inlet. The quiet town has stunning views of the river, loads of picnic spots, a well constructed walking path and the fabulous Dunbogan Boat Shed and Marina. We loved our coffee experience at the Boat Shed so much, we returned the following day to hire a boat to explore the river and enjoy a picnic lunch on the water. You can also hire kayaks or a SUP and they are fully stocked for all of your fishing needs. When you visit, make sure you have a look at the thousands of fish, if the light is shining nicely, you will see some beautiful coloured fish. They also have frequent visits from some dolphins, we missed out on seeing them but we were guaranteed they are around!

Hat Head

Fifty-nine minute drive north of Port Macquarie

If there was ever a beach town to visit for a complete unwind, low key, family, beach town getaway on the mid-north coast – this place would be it! About an hours north of Port Macquarie, through the Macleay Valley, you will find the most exquisite beach town, Hat Head. We fell in love with this place, whole-heartedly, in fact, I believe it may be our new favourite beach in Australia – a big call given how many amazing beaches we have here!

Hat Head Gap was simply stunning – rocks to scramble and climb, lookouts, crystal clear waters, walking paths and views to die for! We walked from the Gap to Connor’s Beach, we were the only ones on the track and beach the entire time we were there – we felt like we were on a deserted island! Our only regret, we didn’t carry our picnic lunch! Instead, hunger set in and we had to find the somewhere else to park ourselves – what a shame (*insert SERIOUS sarcasm*) – we found the main swimming beach!

Oh my! The beautiful gentle waves were beach-magic for our boys to play in, in fact it is the first time they have braved ‘the deep’. The water was clear, the temperature was perfect, you could surf, swim, SUP, float or play! The town itself consists of a holiday park, several holiday rentals, a general store, boat access and a fish cleaning area, the pristine Korogoro Creek and the native surrounds of Hat Head National Park.

Crowdy Head

Fifty-six minutes south of Port Macquarie

The coastline along the mid-north coast of Australia, is undoubtedly stunning. We would recommend a trip to these two beautiful spots about an hour south of Port Macquarie. The unexpected stops are quite often the best, aren’t they? We were headed into Harrington for a pub meal for lunch by the river, only to be stopped due to the desperate plea to go to the toilet by one of our boys. Arriving in Crowdy Head, conveniently there were public toilets and Sunsets Cafe, attached to the Crowdy Head Surf Life Saving Club. We had a sensational feed in a stunning location. It surprised us that there was even a cafe open, it was that quiet. Apart from a lonely stand-up paddle boarder out on the sea, we were the only ones at the beach – it was heavenly!

We visited the Crowdy Head Lighthouse and were completely ‘beach-struck’ to the south, where we could just see masses of sand and surf! The Lighthouse also boasts a great spot for sighting whales during the right season. Needless to say, we had to go check it out! Harrington Beach State Park is a great spot for 4WD and for having a quiet beach to yourselves! The boys loved running around, in and out of the massive waves, building sandcastles and running from the crashing waves! We loved the extensive sand, water and tranquillity!

North Brother Mountain

Thirty-three minute drive south of Port Macquarie

North Brother Mountain is located in the Dooragan National Park and offers some stunning views of the area in Camden Haven Inlet, Camden Haven River and down to Crowdy Head in the south. For a challenging walk, you can access the Laurieton Track at the base or you can drive to the car park at the top of the mountain where you will find toilets, picnic tables and some easier walking tracks for the whole family. The vast views from the top were stunning, even on an overcast day like we had. We enjoyed the trails of the rainforest loop which took us to several other look outs to enjoy views to the north west and west of the mountain. It is well worth the trip to gain some perspective of the area and the spectacular outlook.

Miss Nellie’s Cafe

Twenty-five minutes south of Port Macquarie

The home of homemade greatness, Miss Nellie’s Cafe boasts a beautiful setting, in the small country town of Kendall; if you’re a sweet tooth, it is a sure stop! It is only minutes off the Pacific Hwy, so if you’re driving past, do yourself a favour! We were very impressed with the great service, dedication and commitment to their business. We were introduced to ‘ruby chocolate’ for the first time and were given a thorough explanation upon service. The ruby chocolate cheesecake was divine – it has a sweet yet sour flavour. Miss Nellie’s is a country-style cafe, serving homemade cakes, delicious coffee, light meals, a kids menu and cosy comfortable table and chairs indoors and outdoors.

Koala Hospital

Central Port Macquarie

You will find the Koala Hospital in the Macquarie Nature Reserve, a beautiful green natural parkland. Established in 1973, the Hospital came together as a place to rescue, care for and treat injured or unwell koalas; staffed by a number of paid professionals as well as 200 volunteers. They have 14 intensive care units (8 outdoors) and 33 rehabilitation yards which include large gum trees where they learn to climb again as part of the rehabilitation programs.

Our boys were very concerned about the cuddly koalas and were very intrigued to hear some of the stories as to why they were each there. Some were due to being in car accidents, dog attacks, chlamydia, fires. Each enclosure had a story about why they were there, as well as explanations about the process of how they’re released into the wild. This little guy (pictured) is a repeat offender, he was back this time with a bacterial infection in his eye. If you’ve got young kids like we do, they will be entertained by the fun facts dotted around the hospital – do you know how many poos does a koala do every day?

Tacking Point Lighthouse

Eleven minutes south of Port Macquarie centre

Tacking Point Lighthouse, Little Bay and Lighthouse Beach. The Lighthouse, is Australia’s thirteenth oldest and is situated just 8km south of Port Macquarie. We drove to the stunning headland, however, you can actually walk the full distance along the coastal walk from Town Green Foreshore in Port Macquarie – this will definitely be on my to-do-list next time we visit the area. From Tacking Point Lighthouse you will enjoy panoramic views of the mid-north coast of Australia. To the south you can wander down to Lighthouse Beach (see below), to the north you can explore the rugged coastline and rocks of Little Bay. We had hours of fun at Little Bay climbing over the rocks, searching for starfish, crabs and fish and watching the crashing waves of the expansive Pacific Ocean.

Lighthouse Beach has an extensive 7km stretch of sand, a brilliant location for those of you, like me, who love to walk on a beach. Simply stunning coastline! We entered the beach near to the impressive Watonga Rocks, where there was more than enough exploration opportunities for the boys and so much for us adults to sit back and appreciate. The squeaky sand, shells and array of coloured rocks that wash in make a beach wander very enjoyable. What was even better was the rare sighting of any other person, we felt like we had the whole beach to ourselves.

Hasting River and Town Beach

Central Port Macquarie

We just love exploring a town on foot. After parking our hire car in the main hub of Port Macquarie, we wandered to find a nice spot to have a picnic lunch. We walked straight towards Hasting River and followed the very colourful and creative rock art along the path all the way to Town Beach Park. We were fortunate enough to spot two dolphins gracefully swimming along finding their feed, they’re such beautiful creatures!

River side, we found a fabulous cafe called Little Shack, they made a great coffee (with the choice of two different brands of soy milk) and offered a relaxed and trendy stop for food and drinks. The Park included a very popular skate park, playground, path suitable for bikes, blades and feet! Town Beach itself offered spectacular coastline, patrolled beach, rocks for the kids to scramble over and pools to splash in; as well as beach side parking, toilets and the very convenient, yummy and well priced Salty Crew Kiosk.

Shelly Beach

Seven minutes south of Port Macquarie

Yet another one of the several beautiful beaches along the Coastal Walk from Port Macquarie Town Beach to Tacking Point Lighthouse. If you are intrigued by a bit of wildlife, get yourself to Shelly Beach and keep an eye out for a goanna! We were lucky enough to have this beauty wandering around under our feet while we were eating lunch (note the kids were sitting on top of the table!). There are picnic tables, a toilet block and plenty of parking to go with this lovely little beach. We loved exploring all over the rocks, looking for sea life, splashing in and out of the rock pools and enjoying another part of natures playground.

Where to stay in Port Macquarie

We loved our stay at Ultiqa Village Resort. It is the home of 32 luxury three-bedroom bungalows. The Resort has an indoor swimming pool, sauna, clubhouse, gym, tennis courts, mini-golf, canoeing on the lake and fish feeding. There are BBQ facilities, outdoor lounges, free WiFi, games rooms and board games/puzzles/toys/DVDs all available from reception. Our bungalow offered us more than enough space for the four of us.

Amenities were at our finger tips reducing expenses while in Port Macquarie. This enabled us to cook and do laundry with ease, allowing us to enjoy outings and special treats. The lake area had a lovely feel, very relaxing in the mornings and full of life later in the day. Our evenings consisted of fish feeding for the kids and happy hour by the water on a picnic blanket. The Resort was very family friendly and the service was impeccable, staff attending to our needs very efficiently. We would definitely look to stay there again on a return visit!

Heading north from Port Macquarie?

Do yourself a favour and arrange some time in Coffs Harbour. There is so much on offer for the whole family on the coast and inland.