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Sofitel Luang Prabang: a blend of history, Lao aesthetics and French luxury 

History and heritage buildings are the main draw when it comes to experiencing a stay in Luang Prabang

When it comes to a stay in Luang Prabang, it’s highly probable that the hotel’s buildings you rest in will have served in other capacities in a previous life. This can range from anything, between hospital, prison to royal ice-cream parlour. Given that the town of Luang Prabang was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1995, all constructions and renovations must follow strict historical guidelines established by UNESCO in order to retain the city’s well-preserved townscape. For history buffs and those who yearn for authenticity, this is the handy chance to revel in heritage-laded accommodations that possibly date back hundreds of years. 

“Luang Prabang is about traveling back in time,” says Anshul Sharma, general manager of Sofitel Luang Prabang. “The customer profile coming here is they are very sophisticated and well-traveled. What draws them to Luang Prabang is the history and heritage, which is what our hotel offers. The city is truly a hidden gem and less traveled to — this group does not want to go where millions of people are going.” 

Located twenty-minutes away by foot from the city center, Sofitel Luang Prabang is set within a French colonial fort built in 1900. Previously, this place had been a French governor’s mansion and office, as well as a prison, before restorations and renovations turned it into a hotel in 2010. The luxury boutique property rebranded into a Sofitel property in 2015 — thus becoming the smallest Sofitel in the world, with only 25 suites. 

Besides the vast amount of suite spaces starting at 55 sqm, on top of a garden with outdoor gazebo and bathtub, the hotel’s standout is clearly its authentic Lao heritage style blended with French architecture. Alongside a local team of architects led by Pascal Trahan, Thai architect Duangrit Bunnag was also responsible for injecting a new life into this walled compound. The watch towers and old teak wood houses are still intact, but the once empty courtyard in the center now showcases a landscaped tropical garden, a dazzling lotus pond and an amethyst-tiled swimming pool which was awarded “Best Pool in Laos” by Travel + Leisure Luxury Awards Asia Pacific in 2023.

This isn’t exactly the place to spot contemporary Lao artworks, as the hotel’s design language veers towards luxury heritage classic. There is a historical context to the setting, but it doesn’t feel spooky, what with the modern furnishings and little nuances of Lao culture that accent the space. Traditional textiles are used for pillowcases, while objects that represent Lao culture, from sickles, intricate porcelain to xylophones, line the walls to intrigue any curious passersby. An intermingling of French luxury and Lao culture is at work here, but there is no doubt that the architecture and luxury factor is still by far the most fascinating draw. 

For Anshul, who has worked in the hospitality business for 18 years, he is quick to pinpoint that luxury is always a high ceiling. “You cannot have a luxury feel with a 10 ft ceiling,” he explains. “This place’s architectural design is a better design that what we have now even. Modern designs are not great for absorbing humid and hot weather. Higher ceilings are crucial because hot air travels up, while wood and clay mean no heat is trapped here. Concrete is what makes rooms extremely hot. These high ceilings and clay-tiled roofs make it much better to be inside the room. What a feeling it is to be in a place over 100 years old isn’t it? People then understood the weather and design better and knew how to leverage design to counter weather.” 

One can only imagine that perhaps this prison was not the cramped horror that comes to mind at the mention of detention centers. To expand on the hotel’s history as a former prison, last December the activity “The Legend of the Lost Treasure” was launched for in-house guests. In this treasure hunt game, guests will be provided with a “prisoner’s” diary and maps to track down clues around the city, which will eventually lead them to the treasure. People can work at their own pace, although it is roughly expected to take around three hours to complete. For those looking to experience Luang Prabang beyond its most well-known monuments, this game creatively showcases the finer nuances of the city and will take you to sights from water departments to smaller, but no less beautiful temples. 

If players correctly make it to the final destination, the game does reward sweetly with a prize that ties in with the history of the locale. Without giving away too much, all we can say is it’s just grand that Sofitel has managed to fashion an experience that not only lets you see but also taste the rich history of Luang Prabang. 

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