A wooden boat putters along the muddy Mekong, its hull slicing through the gentle water. The setting sun is a fiery orange, matching the robes worn by the monks that wander the streets of this UNESCO World Heritage town.
In Luang Prabang, sunsets here aren’t just a daily occurrence, but an event. Hundreds claim a coveted seat along the Mekong River or hop aboard luxury hotel boats to watch the sun melt into the mountains.
A former French colonial enclave, the effects of its rule are most apparent in its stately architecture juxtaposed against golden Laotian temples. Even today, French restaurants and speakers are easy to find as you peruse the buzzing night markets and wander past overflowing cafes.
But Laos’ cultural and spiritual capital is undoubtedly its own.
Intrepid travelers will fall in love with its swaying palms, hill tribe textile shops and laid-back way of life. Once considered a beloved backpacker spot, Luang Prabang now welcomes luxury hideaways rather than hostels.
Its exclusive hotel offerings are impressively abundant for such a small, sleepy town, with more brands rumored to be breaking ground soon. Here are six of the best places to stay on your trip to Luang Prabang.
Set slightly outside of the tourist center, this frangipani-lined estate’s tranquil lily ponds and swaying palms are an ideal escape. From its freshwater infinity pool, guests can bask in unobstructed views of gilded Mount Phousi with cocktails in hand.
Its 34 suites are surprisingly spacious and made entirely of local teak. The dark woods blend beautifully with handcrafted hill tribe textiles and four-poster canopied beds. Each suite has a private balcony with Laotian loungers and sprawling coconut plantation views.
Besides its Instagram-worthy pool, its secluded spa is a standout. Its lemongrass-scented treatment rooms set the scene for authentic Laotian therapies and the spa’s signature massage that incorporates ancient Buddhist practices.
And although hotel restaurants can be hit or miss, Tam Nan is always a bull’s-eye. Helmed by Chef Larisa Vesterbacka, the team blends traditional slow-cooking techniques with Laos’ best products, from duck to eggplant to cheese.
Rosewood Luang Prabang is a stunning sensory overload. The sound of trickling water from its private natural waterfall hits you first. Then, the French colonial-designed Great House comes into view.
Created by Bangkok-based designer Bill Bensley, there’s no shortage of pomp and circumstance in any of his properties – and this one is no different. Outfitted with black clay bricks, sunflower yellow furniture, gold-patterned ceilings and whimsical fireplaces, it’s an eye-catching gathering place for meals.
The 23 rooms and suites, villas and hilltop tents are equally impressive. Named after Laos’ different hill tribes, bright teals, black and white patterned floors, carved wood and elephant themes furnishings decorate each unique abode.
Its oval-shaped communal pool is another show-stopper, and comes with waterfall views and tented cabanas for lounging. The aptly named Elephant Bridge Bar sits above over the river and has myriad elephant motifs alongside expertly crafted cocktails.
Smack dab in the center of Luang Prabang’s Old Town, hotel locations don’t get more prime than this. Despite its busy main street address, directly across from the famous night market, its interiors are as quiet as can be.
Housed inside a former French garrison, the rooms face an open courtyard transformed into a peaceful poolside oasis with lounge chairs and Banyan tree shade. Its 53 rooms and suites are compact with teak furnishings, Laotian hanging artwork, blue mosaic-tiled showers and, best of all, private balconies.
Its unbeatable location means it’s ideal for catching the morning alms as the sun rises, temple-hopping before it gets too hot and taking a short walk to the riverside to catch the sunset. In between sightseeing, its poolside service is as welcome as its fresh fruit drinks.
The hotel’s on-site restaurant, Main Street Bar and Grill, is a relaxed spot for sampling local dishes while doing some people-watching.
This stately hotel is just a few blocks from historic Old Town, but you don’t have to walk there to find local history. Built in the 1920s, the hotel was Luang Prabang’s regional hospital until 2005. Walking through its perfectly manicured grounds into this French colonial masterpiece, you’d never know.
Its signature forest green shuttered doors and airy interiors perfectly blend modern elegance and old-world charm. Historic photos hang on the clean white walls, French colonial-style arched windows let in the natural light and handcrafted rattan furniture sits atop diamond-shaped tiles.
The stylish tiles and soft green shutters carry into its 24 suites, where canopied four-poster beds and white plunge tubs decorate each. Every suite has a private terrace, and the majority have a private pool for cooling off from the hot Laotian sun.
Communal areas include a 26-meter pool of deep emerald green tiles surrounded by white loungers and umbrellas. The hotel’s four-room spa includes a steam room, sauna and hot and cold pools, as well as a full menu of treatments incorporating traditional elements.
Greeted by two giant stone elephants and a Cruella de Vil-style Panther De Ville parked out front, you can’t help but stare at this French colonial building. Located a short bike ride from the Old Town, the Sofitel Luang Prabang was the former residence of a French governor.
Its 25 suites include cathedral-pitched ceilings, colorful hanging Lao tapestries, a four-poster bed and a private garden area with either a spacious tub or a private pool.
In a nod to its former resident, the hotel’s restaurant is named the Governor’s Grill. Its creative seating areas include a large outdoor tent with hanging chandeliers, rattan furniture and handmade encaustic tiles. If guests would rather eat inside, they can cut their steak in one of the town’s largest libraries.
When travelers aren’t walking around town, the hotel’s 25-meter pool, surrounded by day beds, is ideal for a fresh coconut and an afternoon nap. Or head to Le SPA, with three treatment rooms inside a traditional Lao home built with local wood and handmade clay tiles.
Swaying rice paddies dotted with palm trees decorate the 16 hectares of this expansive resort. Here, the team harvests its own rice for use in the resort’s restaurant, with guests encouraged to get involved in the picking and planting process.
Pullman Luang Prabang is the largest resort in the city, with 123 rooms, suites and villas. Vaulted ceilings make each feel spacious, and its plush contemporary furniture is made for lounging. Artistic touches like Lao-style woven pillows and wall decor add some local flare.
Located 10 minutes outside of town, it’s an ideal place for big families or travelers with small children. Guests here have all the amenities they could ask for, including a restaurant and bar, a spa, a fitness center, a kids’ club and three palatial swimming pools.