The Apsara

Luang Prabang & North, Laos Book from US$65

Reviewed by Tom Bell
Colourful interiors and super-stylish rooms make this easy-going hotel on the Nam Khan river the hottest ticket in town
This former rice warehouse that stands on the banks of the Nam Khan river has been beautifully transformed into a cool little restaurant-with-rooms, just one block down from Luang Prabang's main street. First and foremost, it's an absolute steal, whose remarkable prices and vibrant interiors make it hard to resist. However, this is not an uncommon conclusion to reach and the Apsara gets busy weeks in advance, so either book early or treat yourself to owner Ivan’s other venture - The Apsara Rive Droite on the far side of the river, which has a swimming pool shaded by palm trees and a boatman to ferry you across for supper.

Restaurant, bar and salon all come as one; a large open-plan room that opens onto a shaded roadside terrace and which overflows with colour and style: silk lanterns hang from the ceiling, leather stools wait at the bar and seriously good food steams out of the kitchen. The 13 rooms come in a simple, intoxicating colonial style with high ceilings, shuttered windows, fabulous beds and doors onto a terrace. The Mekong is just around the corner, so hire a boat and explore; caves, waterfalls and temples await.

Highs

  • You’re on a quiet road overlooking the river, but you’re close to the action, too
  • Warm, colourful stylish interiors make this the coolest place in town
  • We loved the airy upstairs bedrooms with views of river and street from small balconies
  • Incredibly friendly and helpful staff
  • Exceptional Laotian cuisine for lunch and dinner, plus a substantial breakfast

Lows

  • No TVs or CD or DVD players but there is Wi-Fi access
  • The rooms are popular and book up early; last-minute high-season enquiries are likely to end in failure - book as early as you can
  • Street-facing rooms suffer from the noise of passing traffic and ground-floor rooms are much less private
  • We've had reports that water pressure and temperature can sometime be a little touch-and-go
  • The hotel lacks a pool

Best time to go

November to mid February is the 'cool' season - dry and quite warm, making this a great time to come. Mid February to May is the hot season and out in the rice fields the lushness disappears, but 85% of Laos is forested mountain, so it's still green. In March and April, smoke from agricultural fires can be a nuisance. The rainy season is May to late October; hot, humid and wet; but Luang Prabang gets much less rain than Vientiane.

Our top tips

Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason: this sleepy city on the banks of the Mekong is one of the loveliest in Asia. It is a perfect spot to while away a quiet week and has enough lovely diversions to fill many a morning.

Great for...

Cheap & Chic
Eco
Foodie
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 13
  • Restaurant + bar (open daily)
  • All ages welcome (restricted to downstairs rooms)
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Bicycles Available
Room:

Rooms

This is a gorgeous little place and the rooms don’t let it down. There are 2 houses, both over 2 floors. Superiors are in the main house, while Standards are found in a building 2 doors down the street (just as lovely). We had a first-floor Standard with a small balcony and loved it. The main difference between the 2 types is this: Superior rooms are a little bigger, have deep baths (not just showers) and come with a daybed. But that’s about it. Go for the first-floor rooms and you get more light and have better views. However, if you can’t get one, book whatever is available - you don’t slum it in the ground-floor rooms, which open onto shaded terraces.

First-floor rooms open onto a small balcony, which is, in effect, communal, but strategically-place potted palms add privacy. Ground-floor rooms open onto a terraced sitting area that does very much the same thing. Views across the quiet road shoot over the river to its far bank, where locals grow vegetables neatly in the sun.

Décor is similar throughout: all rooms come with off-white walls, shuttered windows and big comfy beds. A chic colonial simplicity infuses every corner. First-floor rooms have varnished floorboards; ground-floor rooms come with coloured cement floors. Expect crisp white linen, local art and silky voile curtains. Colour comes from cushions and throws, even glass Buddha statues, and each room combines 2 colours to great effect: red and green; blue and orange, gold and lime. All have airy high ceilings.

Lovely bathrooms have enormous walk-in deluge showers. Superior rooms also have a bath; in first-floor rooms, it stands behind a screen in the bedroom.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Fan
  • Hairdryer
  • Phone
  • Safe box
  • Terrace/balcony
  • Toiletries
  • WiFi
  • Wifi internet

Eating

Breakfast is served from 7am until lunch. It is brought to your table by a waiter; there is no buffet here! It is relatively simple: freshly-squeezed orange juice, freshly-cut fruit, a bowl of toasted baguette with delicious home-made jam (flavours vary from day-to-day, we had pineapple!) and a choice of hot dishes if you fancy one including eggs any way; there’s strong coffee and a selection of posh teas, too.

The Apsara’s restaurant is one of the best in town, so make sure you eat here at least once. It’s open-plan and very colourful, with lime-green lanterns scattered around the floor and Chinese inscriptions hanging on the walls. A light lunch menu offers carrot and coconut soup, watercress salad Lao-style, a BLT baguette, steak frites, buffalo sausages and caramelised onion tart.

Dinner brings a slightly grander, more Laotian menu. Try spicy prawns and a green papaya salad, stir-fried quail with shallots and garlic, tagine of young goat with a citrus-fruit salsa, then polish things off with bananas flambéd in rum or a dollop of honey and ginger ice cream.

Luang Prabang has some of the best food in Indochina, with a clutch of fabulous cafés and restaurants from which to choose; the streets at night are alive with tourists and locals.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Cooking classes
  • Restaurant
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Take a boat 25 km up the Mekong to the Pak Ou Caves. You’ll find Buddha statues jostling for space and the cruise up the river is spectacular
  • Drive or cycle up to Kuang Si waterfalls and check out its impressive 150m drop that tumbles from the sky over four ledges (at its best in November-January, after the rains); there are swimming holes downstream, but remember that Laotians bathe fully clothed. The journey south through the countryside is equally enjoyable
  • Don’t miss the Royal Palace (not that you can, it’s in the middle of town). An hour here is well spent; outlandish interiors with fine murals and interesting curios
  • Phu Si, the temple on top of the only hill in town: come up for sunset and meet every other tourist in town. Tacky - well, yes, a little, but the views of forest and the Mekong are great, and you can see the wood smoke settling above the tree-line at dusk, one of the loveliest sights we saw in Laos
  • Play pétanque by the banks of the river. Luang Prabangers seem to love this game and there are pitches all over the place
  • Check out the markets: Phu Si market, away from the old town, is where locals do their shopping. The night market sprawls through the side streets around the Royal Palace and its pretty lights make it a lovely evening stroll
  • Luang Prabang bristles with ad hoc massage and spa places, mostly on Sisavangvong Road; the aromatherapy massage at the Spa Garden on Ban Phonheauang is recommended
  • And there are several cookery schools, among them Tum Tum Cheng on Sakkaline, just around the corner from The Apsara

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Cooking classes
  • Cycling
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Kayaking
  • Shopping / markets
  • Traditional cultures

Kids

As the hotel hopes that its guest will have a tranquil stay, families with young children (12 and under) are restricted to the ground floor. Under 12s go free (maximum of 1 child per room).

Family friendly accommodation:

The 2 Superiors on the ground floor are the only option for families with young kids; both have single daybeds which can be made up as an extra bed or can fit a baby cot. Superiors on the first floor and fit 1 teen in their daybed.

Babysitting:

Babysitting available by arrangement

Baby equipment:

Baby cots available on request

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
9/
Food
10/
Service
9/
Value
9/
Overall

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