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 and 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 that doesn't deplete 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 elegance and liberal use of natural wood are a nod to Aman – but beyond that, it’s a distinct hotel in itself.
Despite being smack in the middle of the town’s heritage core, the handsome hotel has a relaxed vibe. Everything revolves around the pool in the centre, shaded by a stunning 120-year-old Banyan tree.
Although its design language borrows heavily from colonial French influences, Azerai Luang Prabang keeps flourishes to a minimum. Clean lines, functional furniture and a restrained aesthetic give the hotel – and guests – room to breathe and relax. The rooms open out to either a balcony overlooking the pool or a private courtyard, and they all feature twin vanities, free WiFi, a coffee machine, rain showers and a host of other amenities.
Elegant rooms at Azerai
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 night market and also the highest concentration of restaurants, cafés and temples. Mount Phousi is also right opposite – the modest hill serves as the unofficial town centre, where people climb to the top of a gilded stupa to take in a breathtaking view of the town.
The view of Luang Prabang from Mount Phousi
From that vantage point, 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 proportionately large number of active temples in this small town 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.
The main street of Luang Prabang, where temples co-exist alongside cafés and restaurants
While many ancient towns in the region are transitioning into the modernity, Luang Prabang still feels like it’s stuck in time. And at Azerai Luang Prabang, you’ll get the best of both worlds: direct access to this oldworld charm without losing the comfort of modern-day conveniences.
Book a room at Azerai (+856 7126 2333). Rooms from USD250/night (about $350).
Things to do in Luang Prabang
Wat Xieng Thong
If you only visit one temple, make sure it’s Wat Xieng Thong. This elegant temple is one of the most important monasteries in Lao Buddhism. It also features some of the best preserved traditional temple art, particularly the glass mosaic works.
The morning market is best for sampling local dishes, such as the nem kao (steamed rice roll with meat and herb filling; similar to chee cheong fun) and the rich local coffee that’s served with a weak tea chaser. If you’re looking for the ethnic textiles and crafts Luang Prabang is known for, you’ll find a colourful variety at the night market.
Participate in the morning alms-giving ritual
This Buddhist alms-giving ceremony is a highly revered tradition where locals make offerings (usually food) to the monks. It’s important to be respectful. Always kneel while giving alms, and never intrude or interrupt the proceedings. The daily ritual usually starts at the break of dawn, just before 6am.
Kuang Si Falls
The multi-tiered Kuang Si Falls are known for their unusual turquoise water. The cascading stream collects at several shallow pools which are perfect for swimming. Best explored as a half-day trip; don’t forget to visit the bear sanctuary on your way in.
Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden
A new attraction in Luang Prabang, the botanical garden is a showcase of the country’s rich flora. It also serves as an education centre on local medicinal plants and herbs, and there’s an idyllic café on site. The experience includes a leisurely boat ride along the Mekong river, which shuttles you back and forth from the reception centre in town.