Laos: The Luang Say Residence
Vividly spiced food adds to the charm of this posh spot in a sleepy corner of Luang Prabang, Laos.
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The Luang Say Residence4-5 ban Phonepheng Luang Prabang, Laos 8560/71260-891 luangsayresidence.com
A private, half-day trip to local coffee farms arranged by the concierge.
A three-day riverboat tour to Thailand on the Mekong River in the Luang Say Cruises boat.
- Swimming Pool
- Bicycle service
- Airport transfer
- Complimentary Wifi
While most of Luang Prabang's low-key attractions are clustered near the city's peninsula, the Luang Say Residence is a 20-minute walk inland, in a quiet residential area near the locals-only Phosi market. The hotel runs a free shuttle service into town, but it's easier and more rewarding to simply borrow a bicycle from them and cruise the wide, flat streets by yourself. Then again, one of the pleasant things about visiting Luang Prabang is that everything seems to move at a molasses pace, so a day of lingering poolside at the hotel isn't necessarily a day lost.
The Residence is set up exactly as its name implies: as a residence, with a foyer-cum-bar-and-restaurant in front, and twenty colonial-style suites spread across five well-manicured pavilions behind that. The structures pay homage to the 19th-century French explorers who developed Luang Prabang, five of whom are immortalized in bronze sculptures spread across the tropical grounds. The airy wood-and-cream suites are outfitted with a four-poster bed (complete with artfully draped mosquito netting), wrap-around colonial windows, and a divan for lounging.
The Residence is a new hotel, and as such, there are still some minor kinks that keep the property from running like a well-oiled machine: the front desk staff seems junior and slightly shaky; the bathroom isn't as nice as it could be. But a notable bright spot is the restaurant, La Belle Epoque, and specifically the $45 Laotian tasting menu, beautifully presented and true to the country's cuisine, featuring dishes like warm duck laarb, sai oua (herb-and-pork sausage) with jaew bong (chili-tomato paste with bits of dried buffalo) and mok pla (local fish mousse steamed in a banana leaf). There's also a menu of à la carte Lao and French dishes and champagne cocktails aplenty.
Should you wish to explore further afield, the hotel, which operates in conjunction with a luxury cruise line of the same name, can arrange a variety of trips in the surrounding countryside. They can also prepare a basket of sticky rice if you plan to participate in the daily predawn ritual of making merit to the saffron-robed monks who solemnly pace through town—a holy and wholly beautiful sight, indeed. —Jamie Feldmar
IN THE AREA
- Night market: Laos's street food culture isn't as pervasive as Thailand's or Vietnam's, but the nightly food-and-crafts market that sets up at the base of the peninsula is a great (if crowded) place to sample some cheap local fare like buffalo sausages, whole grilled fish, and made-to-order papaya salads; edible souvenirs like dried Mekong riverweed and chile dipping pastes are available to take home.
- Tamarind: Part restaurant and part cooking school, this friendly establishment is run by a Lao-Aussie couple dedicated to educating visitors about Lao cuisine. The daylong cooking course starts with a shopping trip to the morning market and ends with you preparing a half-dozen traditional dishes; the restaurant has a comprehensive and delicious menu that demystifies the local fare. Ban Vat Sene, Luang Prabang, Laos; tel: 85620/7777-0484; tamarindlaos.com
- Noodle Soup Shop: Noodle soups are a hugely popular breakfast in Laos, and this tiny, appropriately-named streetside establishment opposite Wat Sensoukaram turns out two kinds: khao soi, flat rice noodles topped with a Bolognese-esque broth with tomatoes and minced pork, and the Lao version of pho (pronounced "fer"), with thin rice noodles, fish balls and shredded pork in an aromatic clear broth. Both come with a gigantic platter of fresh herbs and raw vegetables to snack on as you slurp.