Luang Prabang’s newest luxury resort is a design fan’s dream stay

CNN  — 

Luang Prabang’s rise to become one of Southeast Asia’s top luxury destinations for those in search of culture and relaxation was inevitable.

In the years following the former Laos royal capital’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, this magical town, nestled at the bottom of forested mountains that tower over the Mekong River, attracted a slow trickle of luxury accommodation options, from the Amantaka to the Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for one more – particularly if it’s the stunning Rosewood Luang Prabang, which opened its gates just a few months ago.

Set about a 10-minute drive outside the town center in a hilltop forest, straddling a small river, the 23-key resort was designed by the renowned Bill Bensley.

As those who are familiar with Bensley’s work will know, this means there’s a story behind every item in every space.

The American architect is renowned for taking a concept and stretching it to lengths us laymen would consider simply absurd, executing his vision down to the last beautiful and often whimsical detail.

In the case of Rosewood Luang Prabang, Bensley envisioned a property modeled after a Laotian hill station from the turn of the 20th century.

A Laotian learning experience

“It’s designed to celebrate the culture of Luang Prabang, and the diversity of hill tribes and explorers that came through here,” explains Elias Pertoft, managing director of Rosewood Luang Prabang.

“It’s a colorful reimagining of the romantic travels of the past.”

For example, the Great House – the resort’s main dining space and lobby – was inspired by the mansion of Auguste Pavie, a French explorer who became governor of Luang Prabang in the late 1800s.

“Throughout each villa and room, we celebrate the other explorers that were with him on the Mekong Expedition back in the 1860s,” says Pertoft.

For many travelers, the resort’s six hilltop tents are the main attraction. Each 75-square-meter space is dedicated to one of the area’s hill tribes, with décor including distinctive ethnic textiles and antiques.

Though these spacious tents are what put Rosewood Luang Prabang on many a list of “most anticipated hotel openings” last year, it’d be a shame to overlook the other 17 colorful rooms, suites and villas, all one of a kind and filled with antique illustrations and artifacts that tell a story about the area.

“For a guest to stay here, it’s really a learning experience,” says Pertoft. “You learn about a forgotten era of exploration that’s exciting and brings a new light to the destination.”

Our favorite is one of the riverside pool villas, which buzzes with an entomologist theme. Frames filled with pinned butterflies leap off a dazzling teal wall. Nets hang over the outdoor bar, while the walls of the villa’s open-air bathing area are covered in a colorful dragon fly mural.

The sounds of nature are omnipresent, whether it’s the buzzing of the cicadas or the rush of the river that cuts right through the property.

Laotian royal cuisine and a bridge that’s a bar

in terms of dining, there’s just one option, the aforementioned Great House, which offers local dishes influenced by the cuisine of historic royal courts.

The kitchen is overseen by culinary director Sebastien Rubis, a long-time Laos resident who speaks the language and is incredibly passionate about the country’s food.

Dishes are perfectly executed, from the pink-hued lon som (pork curry with eggplant, beans and fish eggs) to the kaengnor sai yanang (bamboo soup with pumpkin, mushrooms and fresh herbs), and will likely leave diners questioning why Laotian food isn’t more popular globally.

Rosewood Luang Prabang's Great House.

“We’ve really gone into detail to look up the old recipes of what makes Lao food very special and take away any modern shortcuts and make it from scratch on a seasonal basis, working with farmers in the area and celebrating what is for many a very unknown cuisine,” says Pertoft.

Those in need of a sundowner can hit up the Elephant Bridge Bar, which is exactly as its name suggests. The bar is actually a covered bridge, set right on top of the Nam Khan River, and filled with elephant-themed décor in honor of the area’s past as “the land of a million elephants.”

As the resort is on two sides of the river, most guests need to walk through it to get to their rooms. But if they’re smart, they’ll stop for a drink. Cleverly crafted cocktails are complimented by local herbs and spices.

Tailor-made itineraries

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Though there’s no fitness center, there’s a lovely riverside swimming pool and guests have access to bicycles.

Given the resort’s small size, itineraries are tailor-made according to what each guest wishes to explore.

“We try to bring guests into the local culture, away from tourism and show true face of what it is to live in Laos and experience their unique celebrations and festivals,” says Pertoft.

“Most of our guests spend their days out exploring hill tribes or going to waterfalls, trekking in the jungle, cruising on the Mekong, or going to the elephant sanctuary to walk with the giants in the forest.”

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And of course, it wouldn’t be a Rosewood property if there wasn’t a fabulous spa.

The Sense Spa occupies three tents, all overlooking the river and set over a stream. You can even look down onto the stream as you have a treatment, thanks to the cleverly placed pane of glass set into the floor.

The variety of treatments on offer includes ancient Laotian remedies that use herbs and plants pulls from traditional Laos healing therapies throughout Laos and the old knowledge of how to use the jungle to rejuvenate.

Rosewood Luang Prabang, Nauea Village, Luang Prabang, Laos; +856 7121 1155