RENOWNED hotelier and founder of Aman resorts Adrian Zecha has turned his attention to a place that reminds him of the Indonesian island of Java, the land of his birth.
It is Luang Prabang, the royal capital and seat of government of the landlocked Southeast Asian nation of Laos until the communist take over in 1975.
Zecha chose the UNESCO world heritage site in the heart of the city as his first hotel property under his Azerai Hotels venture.
This is a new brand that says it represents “a contemporary interpretation of a simple and elegant dwelling for today’s urbane travelers looking for distinction, quality and comfort at affordable prices.”
In the heart of the spiritual township, Azerai aims to respect the rich history of the ground and the long story of the building.
The structure was first used as a French officers’ quarters and later by the Lao government.
It opened as the Phousi Hotel in 1961 and was considered the town’s leading hotel for almost a decade.
The Phousi closed in 2014 and Azerai began a new chapter the following year, careful to respect UNESCO guidelines.
UNESCO requires new designs blend harmoniously with the surrounding landscape.
The regulations did allow new structures on the corer of the site at the intersection of Chao Fa Ngum and Kitsalat roads, Azerai decided against that and also set the fence back from the street to respect the openness of the area.
The new hotel opened last month.
The name is influenced by the 16th Century Persian word caravanserai, a resting place for travelers around a central courtyard.
So the hotel has been designed around a central garden with a 25-meter pool as the center point, shaded by a banyan tree more than 120 years old and flanked by daybeds and loungers.
“Simplicity and elegance is the main design concept all over the property,” says architect Pascal Trahan.
“The hotel reflects the city and its inhabitants. Even though Luang Prabang was a royal capital in the past, it was never ‘overdone.’
“If you take time to wander off the main street, you would see that the architecture, the streets, side streets and alleys are on a comfortable human scale, offering tranquility in surroundings that are simple but very elegant. “This is reflected also within the community. They all give you a sense of security and serenity. Some say that even the Mekong River is slowing down when passing in front of the city to observe the unique slow pace of life found there.”
With its prime location, Trahan said it was challenging to build the largest hotel in terms of capacity in the historic center of town, while considering the limited impact on the streetscape.
The architect looked for references in town and found most similar scale buildings were mainly from the colonial era.
Trahan considers the balconies an essential part of the Lao lifestyle.
“No property in town could sell an immersion in the life of Luang Prabang without them,” he says.
Some will say that there is not much to do in Luang Prabang. Perhaps it is true.
“But that said, this is probably the best place in the world where doing nothing feels so good and, again, you need the verandas to do just that.”