Built as a residence for a branch of the Lao royal family in the late 1900s, Satri House was once the childhood home of Prince Souphanouvong. Once again it is fit for the aristocracy after an extensive renovation. The original house is the centrepiece of masterful design, somehow managing to be intimate and homely yet striking and grand all at once. This is a glorious tribute to a bygone era.
Get this when you book through us:
A 60-minute Indochina massage for two in Satri House Spa
31, including seven Junior Suites and three Satri House Suites.
Noon, but flexible. Late check-outs charged a half-day rate. Check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £195.70 ($255), including tax at 20 per cent.
Rates include breakfast.
Bikes are available to borrow, but you can't book in advance; pick them up at the front desk when you wish to use them. A times, there may be music playing in the neighbouring market (especially during the festive season).
At the hotel
Free WiFi in the lobby, bar and by the pool, library, gardens, spa. In rooms: flatscreen TV on request, minibar, local-brand toiletries.
Our favourite rooms
Book 222 has an inviting terrace with views over the garden and pool. An equally panoramic vista over the pool and spa is on offer in 523, but it also has his ‘n’ hers sinks. Feeling flush? Satri House Suite 422 promises seclusion and its own lounge bedecked with antiquities. Every room boasts four-poster beds, retro phones and wooden furnishings from an era when quality meant more than quantity.
In a stroke of inspired indulgence, there are two pools to recline beside. The main pool sits in the shade of the original royal house. The new pool is below, near the spa complex (which boasts high-ceilinged treatment rooms).
The serene spa has high-ceilinged treatment rooms arranged around a lily-filled pond, a large Jacuzzi, a plunge pool and an herbal steam room. Choose from a classic range of massages, body scrubs and facial treatments.
The Red Prince once lived here, so swot up on some of Laos’ turbulent history in the 20th century. Pick up A History of Laos by Martin Stuart-Fox and revel in your surrounds.
Peruse the elegant lobby while awaiting your welcome drink: built for a branch of the Lao royal family, this is a place of refined taste, replete with antiques and regional handicrafts.
Welcome: cots are free for infants and extra beds cost US$30 a night for under-12s.
Hold court on the balcony facing the spa pool – at night, when the low lights illuminate the grand buildings, it’s the epitome of atmospheric. Alternatively, romance it up in the private pavilion overlooking the lotus pond.
Regal, as Satri House was once fit for a prince. Or revolutionary (Marx & Spencer will do at a pinch, but Soviet is hipper) if that’s easier – Souphanouvong was the Red Prince after all.
Satri House Restaurant is the place to sample a symphony of Lao and Thai spices. Try sa pa, a do-it-yourself fish wrap with banana flower.
Satri Bar is open from 11am–11pm, but the bartenders will keep the drinks flowing if you have the legs.
The restaurant is open until 10pm. Slow out of the blocks in the morning? Lucky for you, brekkie is served until noon.
Available 24 hours, but with a more limited menu of Lao classics and western snacks.
Satri House is tucked away in pretty Ban That Luang district, just a five-minute stroll from Luang Prabang's Old Town.
Fly into Luang Prabang International Airport (www.luangprabangairport.com), about five kilometres (or a 10-minute drive) from the hotel. Connecting flights from capital Vientiane take about 40 minutes. Taxis are available at the airport for US$6 (50,000 kip).
Self-drive is not currently possible in Laos. Chartering a chauffered car from Vientiane via mountain-fringed marvel Vang Vieng is an option if you’ve got plenty of time – the drive takes about 11 hours.
Slow boats connect border town Huay Xai in northern Thailand with Luang Prabang. Luang Say Mekong Cruises (www.luangsay.com) is the most sophisticated option, but it takes two days with an overnight stay in Pak Beng.
Worth getting out of bed for
Inspired by the subtle silks of Satri House? Release your inner weaver in a weaving class at the Living Crafts Centre in Ock Pop Tok. Learn about natural dyes, weave a scarf or try making silk. Come on, Mr Smith, get with the programme – you can always fashion a tie. The hotel has its own boat for lazy meanderings along the Mekong; join for a sunset cruise or hire out for a romantic private ride. Spend a while in the lemongrass-scented spa, with a soak in the Jacuzzi, or drift along in the emerald-hued pool. There are dozens of gilt-trimmed temples to stop into; Wat Xieng Thong is a stand-out, with its intricate paintings and dramatically vaulted roofs. To see the community's faith in action, wake before sunrise to catch the daily almsgiving ceremony, when Bhuddist monks collect donations of sticky rice from residents.
Glide effortlessly from your regal surrounds to aristo Lao cuisine at L’Elephant, considered one of the top tables in town by those in the know. The restaurant at The Apsara comes highly recommended for its upmarket take on Lao cuisine, such as the fried panin fish stuffed with lemongrass for two.
Satri House owner Lamphoune Voravongsa never stands still and her empire includes several shops in Dala Market. Browse the baubles before settling down at for a cup of Laotian java at Chillout Coffee (+856 71 261 006; Dala Market).
Keep it in the family with a trip to Satri Lounge (+856 71 252 322), very much a grown-up bar in a town full of flashpacker pubs and backpacker dives.
In the fading heat of the afternoon, we arrive at Satri House. A languid boules game is in progress opposite, and the rack of antique black bikes outside suggests the day’s exertions are largely over for the rest of the guests. From the street, the property is modest and unshowy. It’s a smart, daffodil-yellow colonial house that looks more civil service bridge club than mini royal palace, although we learn later that it was built somewhere at the beginning of the 20th century (no one really seems able to pinpoint a date) for a minor Laotian prince.
Once inside, a generous and more traditional complex opens up, with different buildings creating a series of courtyards and gardens, beautifully manicured and scattered unobtrusively with tables and chairs or sunloungers – several of which we trial over the course of our stay, books and lop-sidedly mixed G&Ts in tow. Our room, though – all creaky polished wood floors, ‘ethnic’ sepia photographs, billowing mozzie nets and signature silk soft furnishings – is at the front of the original house on the street. It’s not the biggest room in the hotel, but it has an intimate, deeply sexy charm. From the broad balcony I watch the boules game below. Is that money I see changing hands? There’s clearly a book running; it’s a distinctly Asian version of French post-colonialism, after all.
Dinner is equally Indochine. Old friends also in town join us at our candlelit table by the pool to share a wonderfully eclectic mix of bean-sprouty spring rolls, spicy fish curry and soft, I’d-swear-they’re-from-the-Rue-de-Buci baguettes.
Something happens in the balmy hill station air; we get to reminiscing and before we know it we’ve retired into the genteel deco drawing room and are swilling cognac in big glasses and taking up smoking again. Mr Smith looks so handsome with a cigarette. We are almost inspired to wire in a story on communist insurgents and return to our rooms to finish our novels to the smell of burning mosquito coils.
A leisurely two-wheeled excursion around town the next morning does little to shake our Graham Greene-ish torpor. There’s something about a wicker basket that makes you pedal slower, too. Desultory temple-touring ensues – they are strangely exquisite, low-eaved, jauntily painted things – with frequent stops on either side of the long, finger-like promontory that constitutes downtown Luang Prabang to gaze out over the two rivers that frame it. Both are dry and low, with the Mekong narrowed at points by sandbanks. But its grandeur is unmistakable – in full flood it must be both monumentally awe-inspiring and completely terrifying. Later, we catch a boat and follow a series of bamboo walkways to the other side and explore more temples, almost alone. At one temple, three children point to a fissure in the rocky hillside and lead us in pitch darkness down a hundred steps to a forlorn cave full of broken Buddhas. At another, a barefoot monk with an Elvis Presley hairdo strums an out-of-tune guitar. Everyone, including us, is on the verge of sleep, even the boy collecting a toll at one of the bridges. We tiptoe past guiltily.
Heartily pleased with ourselves after our day of high culture, we return to the petit palais for a nap of our own, first by the pool, then, after a cooling shower, in the four-poster privacy of our room. At this point, Mr Smith gets it into his head to check his email. Now, the internet has certainly made it to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, but only on its own terms. That extends to intermittent wireless broadcast to the front rooms of Satri House. A person in Armani-like silk trousers is summoned to no avail. The manager is called and there appears a short, athletic Frenchwoman with a severe haircut and more evidence of the faint echoes of Gallic imperialism. She is at a loss to explain the lack of a signal. ‘Well, it works for me,’ she offers, with that shrug that French children must be taught in Grade One.
Mr Smith is mildly outraged – he is prone to mounting the high horse of moral dudgeon – but I find it rather endearing. Don’t we require the French to be nonchalant? And who on earth needs broadband in heaven anyway?
So heaven is what we give ourselves over to – up at the crack of dawn the next morning to witness the famous alms-giving ceremony, into the jungle during the day to swim in cascading waterfalls, and back at night eating Luang Prabang sausage on the banks of the Mekong. This town weaves a special spell – laid-back backwater and place of pilgrimage, exotically foreign and strangely familiar, simple, sophisticated, rustic, refined – and there’s no better vantage point to enjoy it than from that balcony outside Room No. 1 at Satri House.
The boules game is still happening when it’s finally time to leave. I know I’ll be back and, if they’re still at it, I’ll wander over and put down my own stake on the little card table on the gravel – and then I’ll never go home again.