Our intrepid AsiaPac counterparts report back from their travels on the hotter side of the globe, with news just in from Laos, where Team Smith has just checked into the brand new Alila Luang Prabang to celebrate the launch of our new South-East Asia hotel guide…
Nothing says ‘making an entrance’ quite like a vintage Merc. I’m instantly wowed on arrival at Luang Prabang’s petite, palm-fringed airport, where I’m met by a cream 1957 Mercedes-Benz (complete with maroon leather interior and chauffeur) for the 10-minute transfer to my luxe-for-less Laotian abode: the brand new Alila Luang Prabang boutique hotel.
En route, Laos’s laid-back intimacy works its charm: an ambling saffron-robed monk here, a girl cycling past with elegant parasol in one hand there. Three-wheeled jumbos (like oversized tuk-tuks) whizz by, dodging snoozing dogs; golden temple roofs are glimpsed though frangipani trees.
Team Smith has rolled into town to welcome the all-new Alila Luang Prabang (right) to our hand-picked hotel collection: Laos’s latest glam getaway has barely been open a month. We’re also here to celebrate the launch of our fantastic new guidebook, Mr & Mrs Smith Hotel Collection: South-East Asia (more of that to come in a future post).
While Thailand, Vietnam and even Cambodia are firm favourites on the travel map, less-visited neighbour Laos is still something of an insider secret. And Luang Prabang is our top trip tip: the former royal capital teams French architecture with jaw-dropping Buddhist temples in a magical Mekong River setting that earned Unesco World Heritage protection in 1995.
We spend our first evening wandering the town’s illuminated Night Market, checking out rainbow-hued throws, paper lanterns and parasols (above right), silver jewellery and the ubiquitous Beer Lao logo T-shirts. Most of the stalls are run by women from surrounding villages, so money spent here directly benefits local people. It’s a soft sell, too, thanks to Laos’ famously mellow vibe – so you can browse without bother.
The French once summed up the relaxed Lao take on life as follows: ‘The Vietnamese plant rice; the Cambodians watch it grow; and the Lao listen to it grow’. Star-gazing from my serene suite garden back at Alila, I’m with them: listening to rice never felt so good…