With its rich architectural and artistic heritage, gilded temples and saffron-robed monks, burgeoning focus on eco-tourism and thriving sustainability scene, UNESCO World Heritage town Luang Prabang really is unlike any other destination in Laos.
Little wonder that it’s also one of the hottest destinations right now, with savvy travellers soaking up Laos’ famously laid-back culture with a short break in one of its most charming cities. Now there’s a way to do Luang Prabang a little differently, thanks to Pullman Luang Prabang’s socially responsible enterprises and a range of hands-on farming and environmental activities for guests.
A five-star resort set in an idyllic natural environment, Pullman Luang Prabang is just a short drive from the centre of town. Well suited to couples looking for relaxed luxury with an eco-twist, it offers a choice of deluxe rooms or suites, semidetached or pool villas — their design a contemporary nod to traditional Lao terraced housing — all set amongst landscaped pathways, streams, ponds, pools and paddy fields. Surrounded by mountains, you feel immersed in the lush landscape — a connection that drives the resort’s focus on keeping in perfect harmony with their community and the environment.
Pullman Luang Prabang’s rice terraces are worked in a traditional way by local farmers using water buffalo, a co-operative arrangement that sees the farmers keep 60 per cent of the harvested rice, while the remaining 40 per cent goes to the resort kitchen. Guests are offered a unique array of hands-on experiences to learn about the rice cultivation process, including helping to plant and harvest rice, depending on the season, or even bathing the buffalo. The resort donates the unused rice husks to MandaLao Elephant Conservation Camp — a non-riding elephant experience focused on education and animal welfare — and can arrange a sanctuary visit where you can feed and walk alongside the seven retired and rescued elephants. It’s an absolute must-do for animal lovers wanting to support a genuine elephant rehabilitation and conservation effort in Laos.
Pullman Luang Prabang’s “farm-to-table” culinary concept means the resort sources as much of its produce as possible from local and sustainable businesses. Their chefs make a daily sunrise pilgrimage to the morning market to buy fruits, vegetables, herbs and seeds from the Namkhan Project, a nearby eco-farm. The kitchen also sources buffalo milk cheeses and yoghurt from Laos Buffalo Dairy, a socially responsible enterprise that works with people from villages in and around Luang Prabang, renting their buffalo to provide the families with a regular income stream.
A short walk from your luxury suite or villa and you’ll discover the newly created organic vegetable farmstead, comprising a fruit orchard, tropical garden, greenhouse nursery, vegetable gardens, buffalo pasture, duck pond, and even an area housing chickens and goats. Guests are invited to help with animal feeding, egg collecting, fruit picking and even buffalo milking, while cooking classes with the Pullman chefs are planned for late 2019.
Naturally, dining is a memorable experience at Pullman Luang Prabang. Access L’Atelier restaurant by crossing over a lilypad-clad pond and settle in for a culinary treat. As one of the only open-kitchen concepts in town, the restaurant welcomes guests to indulge throughout the day in its stylish dining room or on the covered terrace overlooking the rice paddies and mountains in the distance.
To get a better feel for Luang Prabang, head out for a day of temple-hopping, with many of the city’s 34 UNESCO-protected temples (wats) located within a compact town centre. The resort offers a shuttle service, and it’s easy to take a leisurely self-guided walking tour to gain an insight into Laos’ deep Buddhist beliefs and cultural heritage. Or leave town altogether and head into the cool of the countryside. About half an hour south you’ll find the incredible multi-tiered Kuang Si Falls, one of the most impressive waterfalls in South-East Asia with cascading drops of up to 50 metres and natural aquamarine pools. The resort can organise all your outings and have you back in time for an afternoon swim and a sundowner on the deck of the H20 pool bar.
Later, the shuttle can whisk you into town to explore the delights of Luang Prabang by night. The Handicraft Night Market is held every evening along the main drag, Sisavangvong Road, and is a highlight for shoppers and souvenir hunters. Finish the evening at one of the many cool and chic bars that have taken up residence in the old shophouses, beckoning you to pull up a seat and sip French wine. By now, you’ll no doubt be well and truly under the spell of Luang Prabang’s many charms.
A holiday or honeymoon in Luang Prabang as part of a South-East Asia itinerary is made all the more enticing with affordable new flight options directly out of Singapore and easy connections to Australia. Scoot offers a three-times-weekly, cost-friendly service from Singapore to Luang Prabang and Vientiane in Laos (now the only airline offering direct Singapore-Laos services).