Re­cu­per­a­tion by the river

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN MUR­PHY

Miss Noy wel­comes us to the River­side Bou­tique Re­sort as though she’s been wait­ing ea­gerly for us to ar­rive and is de­lighted to see us.

Perched on the banks of the Nam Song River in the town of Vang Vieng in cen­tral Laos, the ho­tel is four to five hours by road from Vi­en­tiane in the south, from where we have come, and four to six hours from Luang Pra­bang in the north, in the di­rec­tion we will be head­ing.

Per­haps Miss Noy beams at all tired trav­ellers be­cause she knows that in min­utes they’ll be cap­ti­vated by the ho­tel and its sur­rounds, and the mem­ory of long jour­neys soon forgotten.

Two-storey build­ings with white walls and thatched roofs sit in a U-shaped ar­range­ment fac­ing the river, wrapped around a turquoise pool neatly bor­dered by sun lounges and um­brel­las. On the other side of the river jagged lime­stone karsts rise above skeins of mist, bathed in sun­light. The river flows at a lan­guid pace and so does ev­ery­day life; a man washes his mo­tor­bike in the shal­lows, a group of boys play un­der a tres­tle bridge that rat­tles when cars pass over.

Cush­ioned chairs line the ho­tel’s river­side bound­ary in the shade of a large tree strung with lanterns; it’s the per­fect place to loll for a pre-din­ner drink and a prime po­si­tion to ap­pre­ci­ate the view.

The styles and crafts of Laos’s main eth­nic groups fea­ture in the in­te­rior de­signs of 36 gue­strooms. Ours is gen­er­ously and dis­tinctly Hmong with indigo and ma­roon cush­ions, bed throws and trim, all con­trast­ing with white bed linen and cur­tains. Walls are hung with pen­cil draw­ings of vil­lage scenes by a lo­cal artist. Fur­nish­ings are a com­bi­na­tion of rat­tan and bamboo, stand­ing on a cool floor of ter­ra­cotta tiles.

Our bal­cony, com­plete with low-slung wooden arm­chairs, takes in a sweep­ing view of the pool, the river and moun­tains. High qual­ity eth­nic tex­tiles, tra­di­tional dress, cush­ions, bed throws and purses can be pur­chased from the ho­tel gift shop.

Vang Vieng earned its place on the tourist trail as the “tub­ing cap­i­tal of the world”. Hordes of back­pack­ers ar­rived to in­dulge in opium-laced pizza, al­co­hol in buck­ets and tub­ing on the river. In 2012, fol­low­ing dozens of drown­ings, the gov­ern­ment closed down the bars along the river tube-route, putting an end to the boom and many busi­nesses. The town has rein­vented it­self to ap­peal to more than young back­pack­ers. Tub­ing on the

CHECK­LIST

River­side Bou­tique Re­sort Vang Vieng, Vi­en­tiane Prov­ince; + 856 23 51 17 26; river­side­vangvieng.com.

TAR­IFF

From about $150 for a deluxe room to $266 for a river­side suite with wrap­around bal­cony; all rates in­clude break­fast.

GET­TING THERE

Take a car and driver or mini bus from Luang Pra­bang (up to six hours) or Vi­en­tiane (up to five hours).

CHECK­ING IN

Mix of fam­i­lies and cou­ples, in­clud­ing ex­pats.

WHEEL­CHAIR AC­CESS

Yes, to re­cep­tion leisure fa­cil­i­ties; ground-floor rooms.

river is still avail­able sans al­co­hol, and more whole­some ac­tiv­i­ties such as rock-climb­ing, cav­ing, cy­cling, kayak­ing and hot-air bal­loon­ing have de­vel­oped.

There are no drug-laced dishes on the menu at the ho­tel’s Restau­rant du Crabe d’Or, named af­ter a se­ries of caves. The restau­rant serves lunch and din­ner down­stairs, in­side or on a pa­tio, and break­fast up­stairs in a large room with lac­quered bas­ket­ware on dis­play. We have lunch and din­ner (Lao or French dishes) on the pa­tio, ser­e­naded by ci­cadas and frogs. The young wait­ers are ex-

BRICKBATS

The cold and sod­den deep-fried chips added to our take­away lunch bags.

BOU­QUETS

Gi­ant jars of home­made jam in flavours such as mul­berry, pineap­ple, mango and pas­sion­fruit are a wel­come change from the pro­cessed sa­chets of jam we en­counter else­where in Laos.

cep­tion­ally help­ful, wear­ing touches of hand­wo­ven trim on their uni­forms in the same colour scheme as our room. The food is ex­cel­lent and I can’t re­sist the gen­er­ous pud­dle of sweet sauce on the creme caramel, so I or­der it twice in one day.

We are sorry to leave the River­side Bou­tique Ho­tel and to say good­bye to Miss Noy. She checks us out as cheer­ily as she checked us in, hands over two packed lunches of club sand­wiches and crunchy red ap­ples and waves us mer­rily on our way.

Pool with a view at River­side Bou­tique Re­sort

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