Sometimes, the things you want the most are those hardest to get; for many travellers, that would be the chance to stay in an Aman resort. A regular figure in all the top hotel lists, Aman is preceded by an illustrious reputation, known for its storied locations, minimalist yet timeless designs, but also astronomical prices.
The good news is, Aman founder Adrian Zecha has a new hotel brand that could just be the antidote to your Aman lust without depleting your life savings. Named Azerai, the brand recently opened its first property in the Unesco World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang in Laos. Positioned as an affordable luxury, Azerai Luang Prabang’s simple elegance and liberal use of natural wood are a nod to Aman (or perhaps Mr Zecha’s personal style) – but beyond that, it’s a distinct hotel in its own right.
Despite being smack in the middle of the town’s heritage core, there’s a relaxed vibe here. Built in the style of French colonial architecture in respect of its locale, the hotel is handsome. Everything revolves around the swimming pool in the centre, shaded by a stunning 120-year-old Banyan tree. There’s also a bar and bistro facing the street, which serves a modern take on Laotian and regional cuisines highlighting local ingredients.
Overall at Azerai, the aesthetics are clean and linear. There’s a sense of restraint to keep flourishes to a minimal, focusing instead on functional designs to maximise space and encourage relaxation. The rooms open out to either a balcony overlooking the pool or a private courtyard, and they feature twin vanities, free WiFi, coffee machine, rain shower and a host of other amenities.
In terms of location, Azerai Luang Prabang is perfect. You’re not entirely removed from the town’s daily life: The hotel’s just across the junction from the main street, where you’ll find the daily night market and also the highest concentration of restaurants, cafés and temples. Mount Phousi is also right opposite. The 100m hill serves as the unofficial town centre; the view from the gilded stupa at the top is breathtaking.
From the hilltop, you’ll understand the appeal of this historic town. Luang Prabang is a narrow peninsula where the mighty Mekong and Nam Khan rivers meet, and it’s protected by a fortress of mountain ranges. This lush and fertile land was once the royal capital of the country, where Buddhist culture and spirituality flourished. In fact, the latter still defines much of life here, evident from the number of active temples in this small town (there are more than 30) and the perseverance of the daily alms-giving ritual. Saffron-robed monks still roam the streets, just as the coconut trees here loom taller than the man-made structures, many of which date back to the 19th century.
No doubt Luang Prabang is a living heritage. While many old towns in the region seem to transition into the modern age, Luang Prabang still feels like it’s stuck in time; this palpable sense of nostalgia is its best attraction. And at Azerai Luang Prabang, you’ll get the best of both worlds: direct access to this old world charm without losing the comfort of modern day conveniences.
Setthathirath Road, Hua Xieng Village, Luang Prabang, Laos (+856 7126 2333/azerai.com/luang-prabang). Rooms from USD250++ (about RM1,086).