Category: WHS Travel Tips.

From Laos, with luxe

September 27, 2009


Beat the humidity … Villa Maly. Photo: Julie Miller

Formerly a royal residence, Luang Prabang’s Villa Maly retains its regal charm, writes Julie Miller.

It’s 6am and I step into the gloomy dawn, camera in hand, in search of monks collecting alms in the streets of Luang Prabang. I don’t have to travel far – just outside my hotel’s gate kneel several women, heads bowed, placing offerings in the baskets of shaved-head novices, brilliant visions in marigold robes.

It’s a solemn, peaceful moment – I feel intrusive pointing my camera at such devout worship – yet it’s over in the blinking of an eye, the saffron stream filing silently up the street towards a gleaming temple.

The morning tradition of tak bat has for centuries been part of life in Luang Prabang, a Laotian city that has endured war, a communist government and the gradual influx of Western influences since opening to tourism in 1989. Indeed, this former royal capital is in many ways the land that time forgot – impervious to change, untainted by modernisation, retaining the charm of bygone days.

A World Heritage listing, decreed by UNESCO in 1995, has certainly helped, sparing the city from the concrete and neon cancer of other Asian cities. Under the classification, heavy traffic is blessedly banned from the town centre, all existing structures must be preserved, renovations undertaken in traditional materials and new buildings constructed in either traditional Laotian or French-colonial style.

This commitment to preserving historical integrity is beautifully illustrated at Villa Maly, a boutique hotel that raises the bar in luxury accommodation in Luang Prabang. Tucked away in a quiet street a short walk from the main shops and restaurants, this lovely 33-room property was once the residence of Princess Khampieng and Prince Khamtan, a grandson of a 19th-century Laotian king.

Built as a wedding gift in 1938, the art deco era French-colonial villa was home to the royal couple and their four children for seven decades, until the death of the princess in 1994. The home has since been painstakingly restored and seamlessly extended around a tropical garden and pool.

The slogan of Villa Maly is A Residence of Charm, a fitting epithet with the warmth of the family home retained. Even the reception area feels like a private lounge room, with cosy 1940s-style settees, antique desks and parquetry floors cloaked in plush rugs.

In guest rooms, four-poster, king-size beds beckon under swathes of mosquito netting, while mahogany cabinets, terracotta pots, ceiling fans and private open-sided verandas create a Raffles-esque, gin-soaked colonial-style ambience. Modern touches are subtle – there’s air-conditioning, iPod docks, DVD players and flat-screen televisions if you must know what’s going on in the outside world.

The swimming pool, a rarity in Luang Prabang, provides a welcome antidote to pre-monsoon humidity and within seconds of dripping on a poolside sun lounge, a white-clad waiter will appear, cocktail menu in hand. It’s a little bit posh, but understated.

A leisurely walk from Villa Maly is the main drag, which closes to traffic at sunset for the nightly Hmong market.

Like everything in Luang Prabang, the market closes early – about 8.30pm – and even if you hit one of the bars afterwards, don’t expect a late night. An 11.30pm curfew is strictly enforced – though locals and those in the know sneak off to the bowling alley, rumoured to be the only place serving alcohol after midnight.

Personally, I’ll take any excuse to retire early to a comfy bed; after all, there are more monks to photograph at dawn …

The writer was a guest of Travel Indochina and Villa Maly.


WHERE Villa Maly is in a quiet suburban street, about 10 minutes’ walk from the centre of Luang Prabang.

The address is BP 78, Luang Prabang. See

HOW MUCH Two nights, twin share, for $US180 ($205) a person.

TOP MARKS The four-poster beds swathed in cotton mosquito netting are like a cloud; nestle in for a great night’s sleep.

BLACK MARK The breakfast at Le Vetiver restaurant is a very average buffet.

DON’T MISS For a fun night out, head to Lao Lao Gardens, a favourite haunt of Luang Prabang’s expat community.

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Category: WHS Travel Tips
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