Duangrit Bunnag has converted and extended a derelict governor’s mansion to create an all- suite sanctuary for KS Hotels & Resorts, in the former capital of Laos.
Located just 5 minutes from the central area of town and a 15 minute drive from the airport, Hotel de la Paix Luang Prabang is situated in a peaceful residential area.
It may come as a shock that small and sleepy Luang Prabang, idling by the mountain-fringed Mekong River, boasts more inspiring boutique hotels than many a world city. The once isolated former royal capital of Laos blends Buddhist history with French colonial charm, and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. Currently turning heads is Hotel de la Paix Luang Prabang, launched in October 2010, a seductive all-suite sanctuary that marries historic buildings and contemporary additions with understated Lao style.
Developed by Thai firm KS Resort & Spa, the hotel is independently managed and the project was driven by Thai talent Duangrit Bunnag, with support from locally-based French-Canadian architect Pascal Trahan.
Converted from a derelict governor’s mansion built around 1910, Hotel de la Paix Luang Prabang has also served time as a detention centre and traces of its prison past remain from imposing walls to dramatic watchtowers. “You’ll see steel bars on the reception and boutique windows, but not in bedrooms, and we turned the two watchtowers into a special private dining experience,” explains Duangrit. “We wanted guests to learn about the hotel’s history, but also enjoy it as something new.
”Set in the quiet Ban Mano residential quarter yet near the heart of the old town, Hotel de la Paix Luang Prabang hides its charms behind high, white compound walls. Once through the impressive original gateway, the hotel’s elegant, dean-lined, tiled-roof suites are arranged around a large central courtyard, with an open-air swimming pool and reflection pool. A landscaped garden, conserved trees, lounging areas and a sandy firepit dot the public space
At the far end, informal, low-lit lounge bar-come-library Sabai beckons. Beyond, in a smaller upper courtyard, Kaipen restaurant perches above open-air Katoke cooking school opposite Spa Indochine. Built new from the ground up, it’s a faithful replica of a Lao village, with three two- storey traditional wooden houses on stilts. Inspired by its Luang Prabang location, “it brings the context of the city into the hotel,” says Duangrit.
Although his brief was fairly open, “the main challenge was working within strict conservation guidelines in a city which must be preserved,” recalls Duangrit. “But at the same time, we had to create a hotel that people want to experience. It needed to be aesthetically coherent but also to stand out.” The team spent a year designing the hotel, over six months getting planning permission, and then a year and a half building it. In depth studies of Lao architecture were a
key jumping-off point; “not to copy it, but to really articulate a new vocabulary that could marry the existing former colonial structures on site with coherent new spaces.”
It’s almost impossible to spot the difference between the seven renovated original buildings, and the eight seamless new structures, built to blend in.
The 23 spacious suites are soothing, with lofty ceilings, accentuated by full-length curtains, shuttered windows and whirring fans. Beds are swathed in dreamy white netting (modeled on a royal bed), traditional Lao dark-wood furniture is given a contemporary edge and the muted natural palette is sophisticated (think pale walls and grey concrete tiles). The only hit of colour
comes care of vibrant textile ‘do not disturb’ door-hangings, hand-made by hill tribes, and signature striped fabric headboard wall coverings, a modern mix of cream, red, deep blue and rust-brown. “We took the average pigment from hundreds of photos of the city to create the fabric’s key tones,” says Duangrit. “Rather than just use images or old pictures, we wanted to create the same effect in a more abstract, artistic way.”
The result is a subtle yet seductive sense of place. “You know you are in Luang Prabang, and feel the spirit of the city, but there’s a clean-lined purity too. We tried to capture the simplicity of the way Lao people live. The spaces aren’t ornamental and ethnic, but nor are they ultra- modern either.
”Bathrooms up the luxe factor, with deep, sinuous white baths, rain showers and double basins, with some floor-set tubs spilling into sheltered areas outside. All rooms offer private courtyards and the four stand-out corner Pool Suites feature large private lap pools. Two Pool Suites also sport their own watchtowers, offering romantic views of distant mountains, the perfect spot for cocktails or dinner a deux. The top-category Governor’s Suite boasts a larger living room, separate dressing room and fireplace.
Tech comforts, such as free WiFi, abound, but it’s the sensual eastern touches that up the pampering ante, from a delicate white ceramic cup of herbal tea to a white flower left on the bed at turndown.
On the food front, Kaipen, named after an edible river weed, serves seasonal, local Lao and international cuisine in a sleek wood-lined space.
Just as rooms embrace the outdoors, guests can too, with a range of activities available though the hotel’s Leisure Concierge, connecting them with the community.
Cooking school adventures take in produce street markets, or you can bike through local villages, dye your own silk scarf or tour the peninsula’s 30-odd temples. Trips to see the saffron- robed monks requesting alms at dawn or to the local night market are also just a bike ride away.
Free push bikes are just one of the hotel’s eco-friendly features, as are cars for airport transfers. Along with energy-efficient air conditioning, Duangrit relied on locally made materials often produced on site, with much of the building work constructed by hand using low-tech green tools. For Duangrit Bunnag, though, this project marks a departure from his previous contemporary hotel outings, where more relentless modernism ruled. “In this hotel we tried to explore another topology of how to be modern and that was very exciting.”
The interior design concept was meant to be a kiss of modern mind to the ancient history of the city. A wall fabric pattern, of which the colours were taken of the hue in the city, stated the domination of the colour scheme for the guest rooms. This provides an indirect interpretation of locality within the atmosphere.
The floor tiles are dark concrete blocks made within the site using the techniques of local expertise. The choice of materials also values the sustainability aspect to the less mobility of the material. Furniture and equipments were undertaken with the spirit of the past. The design for the bed was inspired by the Queen’s bed from the city’s museum and the decoration has been kept minimal for the philosophy of modest spirit of Luang Prabang.
The Hotel de la Paix is an intimate resort with just 23 luxury suites, each with unique design features and interiors designed to soothe the senses.
Traditional Lao accents complement the modern style palette, reflecting the destination in a supremely relaxing environment.
Indulge in the comfort of large, soft-cushioned sofas and lounge chairs, luxurious bed linens, bathrooms with rain showers and feature bathtubs. Add to these the latest music and movie technologies including HD Flatscreen TV, DVD player, iPod and WiFi for your in-suite entertainment.
All stays at Hotel de la Paix include complimentary airport transfers, complimentary breakfasts, complimentary mini-bar (replenished daily) and complimentary WiFi throughout the resort.
Most suites also feature an optional outdoor bathtub and rain shower. By “optional”, we mean that you can choose to have this facility completely closed off, or opened up to your enclosed private garden. Sliding wooden doors enable you to quickly make this adjustment to suit your taste.
Each suite includes a large private external patio and garden and larger suites indulge guests in even more generous living space, separate bathrooms and extensive gardens with outdoor furniture for private dining under the stars. In addition, – four corner suites include a large private pool and two of which, features the iconic watch towers, original architectural features of this heritage property offering fantastic views over the vista of Luang Prabang.
At Hotel de la Paix, our main dining outlet is the terrace area of our Sabai lounge where we serve all-day dining with an emphasis on the authentic flavours of the region that make Luang Prabang one of the most creative food destinations in Asia.
By prior arrangement, and in the cool seasons, we serve the same cuisine, as Sabai, in The Kaipen Restaurant at Ban Silapa, which is located in the new Lao wing to the rear of the hotel.
Kaipen Restaurant is located in a traditional two-storey Lao-style house, above the Ka-toke Asian Cooking School. As part of our exciting cultural centre, the fine dining restaurant serves up an exciting variety of tasty sensations prepared using only the freshest local ingredients offering views over a garden courtyard and the resort’s own organic garden
LES 3 NAGAS
Hôtel de la Paix offers dining options on-site and also at its sister hotel 3 Nagas, which is located just 5 minutes drive from the hotel.
The authentic Laotian cuisine, of Les 3 Nagas restaurant, has been hailed far and wide. It is listed in international publications, e.g. The New York Times Travel guide (nytimes.com), Condé Nast Traveller (cntraveller.com), and Fodor’s Travel Intelligence (fodors.com) to name but a few. Les 3 Nagas serves sumptuous lunches and dinners. No visit to Luang Prabang would be complete without at least one dining excursion to this famous dining outlet.
Project name: Hotel de la Paix
Location: Luang Prabang, Laos
Type: Hotel, Hotel Interior, Interior Award
Rooms: 23 luxury suites
Visit Hotel de la Paix, Luang Prabang’s Website:here
- WAN Winner of the year interior + Design Awards 2011
Client / Owner / Developer: Hotel de la Paix
Architects & Interior Designer: Duangrit Bunnag Architect
Text Description: © Courtesy of Duangrit Bunnag Architect, Hotel de la Paix
Images: © Claudio Cerquetti and Steve Saba