It is rare to find a hotel that blends luxury, history and a unique sense of place under one roof, but travelers who venture to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed town of Luang Prabang, nestled at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, can find all three at Amantaka.
Even the name Amantaka is the blending of the Sanskrit words aman, which means peace, and Tipitaka, which means three baskets and symbolizes the teachings of the Buddha, a nod to the deeply rooted Buddhist culture of the region.
While many of the hotels in town are traditional guesthouses with charming wooden beams, and little nooks and crannies, the Amantaka takes a different tack and is housed in an early 20th-century French colonial hospital that also blends traditional Lao elements into the design.
The hotel has an enviably central location, and right outside the low-slung walls sits the bustling city streets, and main attractions such as the Royal Palace (now a museum), several of Luang Prabang’s most noteworthy temples, and Mt. Phousi, all of which are just a short walk from the front gate.
However, the sprawling grounds are an oasis of tranquility, with expansive green lawns and a large, serene central pool, with the scent of frangipani blossoms hanging in the air. The low-slung but high-ceilinged buildings themselves, with steep red-tiled roofs, have a streamlined (some might say stark) sensibility that lends itself to the hushed ambiance. Giving them a bit of color are the muted teal louvered doors and shutters spaced at regular intervals along the exterior walls.
There are just 24 suites, so a stay here is an exercise in exclusivity. Even the smallest start at 70 square meters (nearly 800 square feet), and 16 of them have their own private pools. The standard suites have king beds with diaphanous mosquito netting unfurled during nightly turndown service, as well as small living areas with writing desks, private bars stocked to order (included with your stay), and a comfortable sitting area with a table, chairs and a chaise lounge that feels perfect for relaxing after a day out in the city or cruising the Mekong and contemplating the black-and-white photographs or colorful (and geometric) hand-woven Lao wall hangings.
Almost as large as the rest of the suite, the bathrooms contain dual vanities, a standalone tub and a separate shower. Outside is a private patio with lounge chairs and umbrellas as well as a mango tree planted here or there for shade.
From there, Pool Suites include their own private pools in the outdoor lounge area, while Khan Pool Suites have a large separate indoor living room overlooking the hotel’s central courtyard and the suite’s own pool. The two Mekong Pool Suites have their own private dining rooms, while the two standalone Amantaka Pool Suites feature large private verandas and gardens as well as larger pools. There is also an Aman Villa, a Lao-style house originally constructed in 1923 as the residence of Prince Boun Khong, with four bedrooms, a private pool and a dedicated staff.
The experience here is meant to be all-inclusive, no hidden add-ons or surprises. Rates include breakfast and dinner at the resort’s breezy restaurant located in the main reception building, as well as one cultural activity per day, such as a boat trip to the Tad Se waterfall, elephant rides, cooking classes and courses at the Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Centre. There, guests can learn about the incredibly rich weaving crafts of Laos’s 100+ ethnic groups, and even try their hand at dyeing and weaving themselves. (Also recommended: Stop by the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre in town to peruse their small museum shop and see typical regional Lao costumes and houses).
Of course, no visit to Luang Prabang would be complete without rising at dawn one day to pay your respects to the monks from the area’s dozens of monasteries who quietly walk down the town’s main street each morning around 6 a.m. to collect alms. The hotel will provide you with offerings for them and advise you on how to hand them out in a culturally sensitive manner. The resort even employs an engaging cultural advisor named Tiao Nith, who is not only very knowledgeable about Lao culture and history, but also just plain fun to talk to. There is also a fleet of vans on hand to ferry guests around town to various attractions and activities, as well as a raft of bicycles if you feel like exploring on your own.
After a day out, you’ll be ready for a drink in the Lobby Lounge, or a treatment in one of the spa’s four enormous suites. Each of which includes its own private shower and changing area as well as a small indoor/outdoor relaxation sala. Using signature Aman products such as a frangipani-hibiscus salt glow body scrub, or a restorative and nourishing lime-ginger body wrap, you’ll feel refreshed before dinner in the restaurant.
Set menus include a Western option, but go for the Lao menu with a panoply of delicacies such as savory minced pork salad with banana flower, and braised bamboo shoots with green herbs and crispy rice cakes, all while live musicians accompany your meal with traditional Lao selections on the xylophone and drums outside.
Luxurious but not extravagant, exclusive but not aloof, the Amantaka provides a unique, serene and thoroughly enjoyable base from which to explore the cultural riches of Luang Prabang.