The best Luang Prabang boutique hotels to book to absorb the history, culture and beauty of this well preserved UNESCO World Heritage listed old town include handsome French colonial-era residences of late kings, a former royal summer house, and the old French Governor’s residence of the 1900s.
Lovely Luang Prabang received its UNESCO World Heritage listing for its rich architectural and artistic heritage and outstanding ensemble of buildings erected over several centuries, in both the traditional Lao urban vernacular and sacred architecture of its wooden structures and glittering mosaic-covered pagodas (or ‘vats’ as they’re called in Laos), and the European styles of the colonial era of the 19th and 20th centuries when Laos, along with Cambodia and Vietnam, was a protectorate of French Indochina.
In the heritage-listed old town these two distinct architectural traditions sit side by side, forming a remarkably beautiful built heritage and a well-preserved historical townscape that is unmatched in Southeast Asia and in harmony with the natural environment – the Mekong River, surrounding mountains, and the ‘wetlands’ that are home to a network of ponds used for farming fish and growing vegetables.
Stroll Luang Prabang’s picturesque streets and you’ll see traditional Lao houses built of wood with plaited bamboo panels coated with daub and wattle, alongside splendid French colonial-era two-storey brick villas with pretty balconies, wooden shutters, and decorative cut-out features.
Slip into the grounds of one of the 34 pagodas peppered across Luang Prabang and you’ll get to absorb some of the most exquisite Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia, richly decorated with engravings, gilding, mosaics, stencilled patterns, paintings, and sculptures. One of the most impressive, 16th-century Wat Xieng Thong, boasts some of the most complex structures in town. (You can read about the temple walking tour we did, here.)
The greatest concentration of these architectural gems is crammed on the peninsula formed by the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers, northeast of Mount Phousi, while there are other treasures scattered south and southwest of the sacred hill.
The best way to experience it all is to check into one of the many heritage hotels that dot Luang Prabang or stay in a neighbourhood brimming with history and culture. These are the best Luang Prabang boutique hotels to book to savour the history and beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage listed town.
Best Luang Prabang Boutique Hotels for Absorbing the Town’s History, Culture and Beauty
Hotel 3 Nagas Luang Prabang M Gallery by Sofitel
Slap-bang on Sakkaline Road, the main street of Luang Prabang’s UNESCO World Heritage listed old town, atmospheric 3 Nagas is located in three splendidly restored French colonial buildings and is one of the best Luang Prabang boutique hotels for soaking up some Lao history. First renovated in 2003, then spruced up when taken over by Sofitel’s M Gallery brand a few years ago, the beautiful property, shaded by mature mango and jackfruit trees, has lush gardens sprawling down to the Nam Khan River. The 15 individually decorated rooms and suites, with polished wooden floors, four-poster beds, and handwoven silk throws, are spread across two buildings. Lamache House, built in 1898 as a venue for royal court meetings and thought to have been a former residence of Lao royal Tiao Sithideth Sisaleumsack (son of Tiao Sisoumang Sisaleumsak, a senior minister in Prince Souvanna Phouma’s 1960 government) and his French wife Dany Lamache. It has seven rooms with high ceilings, large windows, and wide balconies that look onto the road, so you can watch the alms procession from a respectful distance. Across the street, there are another eight rooms overlooking the street or gardens at Khamboua House, built in 1903 for the King’s counsellor and named after one of the 15 wives of Sisavang Phoulivong, King of Laos from 1904 until his death in 1959. While Lamache House was once the official ice-creamery to the Royal Palace in the 1930s, and bottles of flavouring found during restoration are now on display in the lobby, Khamboua’s ground floor now serves as an ice-cream parlour and café. Order a scoop with eight seasonal condiments. The 3 Nagas Restaurant was disappointing when we dined but we’ll try it again on our next trip and report back. You can hire one of the hotel’s vintage cars, either a 1957 Mercedes-Benz or a 1953 Citroen. No pool; guests can use the swimming pool and spa at the Sofitel Luang Prabang. Nagas, incidentally, are mythical serpents with magic powers.
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Painstakingly refurbished in 2002 by its owner Lamphoune Voravongsa, who transformed the French colonial-era residence into exquisite lodgings, Satri House is easily one of the best Luang Prabang boutique hotels for savouring the history of the well-preserved UNESCO World Heritage listed town. Built in 1904 by Prince Bounkhong, the last uparat (viceroy) of Luang Prabang and father of Prince Souphanouvong, who lived here as a child, and would go on to become the first President of the new Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Satri House oozes history. Just a block Wat That Luang Rasamahavihane, the ‘Monastery of the Royal Stupa’, and set within shady palm-filled gardens with two green-tiled swimming pools, the grand whitewashed building with traditional roof tiles and wooden shutters has 31 rooms, including 17 suites. Furnished with four-poster beds with silk cushions and throws, antiques carpets, artefacts and crafts, including hand-carved Buddha statues, the light-filled rooms brim with atmosphere and charm. There’s an elegant restaurant serving Laotian and French cuisine, a bar, library, and spa, along with free wifi and flat screen televisions with cable on request. The hotel has its own pier and a cruise boat with cabins, which can be chartered, and they also offer sunset cruises on the Mekong River.
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Maison Souvannaphoum Hotel
A couple of blocks from Satri House, Maison Souvannaphoum, managed by Angsana, is another heritage residence that was once home to royalty – four-time Prime Minister of Laos, Prince Souvanna Phouma, who was the half-brother of Prince Souphanouvong – and it’s another of the best Luang Prabang boutique hotels for getting a taste of the history of the town. While the grand whitewashed mansion is French-colonial, however, the 24 rooms have been decorated in a modern style that only slightly tips a hat to mid-century modernism. Book the Prince’s former lodgings, the 68 sqm Maison Room, and you’ll enjoy polished parquet floors, a Victorian style bathtub and a pretty balcony overlooking the lush garden. Added perks: an afternoon tea and an herbal bath floating with flower petals, scented candles. The in-house restaurant Elephant Blanc offers Laotian and Indochinese specialties, occasionally accompanied by live music. Hotel activities include cooking classes with the chef, a game of petanque on the hotel lawn, participating in the morning alms-giving with hotel staff, and a rural experience, where you get to spend the morning with a family on their farm. There’s an Angsana Spa on site and a pavilion for yoga and meditation.
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Belmond La Residence Phou Vao
The peaceful setting and jaw-dropping views over the treetops to sacred Mount Phousi and the mountains beyond on the other side of the Mekong make hilltop Belmond La Residence Phou Vao one of the best Luang Prabang boutique hotels. While the property may not be in the UNESCO listed historic centre, it’s just a five-minute tuk-tuk trundle or complimentary limo away from the old town and its attractions. Built around a former royal summerhouse, the 34 spacious, light-filled suites are decorated in modern rosewood furniture and kitted out with espresso machines and docking stations. Traditional textiles are strewn across the beds and there are generous balconies with day beds boasting garden or mountain vistas. The lush gardens are filled with frangipani and mango trees and dotted with lotus ponds, and there are two stunning swimming pools, including an infinity pool overlooking the tree canopy to those mountains and a smaller plunge pool attached to the award-winning Mekong Spa, where you can enjoy a massage with locally made essential oils. The Phou Savanh Restaurant is fine for an in-house meal if you don’t feel like venturing into town.
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The Apsara Rive Droite
Set on the river bank in a cluster of lemon-coloured colonial style buildings with grey-blue shutters and peppermint doors, The Apsara Rive Droite is a lovely, understated five-star property. The riverside location, bougainvillea filled gardens and jade-green swimming pool make this one of the best Luang Prabang boutique hotels. While the exterior is colonial, the pared-back interiors with polished teak floors are furnished in what I’m calling modern pan-Asian, with Chinese-style coffee tables and Japanese-like futon beds, and contemporary rattan chairs and stools. Private balconies offer garden and river views and there’s a public lounge and bar where you can relax with a book or drink, or both. The hotel is a 10-minute stroll to Wat Xieng Thong and a 15-minute amble to the enticing night market, where you’ll find an abundance of handicrafts, although you can also borrow a bicycle for an easy ride around Luang Prabang’s peaceful streets. There’s a decent restaurant on site although with the abundance of wonderful restaurants and street food options, you’re unlikely to want to dine in.
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