Cocooned in a lush forest on the banks of a gushing waterfall, the new ultra-luxurious Rosewood Luang Prabang offers complete immersion in nature within a 10-minute drive from the divine UNESCO World Heritage-listed city of Luang Prabang.
Integrating the rainforest setting with Luang Prabang's exotic French-Indochine colonial history, designer wunderkind Bill Bensley has created the architectural version of an illustrated storybook, one so lavishly presented you can't wait to turn the page. Each of the 23 themed rooms – ranging from riverside rooms to luxury hilltop tents – represents an intriguing chapter in the story of a Laotian hill station, welcoming intrepid adventurers to this remote corner of Southeast Asia. The entry point is the Great House, an open-sided manor with fireside seating in oversized leather lounges, day beds overlooking the swimming pool and river, and a dining space; while the Elephant Bridge Bar is literally a covered wooden bridge straddling the river, a nod to the area's wild past.
Each unique guest room is dedicated to a traveller from the early 20th century who, in Bensley's fertile imagination, may have stayed at the resort; my Riverside Suite is dedicated to international correspondent Madam Andrée Viollis, who visited Luang Prabang in 1931. Under a portrait of the journalist hanging on the suite's room-sized veranda is a large antique trunk bearing her name; while inside, framed copies of Le Petit Journal newspapers and old French magazines complete the literary theme. In typical Bensley style, my suite is a gasp-inducing journey of discovery with covetable antiques sourced from French flea markets and Instagrammable design quirks, from life-sized horse carvings suspended above a claw-foot bathtub, to silk lanterns dangling from a slatted ceiling. Attention to detail is paramount: locally-made soaps and organic amenities presented in a handcrafted toiletries bag; filtered glass-bottled water (a big green tick!); a complimentary mini-bar and Nespresso machine; and crisp Frette linens tucked into a cloud-like bed. Yet even with all this luxury, I find myself lingering on the day bed on the veranda, mesmerised by the sound of the waterfall tumbling over the rocks.
Standard Western comfort food barely gets a look in on the Great House menu, even at breakfast time – it's all about traditional Laotian cuisine, focusing on seasonal and locally sourced produce. Salad greens and herbs are plucked straight from the resort's organic garden, mushrooms foraged from the adjoining forest and chickens and free-range eggs from the neighbouring village; while delicacies such as buffalo milk and mozzarella are courtesy of the innovative and sustainable Kuang Si Dairy Farm. Traditional Laotian dining is family style, with share plates; dishes on the ever-changing menu include the popular Jaew Khao Khop crispy rice cake snack, Goi Paa (river fish mince served with banana flower and galangal) and Phanaeng Kai (chicken coconut curry), all served with sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves. The Laotian diet is typically meat heavy, but vegetarians and vegans can make special requests direct to the chef.
The resort's remote location is no barrier to exploring the city of Luang Prabang, with a luxury car service available for pick-up and drop-offs any time of day. Bespoke experiences include a sunset cruise with Mekong Kingdoms and a guided heritage walking tour past temples and colonial mansions with Trails of Indochina; or explore on your own with resort bicycles housed at a cafe in the centre of town. For a more intrepid two-wheeled adventure, take a mountain bike trail through remote mountain villages; or visit a nearby wildlife sanctuary supported by Australian charity Free the Bears. A visit to the neighbouring village of Nauea is also encouraged, with the resort proudly sponsoring a hospitality school to support the local community.
As besotted as I am with my riverside villa, the hilltop tents are a tour-de-force, offering a unique perspective suspended above the jungle canopy. Overall, this resort is a feast for the senses, an experience of pure indulgence with no detail overlooked. The overriding star of the show is Mother Nature, who is at her most beguiling in the river and waterfall flowing through the property.
The hotel's spa is located in a hilltop tent overlooking the jungle; as you treated to a traditional Laotian hot compress massage, you can peer through a glass panel on the floor into the canopy below, accompanied by a natural soundtrack of jungle insects and the rushing river below.
There's a lack of literature describing resort activities and the inspiration behind the themed rooms – but this is apparently being addressed and will be available to guests in future.
Rates at Rosewood Luang Prabang start from $US670 a night for a Riverside Room. See www.rosewoodhotels.com/luangprabang