Eco Getaways in Laos
Set amid unspoiled scenery, these three lodges give back to the communities they’re in. By JANET FORMAN
Published on Apr 2, 2010
+ KINGFISHER ECOLODGE
The Lodge Located on the edge of the Xe Pian protected area in the southern province of Champasak, this 7-hectare property features comforts that belie its strict eco standards. The six stilted bamboo bungalows are outfitted with room-sized glass-walled showers, from which guests can enjoy expansive views. For more budget-conscious travelers, the lodge also has four spotless rooms with shared bathrooms. The restaurant turns out a pleasantly surprising mix of local dishes, such as a green papaya salad, and homey favorites from owner Massimo Mera’s native Italy (think handmade tagliatelle with ragù) as well as high-octane espresso pressed from Laos-cultivated beans.
Eco Points To minimize their carbon footprint, Mera and his wife Bangon have installed solar panels to heat water and power the lights. The bungalows and rooms were also designed using traditional building methods and materials. In addition, the couple works closely with the residents of the neighboring village of Khiet Ngong, which has a long tradition of using elephants to help with heavy work in the fields and forests. The elephants and their mahouts now work with the lodge to ferry guests to nearby Wat Phu Asa or on jungle treks. A portion of the proceeds from the lodge’s activities is donated to the local primary school. There’s plenty to cheer about at the restaurant, too. The menu features dishes with organic ingredients and items such as homemade cake with wild honey from Lao Farmers Products, an organization that promotes artisanal foods.
T+L Tip Wake up around dawn for a memorable sight: the mahouts readying their elephants for the day’s treks.
Ban Kiet Ngong, +856 30 534 5016, www.kingfisherecolodge.com
+ LA FOLIE
The Lodge Lao design mingles with a touch of the Riviera at this 24-room boutique hotel on Dong Daeng Island, an hour’s journey south of Pakse, with French market umbrellas shading the infinity pool and stone elephants gazing up at vintage absinthe posters in the open-air restaurant. Inside the 12 peaked-roof wooden cottages, hand-woven silk tapestries are draped across the beds’ creamy linens. The menu exhibits a similar Lao–French blend: Lao classics like minty fish laab (toned down for a Continental palate) share space on the bill of fare with French mainstays such as oeufs en cocotte and homemade bread.
Eco Points Most of the staff are from the surrounding areas, and general manager Axel Wolkenhauer has taken pains to train employees in white-glove service. The artwork that graces the hotel’s walls and grounds was created in neighboring villages.
T+L Tip A 30-minute raft and tuk tuk journey across the Mekong is the UNESCO World Heritage Khmer temple complex Wat Phu, where a challenging climb reveals sprawling views that are nearly as rewarding as watching the sun set from a wicker armchair at La Folie with a perfectly poured Ricard.
Dong Daeng, Pathoumphone district, +856 30 534 7603 or 856 205 532 004, www.lafolie-laos.com
+ RIVERTIME ECOLODGE
The Lodge About 45 minutes outside of Vientiane, this bend in the Nam Ngum River is so ravishing it “called out to be shared,” says British expat Philip Gibson, who left his long-time academic post at a nearby agricultural college to build 12 balconied cottages on a crest above its banks. After erecting chalets in a ragged formation to preserve the surrounding forest, he cut a nature trail through the bamboo stands and agar trees so visitors could inhale the local eucalyptus and marvel at tiny indigenous pineapple plants. Gibson and his wife Chanthone are equally passionate about local ingredients, and established two eateries on the property: the Floating Restaurant, where freshly caught barbecued fish comes with bountiful platters of lettuce, peanuts, ginger and noodles, and the Thai Garden Restaurant, whose ingredients are plucked from the adjacent organic garden.
Eco Points On the resort grounds is the Rivertime Community School, which holds courses on agriculture and community development for adults as well as evening English classes for Hmong villagers. The resort is also working with villagers to protect part of an old-growth forest from illegal loggers and poachers.
T+L Tip Guests are welcomed at the community school, or they can visit the local primary schools where Rivertime lends a hand.
Ban Thadokkham, +856 205 513 672, www.rivertimelaos.com