- Detailed Review
- Facts & Amenities
Amantaka, in the picturesque town of Luang Prabang, the former royal capital of Laos, is one of the Aman hotels and resorts group. The white-walled, green-shuttered period building retains the architecture and atmosphere of the town’s French colonial past and takes its name from the word tipitaka, meaning ‘the teaching of Buddha’.
Centrally located, with sacred Mount Phousi as a backdrop, the hotel is seconds from the bustling Unesco World Heritage Site town at the base of a small peninsula, bordering the Mekong river on one side and Nam Khan on the other. The location (only a ten-minute drive from the airport) is one of the best things about Amantaka and, together with its exquisite service, friendly staff and true Aman attention to detail, the hotel has developed a respectful relationship with the Buddhist community; by staying here you are directly supporting this.
Amantaka, comprising 24 suites (some with substantial private pools), opened in 2009 after a painstaking renovation that drew on the town’s Buddhist heritage. Luang Prabang itself is a tiny town, quiet and calm after about 9pm at night, and it is easy to wander out to visit the night market before dinner or give a bowl of sticky rice (provided by Aman) to the monks at 5.30am. Bicycles at the entrance to the hotel are available for guests to explore the local temples and amazing vantage points over the rivers. Amantaka also offers some very special activities and excursions that are unique to the hotel, including a cruise to Buddhist Pak Ou Caves on the hotel’s own custom-made boat, a morning out with the hotel’s chef to a local market, or a trip to MandaLao Elephant Sanctuary to feed and bathe the rescued elephants. Amantaka’s own motorcycle-powered tuk-tuks and private cars are on hand to take you into town and on excursions, although the hotel is within walking distance of the local boutiques, restaurants, coffee shops and bakeries. You can also shop at the Aman boutique (to the right of the hotel as you face the main entrance). It is filled with beautiful artefacts and clothing, including silk hand-woven scarves and locally made exquisite jewellery, photographs by Hans Georg Berger (also featured throughout the hotel and in all the rooms) and some interesting little books with details of local walks around the town.
If you stay at Amantaka, your visa is organised for you. You are treated as a true VIP here and are literally met off the plane, at the gate, by a smiling hotel representative holding an Aman sign, leaving everyone else wondering how you managed that! You are then escorted through immigration, helped with your bags to the hotel vehicle, which is smart and clean, and, once inside, offered fresh bottled water and a freezing-cold towel. On arrival you pass through the gate up to the hotel entrance and into a lobby that’s open to the elements, allowing the air to breeze through gently. This leads out to a library building where you can see through to a courtyard pool, manicured gardens and lawns, frangipani trees, bamboo bushes and the accommodation beyond. I was greeted by the charming General Manager, Donald Wong. Either he or a manager will sit down with each guest on arrival to discuss how they wish to fill their days. This is usually to find out if you want soft activities, more active adventure or spiritual excursions. The activities I had requested were organised before my arrival and Donald asked if I wanted to add anything, such as spa treatments or to do anything else. I was shown to my room, where my luggage was already in situ, and then guided around, which was very helpful so that I knew where everything was, including the hairdryer, converter plugs etc. Everything was perfect.
Rooms and suites
My hugely spacious suite had high ceilings and tiled flooring throughout. The minute you opened the front door you could see directly through to the garden. The entrance was a walk-through mini-lobby, with a living room to the left and the bedroom to the right, which looked directly out onto steps leading down to a 35 square metre private pool, with two sun loungers, two chairs and a table for outdoor dining.
The living area had a good-sized writing desk with two plug points and two USB points (the sockets are compatible with US, UK and European plugs), a phone, writing paper and envelopes in a drawer and a notepad and pencil. Two separate air-conditioning units (one in the bedroom, one in the office) worked well and were quiet. On the opposite side of the room to the desk there was a mini bar, stocked with Laotian beer, soft drinks including Coca-Cola, lemonade and tonic water, plus complimentary bottles of water (which are everywhere and limitless). Anything else is charged for. On top there was an ice bucket, which was constantly replenished, and a basket of local fruits including tamarind and mangoes.
The living room also had chair and a daybed with two side-tables stacked with interesting books from the library. All the highly polished teak furniture was in the same French colonial style. The chairs throughout the suite had hand-woven rattan backs, there were simple lamps and stunning black-and-white photos by Hans Georg Berger of monastic Laotian life. From the mini-lobby to the en-suite bedroom you passed through a dressing room (huge his-and-hers, free-standing wardrobes on each side) with plenty of natural daylight from the many shuttered windows that are in every suite. Each wardrobe had ample hanging space, hangers, a safe and drawers; The dressing room also leads into the bathroom. The only thing missing was a full-length mirror.
The bedroom overlooked the inner garden of the hotel. There are no views from this property except onto back terraces and the garden. The bedroom, in true Aman style, was simple, with a king-size, four-poster bed, which was extremely comfortable with beautiful linen and four plump pillows; each light switch was obvious and easy to find. There is nothing more frustrating than hotels trying to be clever with fifteen switches beside a bed to turn everything on and off — you end up switching on the TV, opening the curtains and heaven knows what else in the middle of the night when all you want to do is get a drink of water.
My bathroom was laid out in a T-shape and accessed through a dressing room and a sliding wooden door from the bedroom. There were two sinks with fantastically well-lit mirrors, which were on either side of a short series of steps to a separate loo with a door, opposite a shower room with a rainfall shower opening into an area with a free-standing bath beneath a large window. Toiletries were Aman’s own brand: gorgeous soaps, bath salts, organic shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and bath/shower gel. Cotton- wool pads and ear buds were available, and if you needed anything else, you just asked for it. The bathroom had a lit vanity/shaving mirror and good hairdryer. There were plenty of large white towels, hand towels and flannels plus lovely bathrobes and slippers.
The airy, colonial-style Lounge Bar and The Dining Room merge into one, with smaller tables dotted around the outside on the long terraces on each side of the hotel. The food is an excellent combination of French and Lao cuisine at all mealtimes. The new high tea was really exquisite with fresh spring rolls, glasses of champagne and mini lemon-meringue pies and other mouth-watering pastries.
Other dining options
You can eat outside on the pool terrace, which is casual alfresco dining for lunch, dinner and cocktails. In-suite dining is also possible, either inside or set up on your private terrace.
Spa and wellness
The spa at Amantaka is really beautiful with four large treatment rooms (each has its own private dressing area), a Jacuzzi and relaxation room. There is a sauna and steam area with hot and cold plunge pools. The fully equipped gym and yoga studio overlook the central pool. Private yoga lessons are available on request during the day. I had a massage and a facial, which were both expert and wonderful.
Pool and beach
The pool at Amantaka is a main feature of the gardens and is flanked by the spa on one side and the gym/yoga room on the other. It is a large, rectangular, beautiful pool with plenty of sun loungers and umbrellas around it for relaxing during the day. Perfect if you like to swim lengths.
There are plenty of activities, which the hotel is delighted to organise for families and children. There is not a kids’ club as such but children are very welcome. The hotel will provide cots and extra beds for those under 12 years old, and if you take a suite with a private pool this is an added bonus for kids. Children’s menus are available in the restaurant.
Staff and service
Service is faultless and divine staff glide around the hotel, politely greeting you, never intrusive, always respectful. Service is expert and seamless. The Laotians are gentle and kind, you are always greeted with a bow and a smile. If you leave your room for a couple of hours, you can be sure that when you return, everything will be as if the room has just been cleaned again. Towels are replaced, beds remade if you have had a nap, laundry will be taken to be cleaned (and no filling out forms). It’s as if a fairy godmother has cast a wand over your room. No signing bills, no tipping (this is done at the end if you wish to leave a tip to be divided between all staff) — it all runs smoothly and is slick and professional.
Elegant English and French couples seemed to be the order of the day during my stay. The hotel attracts all kinds, though, including families as Amantaka’s activities are so diverse and there is something for everyone.
I checked out at the reception desk, and by the time I had paid my bill, which only took minutes, my luggage had been collected, without asking, and placed in the car to go the airport.
How to get there
15 minutes by road transfer from Luang Prabang Airport