On her maiden voyage to Luang Prabang, Kim Visudharomn discovers a robe and a resort worthy of the old world charm and laidback vibes of northern Laos.
Much of the facade has since been restored and the interiors re-envisioned by Duangrit Bunnag, whose contemporary interpretation is one that undoubtedly pays homage to the hotel’s historical and bucolic surroundings (of his inspiration, the Thai architect cited the simplicity of local agricultural and farming communities of monks who tend the land along the Mekong River). Yet, the site’s intriguing past is still very much present, as seen in the stone embankment that runs along the entire property, not to mention one rather conspicuous guard tower; perhaps once looming over mandatory morning exercise drills (apologies if my image of prison is limited at best and largely informed by Shawshank Redemption and Bugs Bunny cartoons), it now overlooks our pool villas and happy holiday-bloated bellies.
Despite the hotel’s, shall we say, colorful history, it’s hardly a stretch to imagine how even the most superstitious of sets can and have been so easily persuaded by this most graceful of forts. One look at the pool and it’s literal surrender. Tiled in an enchanting black, speckled with deep purple and pearlescent amethysts, it takes pride of place backdropped by the hotel’s elegant French colonial Indochine architecture. A lagoon amidst the lush tropical landscape, framed by tall palm trees from which hang woven lanterns that flicker on just as the sun’s about to set (7:30pm during the summer months, which extends sunset cocktails by a good hour or so. Huzzah!)
The Club Sandwich
The Sofitel Luang Prabang’s Club Sandwich is the edible embodiment of its atmosphere: unpretentious and oh-so-comforting. It’s not about to win any beauty contests but mind you, the best ones never do. It ticks all the boxes in terms of fixings—chicken breast, crispy bacon, lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese and a fried egg in every layer—but most importantly, it’s sandwiched between three slices of buttered and toasted white bread. None of that fancy-focaccia-artisanal-country-bread nonsense, just plain sliced white perfection. The sandwich is served with wedges (not fries, unfortunately) that, according to the boyfriend, were “the best wedges I’ve ever had in my entire life.” While I’m not one for overstatements, or wedges for that matter, they’re definitely worth an order—crispy all the way through on the outside, fluffy on the inside and not a soggy piece in sight.
Notes on Noshing
When you’re done with the club sandwich, try the buffalo. A staple protein in Laotian cuisine, it gets the full gamut of preparations here at the Sofitel: carpaccio, jerky, skewers, steaks, in a bourguignon stew as well as in laab form, a local salad of minced buffalo seasoned with lemongrass and galangal. While waiting for your dear ol’ buffalo (health nuts, rejoice: it’s a much lighter and leaner cut than beef), snack on deep fried riverweed, kaiwen, the local and tastier version of your typical MSG-laden seaweed snacks, served with some spicy buffalo jam.
Breakfast is had at the canvas-canopied Governor’s Grill, the hotel’s singular restaurant, and consists of mostly a la carte items, supplemented by a buffet of fresh fruits, pastries, and preserves. The menu features local comfort foods—khao tom (rice porridge), kuay tiew (rice noodle soup) and khao soi (northern-style curry noodles)—as well as familiar western fare, ranging from dollar pancakes and eggs benedict to a full English breakfast served with sai oua (Laotian sausage) instead of the usual bangers.
If you’re into breakfast pics (as some people really are), try to get a seat at the edge of the open-air tented restaurant for unobstructed backdrops of scenic greenery and the suites’ columned facades. Plus, from these seats, you’ll have a better chance of spotting Mano, the hotel’s resident rabbit. Yes, really. If the presence of Disney-style forest critters were a gauge for peace and serenity, this place would rank Snow White high, provided Snow White was into straw hats and suntans.
Life Beyond the Walls
Despite its compact size, the property never feels crowded, even at peak occupancy. Every person, couple, or family is able to carve out his or her own corner of comfort, be it for sunbathing, reading, eating, or a combination of the three. Only during the evenings do people converge, either for the aforementioned sunset drinks at The Governor’s Grill or to hop aboard the open-air shuttle into town (a roughly 5-minute ride).
The shuttle stops at the Sofitel Luang Prabang’s sister hotel, 3 Nagas, similarly a UNESCO property, comprised of three colonial style houses. The one that received us, The Khamboua House, serves as the 3 Nagas Cafe & Ice Cream Parlour, its ecru exterior boasting whimsical red door and window frames, while the interior brims with bright Indochine charm. If anything, go for the homemade ice creams, churned from the top secret recipes of a former royal ice cream maker.
Located across the street in the Lamache House is the 3 Nagas Restaurant, serving a comprehensive array of authentic Laotian dishes, from herb-laden wraps and rice cake salads to simmering soups and yes, buffalo of all sorts. We sat al fresco in front of the dark wood clad traditional two-storey house, dining on fresh spring rolls, chicken and coconut milk soup and Mekong fish steamed in banana leaf and ate everything with the deliciously unctuous black sticky rice.
The hotel bar, The Library, is more of a nook, furnished with plush armchairs and low candle lighting ideal for a cosy nightcap (who knows, you might actually read something too). For those looking to quench their thirst beyond the hotel walls, resort manager Chin Norathepkitti recommends 525 Cocktail Bar. Its convenient locale (just behind the property) means you can simply stumble home after one too many Smiling Jade Buddhas to the comforts of your Sofitel Mybed and customized soft pillows. Sweet dreams!
Greeted by a breeze and more to-die-for tiles at the resort lobby.
Hello, I live here. (I don't :( )
The resort's Le Spa. Advance booking essential.
One of the resort's most photogenic angles (photo definitely not mine).
Clearly, we're not breakfast pics people (photo definitely mine).
Royally churned coconut ice cream. Because you're worth it.
Never pass on a pink sunset.