Luang Prabang's Hidden Charms

Joanna Smith

There’s far more to Laos’s sleepy former royal capital than a beautiful new Amanresort. This small, walkable town on the banks of the Mekong holds numerous lesser-known—but no less stylish—surprises.


All whitewash and teak, Amantaka sits in a former colonial hospital with a quiet pool at its center. A five-minute walk from the town’s main street, the 24-suite hotel lets guests drop in and out of its restaurant and excellent spa with ease, using the resort’s bicycles. Rooms start at $600. At 55/3 Kingkitsarath Rd.; 800-477-9180;

Pathana Boupha Antique House

Set on the upper floor of a historic home (where the owner’s family has lived since 1934), this dreamy, dusty store is best for collectible textiles and silver tribal jewelry like simple cuffs ($60). At 26/2 Ban Visoun; 856-71/212-262.


This smart new guesthouse was originally conceived as a private home for its German owner, who’s redone the historic house’s 14 light-soaked rooms with mosquito-netted four-poster beds and impeccable bathrooms. The Thai restaurant has one of the best riverside locations. Rooms start at $110. At 99 Ban Phon Heuang; 856-71/260-733;

Caruso Lao

Canadian owner and designer Sandra Yuck brings a discriminating eye to the high-end, Laotian-crafted homewares at her shop. A standout is the silver-trimmed rosewood salad bowl ($840) with matching silver-ended serving spoons ($275). At 60 Sakaline Rd.;


Australian co-owner Caroline Gaylard provides an explanation of each dish as it emerges from the small kitchen of this characterful Laotian restaurant. A highlight is the juicy ping som moo (barbecued cured pork in lemongrass); the best seats are outside. Opposite Wat Nong; 856-20/777-0484;

Naga Creations

French-born jeweler Fabrice Munio sells his contemporary pieces—made with silver, semiprecious stones, and local silks—at this little shop, which also offers reproduction hill-tribe jewelry like Hmong-inspired wild boar tusk–and–silver chokers ($250). At 24/6 Ban Xieng Mouane; 856-71/212-775.

Mekong Estate

A mile from town, this set of six tropical suites and villas makes up in river views what it lacks in location. A favorite is the four-bedroom Sunset House ($3,000 a week), set above the main pool on the banks of the Mekong. Rooms start at $100. At Ban Saylom; 856-71/212-929;

Ock Pop Tok

The three shops from this textile specialist sell inexpensive but no less attractive and well-made slippers ($7), dolls ($15) and hemp bags ($25) in bright colors. English designers Covelli Tennant love the indigo-dyed hemp runners ($45) and use them in their classic-contemporary furniture. At 73/5 Ban Vat Nong;



The Aman notwithstanding, this buzzy brasserie remains the most glamorous address in town—the closest it gets to New York’s Balthazar. The meat dishes—buffalo steaks, say, or beef carpaccio—are memorable. At Kounxoua St. in Ban Vat Nong; 856-71/252-482;

Alila Luang Prabang

Just opened in October (and in a former prison, no less), this 23-suite mini resort is of a design that’s more consciously contemporary than anything else in town, offering yoga, a spa and a cooking school. Rooms start at $170. At Old Prison Rd.; 856-71/260-777;

La Residence Phou Vao

Before the Aman, this 34-room Orient Express property was the only luxury player here, and the hotel is still popular—not surprising, given the pool’s mountain views. The bar is lovely at sundown, and rates are reasonable even if the doubles aren’t huge. Rooms start at $230. At Phou Vao Rd.; 856-71/212-194;

Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre

A boutique-cum-museum, this spot lets browsers learn about what they’re buying, be it tribal earrings made of old French coins ($37) or red pom-pom–topped baby hats ($14) crafted by the Akha and Yao Mien people. At the foot of Phousi Hill in Ban Khamyong;