Laos Goes Luxe
Luang Prabang’s newest lodging options
BY ADAM H. GRAHAM — Fall 2018
The relaxed Laotian cultural capital of Luang Prabang, on the banks of the Mekong River, teems with centuries-old temples. Now its lodging options are quickly multiplying with the recent opening of these three luxury properties packed with charm.
1. AVANI+ LUANG PRABANG. Avani unveiled its major rebranding of Aman founder Adrian Zecha’s short-lived Azerai Hotel in March. The refurbed property, which retains a few of Zecha’s minimalist touches, occupies a classic French-colonial building on the most convenient corner in town. Fifty-three compact rooms bathed in neutral batik textiles and warm local woods overlook an 80-foot-long courtyard pool shaded by banyan trees. From $200. 844-646-6724; avanihotels.com
2. PULLMAN LUANG PRABANG. A short boat ride from the Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden, this hotel debuted in June with 123 rooms housed in villas that pay homage to Laos’ steep-pitched temple roofs. The villas come with modernist wicker furniture and spacious terraces overlooking a palm-tree-spiked rice paddy and three outdoor pools. From $135. pullmanlhotels.com
3. ROSEWOOD LUANG PRABANG. This 23-room, serene getaway in a hilltop forest just 3 miles from town center opened in March. Pool villas feature hand-painted walls and tiled plunge pools overlooking a gushing fern-draped stream, while secluded riverside villas (right) come with king-size beds and balconies with oversize daybeds. If you’re a thrill-seeker, timber-legged luxury tents, a first for Rosewood, are draped in indigenous Hmong textiles and art and perched in the treetops, offering up views of the Luang Prabang mountain range. From $724. 888-767-3966; rosewoodhotels.com/en/luang-prabang
Grocery Shop, Laotian Style
Luang Prabang overflows with excellent restaurants, but head to the bustling (and, yes, sometimes eyebrow-raising) Morning Market to really get to know Laotian food. You’ll find everything from locally grown coffee beans to crispy, charcoal-grilled bee larvae and edible rats.
Open daily from dawn to noon, the relaxed, tidy street market — just steps away from the Mekong riverbank — runs for about four blocks along two lanes forming a T-junction in the city’s gridlike center. Many vendors come by boat with fresh produce from their farms and foraged seasonal specialties from mountain jungles. I quickly learn how early the action starts. I arrive at 8 to score white termite mushrooms, available in rainy season, only to learn they’d already sold out.
I see dozens of vendors, mostly women, crouching over bamboo mats arranged neatly with stacks of dusky, rose-colored banana flowers (right), piles of green chilies, pyramids of limes and pomelos, and perfectly combed bunches of riverweeds, edible flowers, and fragrant grasses. Giant sacks spill over with rice and violet-blushing eggplants the size of pingpong balls, while smaller wicker baskets — always worth peeking into — brim with silky river fish, dried frogs, and the live larvae of wasps and scarab beetles. I walk past bouquets of small crabs strung together with dried grasses, strips of dried water buffalo skin, and chickens either live in basket-cages or freshly killed and plucked. An elderly woman missing her two front teeth chuckles when I cringe after eyeing a dead 3-foot-long monitor lizard stuffed into her bucket.
Thankfully, a few vendors sell more approachable prepared food. Fermented pork sausages stuffed with sticky rice, lemongrass, and galangal sizzle on several grills. At Khao Bun Nang Ou, where tables spill onto a makeshift patio, locals slurp down bowls of khao soi, a Luang Prabang specialty made with rice noodles fried in scarlet red curry and floating in pholike broth topped with minced pork.
As I wander the market, I see zero tourists, and locals greet me with smiles and cheery sa bai dees, the oft-heard Laotian greeting. Unlike other markets in Asia, there’s no hustling and bargaining isn’t commonplace, making exchanges straightforward and honest. The only trouble you’ll have? Mustering up the courage to try some of the dishes. — A.H.G.
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