Culture By BRAD A. JOHNSON for OLTRE Magazine

OLTRE: Adrian Zecha never fully let go of Amantaka


Open-air dining room at Amantaka


Local musicians playing the lanat and drum

The tropical climate dictates a languid pace wherever you go in Luang Prabang.

Despite the afternoon heat, the dining room at Amantaka remains an open-air affair, with the windows on all sides flung open to harness the gentle breeze that spills down from sacred Mount Phousi. Ceiling fans spin slowly overhead. Birds chirp lazily from the trees. Occasionally, you can hear a motorbike sputtering along the main road. But mostly what you hear is the live, rhythmic staccato of a lanat and drum. The old Lao instruments are hypnotic, their soothing melodies capable of moving spirits.


Amantaka spa

Or maybe it's the baci ceremony that moves the spirits. Upon arrival at Amantaka, we are treated to a centuries-old cleansing meditation led by a Buddhist scholar (retired monk), along with his entourage of local elders, who assist with the chanting and tying of the sacred threads around our wrists. Lao mythology says our bodies are made up of 32 different spirits, and sometimes they fight. The baci resets the divine order and brings good luck.

Minimalist yet sumptuous, the 24-suite Amantaka debuted 14 years ago. The resort closed for two years during the pandemic but reopened in October after a subtle refurbishment. The walled property occupies a French Colonial compound built around a central courtyard. The doors creak. The windows don't fit as snugly as they might at newer resorts around town. The foundations have settled over many decades. The old-school locks are strictly mechanical. Everything is blissfully old-fashioned but also uncompromisingly luxurious. It is the perfect embodiment of Luang Prabang.


Nam Kahn River


French Colonial compound built around a central courtyard

This is where the Mekong and Nam Kahn rivers converge. This is also the epicenter of Buddhism in Laos. There are more monks per capita here than just about anywhere else in Southeast Asia. Young monks come from all over to study. The spillover of all that peacefulness permeates every aspect of life, resulting in a warm, inviting community that feels lost in time. Note: There's a difference between "lost in time" and "stuck in the past." Luang Prabang does not feel stuck. Everywhere you look - inside the resort and around town - traditional Lao architecture blends seamlessly with European design. That proudly intertwined vernacular, cherished by locals and visitors alike, is what warranted a preservation decree from UNESCO. The entire town has been designated as a World Heritage Site.

Years ago, when Aman founder Adrian Zecha parted ways with this brand, he kept a small piece of Amantaka for himself: a family villa just outside the compound. It's not merely a keepsake. He visits Luang Prabang regularly. "He comes every single year for his birthday," says Amantaka general manager Tshewang Norbu. "He never misses it."


Internova SELECT Hotels & Resorts perks include a $100 resort credit, airport transfers, and daily breakfast for two.

This story originally appeared in the spring 2023 issue of OLTRE. If you don't already have a subscription, contact your travel advisor.

Photography by Brad A. Johnson