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I think it is wonderful that you are putting effort into an aquarium for them to enjoy. I love our sand and live plants versus how we started with gravel and artificial plants, so I always recommend that route. We have had good luck with several kinds of plants from PetSmart including wisteria, java fern, and amazon sword. And if you have catfish they will love the sand and are so fun to watch sifting through it.

We have one tank with neon tetras and I love them. They are very small but the stay front and center in our tank and they shoal together very well. I believe they are more suited for soft water. I'm not sure what gouramis are available to you, but I have heard good things about the honey gourami. We have a dwarf gourami and it swims at the top of the tank mostly. They get big and often have very pretty colors. Then you can have catfish or corys for your bottom swimmers.
 
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