Luxury travel is not necessarily about staying at the most expensive hotel or dining at the most exclusive restaurants. True luxury is about simple elegance, cultural sophistication, earnestly attentive service and genuine hospitality. It is about natural and architectural beauty, the preservation of both cultural heritage and natural resources, as well as an appreciation for refinement in art, music and culinary tradition. These are all qualities that define the experience of luxury in Luang Prabang.
Laos offers visitors many opportunities to immerse in local life. Few cultures in the world can compare themselves in affability to the soft-spoken and hospitable Laotians, renowned for their open and friendly nature, relaxed attitude and laissez-faire philosophy. Visitors to the sleepy town of Luang Prabang are often struck with the candid geniality of its residents, so it is not uncommon that visitors are offered spontaneous tours of a neighbourhood or are invited to share a home-cooked family meal.
Besides the countless charms of the city itself, Luang Prabang is surrounded by an abundance of beautiful scenery, fascinating temples, industrious craft villages and intriguing historical sites, perfect for short excursions and day tours. It is therefore recommended to explore the Laotian countryside and wilderness, which remain relatively untouched by the intrusions of modernity and offer enough diversion to keep travellers engaged for at least a fortnight if not longer.
In this guide to affordable luxury in Luang Prabang, we have collected a selection of hotels, restaurants, activities and attractions that we believe will offer you a taste of luxury to fit your budget. They range from the most exclusive to upper mid-range, in terms of pricing, but they all provide experiences of the highest quality.
While Luang Prabang may not boast the most inexpensive accommodation in Southeast Asia, especially during peak periods, this UNESCO world heritage site offers a range of charming colonial era hotels that allow guests to immerse themselves in the local culture and atmosphere, while providing excellent service and genuine hospitality. The following hotels have been carefully chosen according to a criteria of value for money, service, comfort and local charm. They have been ranked according to affordability, representing a broad range of budgets for high-end travel.
Sofitel Luang Prabang
If only the finest will do and you want to experience the crème-de-la-crème of colonial era Luang Prabang, then a stay at the Sofitel is the obvious choice. Housed in the French Governor’s Mansion, complete with exquisite botanical gardens surrounded by fortified walls and watchtowers, this extravagant residence is the incarnation of exclusivity and French architectural elegance. A range of well-equipped rooms are available, from the Pool Villa to the Garden King Suites, with private gardens and outdoor baths. Some of the highlights of Sofitel Luang Prabang include The Library Restaurant, serving traditional as well as contemporary Laotian cuisine while also doubling as a real library, and the Governor’s Grill which offers European cuisine under a chandeliered tent in the delightful atmosphere of the hotel gardens.
Victoria Xiengthong Palace
This former royal residence in the heart of Luang Prabang represents the finest of what Laos has to offer. A UNESCO world heritage site, preserving the glamour and elegance of the monarchy as it persisted under the French Protectorate. This beautiful boutique hotel is tastefully and simply furnished, with bright rooms permeated by authentic colonial atmosphere. Breakfast is served in the stunning “Kitchen by the Mekong” restaurant, with a romantic view of the most famous river in Southeast Asia. The staff are friendly and attentive, with small gifts of Laotian handicraft left on pillows as part of the turndown service. Some other stand-out services which help make the Xiengthong Palace an outstanding experience include an open-air cinema showing black and white films from Laos’ past, complimentary use of the hotels unique bamboo bicycles, as well as a range of spa-treatments inspired by Laotian tradition.
Les Deux Rivieres
If you want to experience a touch of luxury on a tighter budget, then the many guesthouses and smaller hotels along the Mekong and Nam Khan offer spacious rooms with balconies overlooking the banks of these picturesque rivers. Les Deux Rivieres is a French run hotel by the Nam Khan River, located just off the main street and in close proximity to numerous charming cafés and restaurants. Their suite room is an elegant “loft” with the wooden beams of the roof beautifully exposed and a gorgeous view of a Buddhist monastery peering out from the dense green jungle on the other side of the river.
Laotian cuisine shares many similarities with Thai food, but has its own distinct flavours and ingredients. The presentation is always gorgeous, with food displayed on or wrapped in fresh green banana leaves and individual portions of the ubiquitous sticky rice served in a quaint container woven of bamboo. Nearly all restaurants will offer a choice between different levels of spiciness, selecting “Laos Spicy” is only recommended for the brave.
The Three Nagas, Sofitel
The Three Nagas is probably the most well-known restaurant in Luang Prabang. Located on both sides of the main street, in stunning French-Laotian villas, this fine-dining establishment offers traditional Laotian food with a classical European twist. A few tables are available in the beautifully landscaped garden behind the “Lamache House”, if you prefer a more intimate atmosphere. The Lamache House used to be home to the official ice-cream suppliers to the Lao Royal Family, during the time of the French Protectorate, and Sofitel have chosen to continue this tradition by offering delectable deserts and frozen treats in the same building.
The Terrace, Burasari Heritage
The Terrace is located right on the edge of the Nam Khan River and offers a stunning view of the untamed wilderness on the other side. The restaurant offers traditional Thai and Laotian food, as well as French inspired cuisine. Although the food is superb and the service is excellent, the real reason to dine at The Terrace is the location. It is the ideal place to enjoy a sunset cocktail with a huge selection of classic and innovative drinks, as well as an assortment of imported cigars and fine wines. Try their signature Nam Khan cocktail with Lao whiskey and their roast duck with tamarind sauce.
This small family-run restaurant is located in a quiet alley, far from the attractions of downtown Luang Prabang. It can by no means be described as an haute-cuisine establishment, but perhaps the simple pleasure of a welcoming smile and a “home-cooked” meal can be described as its own kind of luxury. The food is simple and authentically Laotian. The service is personable, with the whole family joining in to help take orders, serve drinks and make guests feel at home. Do not expect fast food however, as the dishes seem to be prepared one at a time, but the careful attention and dedication of the cook is evident in every bite.
Attractions & Activities
Most of the main attractions of Luang Prabang are centered along the main street, with many golden temples, shops offering fine crafts such as silks and wood carvings, and the beautiful architecture of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, there are many worthwhile attractions and activities to discover in the immediate area surrounding the city, accessible either by a short walk, bike ride, or by hiring one of the colourful tuk-tuks that line the streets of down-town Luang Prabang.
Kuang Si Waterfalls
Imagine yourself swimming in a clear pool of turquoise water, surrounded by dense green jungle, feeling the exhilaration of a cool shower under a refreshing waterfall in the hot Laotian sun. Among the many natural attractions of Laos, the Kuang Si Waterfalls is probably the most dramatic. These picturesque falls start in a 60 meter tall cascade, collecting in several idyllic pools which are perfect for swimming and offer the ultimate photo-taking opportunities. The Kuang Si Waterfalls are a must-see for anyone visiting Luang Prabang.
The Bamboo Experience
Any journey to Luang Prabang is incomplete without experiencing the charms and hospitality of life in the Laotian countryside. At the Bamboo Experience, you are welcomed to a picturesque bamboo hut on the outskirts of Luang Prabang and treated as part of the family. Guests are taught about the many uses of the most versatile material used by Laotian people, bamboo, and taught simple crafts such as weaving as well as cooking traditional Laotian food. Dishes include stuffed bamboo, “Mok Pa” steamed fish, and fresh bamboo salads. After dining on your own creations, you are treated to a performance of ceremonial Hmong music and dance.
The Paper and Silk Villages
After a short and pleasant walk, crossing the Nam Khan River over a rustic bamboo bridge, you will pass through small communities producing mainly silk and paper products. All along the roads you will be able to experience how the coarse and tactile paper is made using traditional techniques, adorned with colourful flowers and decorative leaves. Families here have been involved in silk weaving for generations and you can witness the whole process from start to finish. Buying a piece of luxury hand-made silk directly from the weavers makes an excellent souvenir and also helps preserve traditional crafts.
We hope this guide has inspired you to experience authentic luxury in Luang Prabang, Laos. If you are interested in any of the hotels, restaurants or activities mentioned in the article do not hesitate to contact us today for a tailor-made tour in Laos. For further inspiration check out read about Responsible Luxury in Asia on our blog.