When it's time to disconnect from the real world and escape from the concrete jungle that is Bangkok, Luang Prabang in Laos is always my first choice.
You are not short of hotels or resorts in Luang Prabang, but one of the best places to stay is at Amantaka. The home away from home is in the centre of the small town and walking distance to most of the sights and sounds, and the river. In fact, it is the perfect oasis to unwind, relax and breathe.
The French colonial-style Amantaka has retained much of its old world charm, if not all of it. The expansive grounds are beautiful with expertly manicured lawns and trees with blooming flowers. The main swimming pool is given a rightful centre space and is bordered by the spa on one side, with the gym and yoga room on the other. The suites and villa are set towards the rear of the property, making all of them quiet and private. Though if you get a suite close to the neighbouring school, you will hear children during the day.
Insider’s tip: The moment you step out of Suites 13 and 14, you are greeted with a view of Mount Phousi and it is quite spectacular, especially on a day when the sun shines on its golden stupa. The suites come with a private pool and sun loungers set in a private little garden, and gives you the feel of being in your own home. The rooms are large with high wooden ceilings, four poster beds, complete with mosquito netting for the nights, and bathrooms with his and her sinks. The main highlight of the bathroom, for me, is the standalone bathtub that fits two. Bliss!
Breakfast is a morning delight here as it’s served by the pool should you wish to enjoy the warm sun and the cool breeze. Temperatures in Luang Prabang are a great respite from the Bangkok heat and pollution. Offering a variety of Laotian breakfast classics, fruit juices and Western fare, it is perhaps the most relaxing way to kick start the day. The Laotian menu at Amantaka is the best representation of local cuisine I’ve had in Luang Prabang. Don’t forget to order the Yum naem or as it is locally known, Naem khao. I highly recommend the Lao royal court cuisine for dinner, which will make your outdoor seating under the stars even more magical.
Afternoon tea is served between 2-5pm and is complimentary in the Library. Apart from iced teas and juices on offer, there is also fruit and local sweets and biscuits. A good introduction to the local delicacies.
Luang Prabang may be temple town central, but there are a few other things to do while there. The Kuang Si waterfall never gets old no matter how often you see it, and I’ve seen it a few times. Insider’s tip: Go before 9.30am to avoid the group tours. Breakfast can also be arranged here and it is a rather peaceful start to the morning. If you’re a fan of cold water, then bring along a swimsuit as you can swim around in the lower, shallow pools of the waterfall. Take the scenic route to the waterfall via the “forest” path. On the way back down, stop at the sun bear enclosure to catch a glimpse of them romping around. These bears have been rescued from the forests away from poachers, who capture them for their bile, which is used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Instead of heading back into town, stop at The Living Land Farm, where you can do an organic cooking class, which is conducted in an open-air, thatched roof hut of sorts overlooking rice fields and hills beyond. Once done with the cooking on charcoal, enjoy the fruits of your labour in Amantaka’s “pod”, which is much like a maharaja’s den in the middle of rice fields, watching the dragon flies bounce around. A great way to spend an afternoon.
Though, another way to spend the later part of the day is aboard Amantaka’s private wooden boat for a sunset cruise along the mighty Mekong. As the sun sets over forested mountains, enjoy cocktails and canapés while witnessing the town’s rituals from the water. I love watching life along the river, with children jumping into it for fun and families setting up picnics on the small stretches of beach that line water’s edge. The Laotians make the most use of the fertile soil along the river beds and you’ll notice that many have vegetables and herbs growing along the waterline. The boat goes past the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers and you can see the difference in the colours of the water. On the way back, as the sun makes its slow decent, notice the BBQs being set up along the river, frequented by locals.
There is not much to do in this sleepy town in the evenings, save for heading to the night market and walking street, where the people from the hill tribes set up shop. The huge food market is bustling and on weekends it’s almost impossible to find a seat if you arrive at peak dinner time as the locals join in the revelry, too.
Temple viewing during the day can get hot once the sun is out, so it’s best done early in the morning. If you’ve never been to Luang Prabang before then do see the monk alms giving as it’s rarely done in the old way, any where else. This way you’ll also beat the crowds at most temples and can head back to Amantaka, a short walk away for a mid-morning swim and drink. Though if you’re in a lazy mood, and it won’t be held against you, do ask for the complimentary tuk tuk to bring you back. Do stroll into the wet market to see what’s on offer. I highly recommend buying the crisp river weed to eat with the jaew bong (Luang Prabang chilli paste), also found in the wet and night markets.
Welcome the Year Of The Dragon or spend St Valentine’s Day at Amantaka, where dining experiences, wellness immersions or locally-led adventures would be an added blessing to anything, bet it a new year or a relationship. Visit the hotel’s website.