Colonial Ambiance with French Luxury Touch in the Former Laotian Kingdom
by John K. Lindgren
On the banks of the old, long trans-boundary Mekong river in mountainous northern Laos there’s a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, some call it “the best-preserved little-big town in Asia”, the former royal capital Luang Prabang, aka “LP”, sits on a peninsula where Mekong and Nam Khan rivers join. Bucolic picture postcard setting. The scene is laid-back. Glistening Buddhist temples, French colonial edifices with blue signage like l’Ecole Primaire Luang Prabang and tourists; young hipsters and aging backpackers on the sidewalks. Cozy cafes with freshly baked, flaky chocolate croissants, bright handicraft shops and enough strong Lao coffee to wash an elephant.
Southeast Asia. Look at the map: Saigon, Phnom Penh, Vientiane and Yangon. Flying time from Bangkok circa 60 to 90 minutes. All ASEAN member countries. How about Luang Prabang? An hour and twenty minutes with a good tailwind. Let’s go!
Air Asia’s Airbus A320 touches down and LP’s international airport welcomes us with airbridge and easy 30 USD visa on arrival (no photo needed). Lao P.D.R. Peoples Democratic Republic a landlocked country of seven million people and more than 130 ethnic groups and rich variety of animal and plant species. Far from Southeast Asia’s humid, maddening, traffic-jammed mega-cities.
“Sabai-Dee” (Sawadee) says our affable Sofitel Luang Prabang representative/chauffeur. Even the greeting in Laotian sounds relaxed. Half an hour later we arrive at Sofitel Luang Prabang situated in a restful residential area. This Accor property is the former governor’s official residence with high fortified walls, watchtowers, manicured gardens and courtyards against a backdrop of stunning mountains.
The driveway, entrance with two heavy stone elephants exudes that “Oh, So Sofitel” exclusive ambiance. The all-suite low rise hotel is an elegant fusion of Far Eastern exoticism and colonial French splendor. Comes Next to the alfresco lobby overlooking the smaller green courtyard pleasant breeze with a scent of lemongrass from the next door Le Spa housed in a traditional Lao building on stilts. Here head-to-toe pampering is available from the extensive spa menu.
The large inner courtyard cum garden comprises of 24 all-suite units with private gardens with either a pool or outdoor pavilion with access to the amethyst-tiled swimming pool surrounded by sun loungers on the wooden deck. Flourishing greenery frangipani flowers and plants decorate the grounds. Over there Governor’s Grill, the all-day dining venue under white billowing canopies.
Our grand garden gazebo suite is an immersion in luxury. Here tasteful Lao artifacts adorn the walls, complemented by all the 21st century amenities: flat-screen TV to complimentary Wi-Fi. High wooden ceiling above the heavenly Sofitel four-poster bed with high thread count crisp sheets, downy duvet and fluffy pillows.
The large bathroom boasts cool polished marble, rain shower and double washes basins with savory French L’occitane bath & shower amenities and white bath robes soft and thick as overcoats.
Post Meridiem, late afternoon. Perfect for soaking session in the private garden bathtub. Relaxation, decompression. Afterwards, a short walk to Governor’s Grill The restaurant sits under a romantic tented canopy, overlooking the pool & garden. Suddenly I am recalling the movie “Out of Africa” with Meryl Streep. Only the lions and elephants missing!
“GG’s” cuisine specializes in authentic Laos fusion dishes. But first the Gov’s signature cocktail: Gin, lime juice, honey, ice-cubes and Beerlao served in a tin bucket!
The delectable tasting menu is a fusion of traditional Lao cuisine with its distinctive spices and flavors and gourmet western, French gastronomy. “The Buffalo Tasting Platter”, the specialty of the restaurant with Laap, buffalo meat salad regarded as the national dish of Laos (also popular in the Isan region of Thailand). Bourguignon for the French touch and mouthwatering Buffalo Carpaccio Parmesan, capers, pesto, citrus mayonnaise, skewers, baked potato and stir-fried vegetables accompanied a triple sauce combo: barbecue, cheese, tamarind. The wine: Marius Chapoutier Pays D’OC, Grenache-Shiraz 2014. Excellent “Vin de Pays”. Full-bodied with a silky, velvety tannin. Desert local specialty: Rosella & Coconut sorbet and my favorite: Homemade, rice cake. “Finger lickin’ good” as the Americans say.
After the dinner we retire to the well-stocked multilingual floor-to-ceiling library with comfortable leather easy chair and sofas. From the library bar, the night-caps: 12-year old single malt from and a glass of chilled white Marius chapoutier, terret & vermentino for Madame. Compliments to all the “SLP” Food & Beverage team. A dinner fit for the governor. Chapeau!
In Luang Prabang town people go to bed early. Including tourists. Tomorrow its 05:00 wake up call for us. The Buddhist alms giving ceremony. (The hotel provides a complimentary 10 minutes shuttle in to town) The ceremony: two hundred saffron-clothed monks in a procession as the sun rises over the dark, grey mountains. “A unique experience – that should treated with respect”, said a journalist colleague of mine.
“LP’s” Accor/Sofitel property offers elegant and absolutely exclusive ambiance with private space and sumptuous comfort. French management embraced with the warmth of Lao hospitality.
Sofitel Luang Prabang – C’est Magnifique…
“Once a year, go someplace, you’ve never been before.”
– Dalai Lama
Sofitel Luang Prabang
Ban Mano, Luang Prabang 00600,
Tel: + 856 71 260 777