I recently wrote about Amantaka for OLTRE, the luxury travel magazine I produce for Internova Travel Group and Global Travel Collection. Opened 14 years ago, the 24-suite Amantaka is one of Aman’s earlier resorts, a minimalist yet sumptuous walled property that occupies a French colonial compound (a hospital in another life) built around a central courtyard. The doors creak. The windows don’t fit as snugly as they might at newer resorts around town. The foundations have settled over many decades. The old-school locks are strictly mechanical. Everything is blissfully old-fashioned but also uncompromisingly luxurious. It is the perfect embodiment of Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang is where the Mekong and Nam Kahn rivers converge. It’s also the epicenter of Buddhism in Laos, which seems odd given that Laos is a communist country. But the government made an agreement with the Buddhists at the end of Laos’ civil war, an agreement that they continue to uphold to this day.
There are more monks per capita here than just about anywhere else in Southeast Asia. Young monks come from all over to study. The spillover of all that zen permeates every aspect of life, resulting in a warm, inviting community that feels lost in time. Note: There’s a difference between “lost in time” and “stuck in the past.” Luang Prabang does not feel stuck. Everywhere you look — inside the resort and around town — traditional Lao architecture blends seamlessly with colonial European design. That proudly intertwined vernacular, cherished by locals and visitors alike, is what warranted a preservation decree from UNESCO. The entire town has been designated as a world heritage site.
It gets hot here year-round. The tropical climate dictates a languid pace wherever you go. Despite the sweltering climate, the dining room at Amantaka remains an open-air affair, with the windows on all sides flung open to harness the gentle breeze that spills down from sacred Mount Phousi. Ceiling fans spin slowly overhead. Birds chirp lazily from the trees. Occasionally, you can hear a motorbike sputtering along the main road. But mostly what you hear is the live, rhythmic staccato of a lanat and drum. The old Lao instruments are hypnotic, their soothing melodies capable of moving spirits.
The restaurant at Amantaka serves two menus: one western, one Lao. But for an order of terrific French toast one morning, my fiancé and I could never bring ourselves to order from the western menu. The Lao food here was just too good to resist, especially the khao piak, a classic Lao noodle soup.
Bottom line: This is an extraordinary resort, one of the finest in Asia for sure. Service doesn’t get any better than this. Aman, and indeed everything Adrian Zecha has ever built, has alway been a master at capturing that most important aspect of travel: a genuine sense of place.
Rates from about $1,100; 55/3 Kingkitsarath Road, Ban Thongchaleun, Luang Prabang, Laos; aman.com/resorts/amantaka