The Lao Hotel Alliance (LHA) launched its initiative with a FAM trip in northern Laos to showcase four member hotels and a cruise line, while establishing a label of excellence for mid-range luxury hospitality at selected locations. Some 45 global travel agents embarked on the excursion from 9-17 June.
The LHA’s FAM trip kicks off in Huay Xay.
LHA hotels are located in unique settings, meet international service standards, and open the door to a range of cultural and heritage attractions and activities, as well as adventures in nature.
“The LHA umbrella covers similarly priced accommodation to make reservations and packages easier to advertise and sell,” said Stan Fradelizi, LHA founder and Inthira Group General Manager. He added, “The LHA aims to sign up 15 properties across the country to offer more options for agents to work with DMCs in setting their own itineraries.”
Australia-based Guidepost Travel Project Development Manager Bob Daniel sees the potential in LHA’s concept and expansion plan.
“My clients want to explore new destinations, but they need to return to a hotel that meets their standards. The LHA can do that,” he said. “As they grow, the LHA will give agents many options in creating custom itineraries throughout Laos. It will give us more flexibility to meet client demand.”
Organized by Visit Asia Travel Managing Director Ket Thipphachanh, the trip kicked off at Houay Xay with a cruise down the Mekong on board a posh Shompoo Cruise vessel to “Destination Pakbeng”, the halfway point on the popular voyage to Luang Prabang.
The plush Shompoo Cruise vessel offers penty of room.
The 40-metre-long boat presented plenty of room to sit, move around, or relax on the rear deck. The crew served a Lao lunch and offered drinks and snacks from its bar. An afternoon stop at a Hmong village, accessible only by boat, opened participants’ eyes to the FAM trip’s first authentic experience.
Hmong village visit on Shompoo Cruise
Shompoo Cruise co-founder Alex Chitdara thinks demand for Destination Pakbeng will come from Luang Prabang. “I plan to do a round-trip Luang Prabang-Pakbeng cruise.”
Le Grand Pakbeng Resort welcomed the group with an ethnic Khmu entry dance over moving bamboo poles. After dinner, the hillside resort, topped with an infinity pool and fine dining restaurant, treated guests to a local Khmu performance, before a comfortable night in a personal villa and terrace overlooking the Mekong.
Welcome to Le Grand Pakbeng Resort. Watch your feet.
The participants visited remote ethnic Khmu villages by road the next morning. “This is as authentic as it gets,” said the resort’s General Manager Darren Mulqueen, as he guided a group down a trail to locals mining gold.
Sifting through mined dirt in search for gold
“This is the real deal,” added Jigmey Dorji, Managing Director of California-based Sayang Holidays. The FAM trip also took in other attractions around town and another night at Le Grand.
The caravan then moved overland, with stops at Ban Nyor Pottery Village and local markets, to Muang Xay, the Oudomxay provincial capital. From here, a paved, 30-minute drive landed at Nam Kat Yorla Pa Resort located in a protected forest area.
A husband and wife team throwing quality pots
A traditional Khmer performance by locals, and the chance to participate, capped the evening’s poolside dinner, before the first night in a luxury bungalow on the banks on the Nam Kat River.
The next morning, participants chose between zip-lining and or hiking over cable-and-plank bridges and trails to Nam Kat Waterfall. Many tried tree-leaping into “spider webs” in the afternoon. Also available are bicycles, ATVs, BB guns, treks, sky bridges, abseiling, and camping. The group visited a Khmu village located at the resort and home to many of the staff.
On the ways to Nam Kat Waterfall
“Nam Kat Waterfall is the top attraction, and the activities we presented this group are among the most popular of dozens of options at the nature park, based at the Activities Centre,” said General Manager Benjamin Daout. He added the resort was about a 30-minute drive from the Oudomxay airport.
Nam Kat Waterfall
The journey continued east over steep mountains, with stops at viewpoints and a Hmong village, to Pakmong, before a more level road along the Nam Ou River reached Luang Prabang.
View on the mountain run
During the mountain run, Mr Ket, who has operated Lao tours for some 30 years, explained why he is optimistic about this circuit. “I love showing visitors the nature, culture, and heritage of our country, and am always looking for new places and experiences. The location of these LHA hotels and stops along the route between them present the perfect opportunity to open new doors.”
The caravan landed at the Luang Prabang View Hotel, an ASEAN MICE Award-winning LHA hotel known for sustainable practices. A massive infinity pool sits atop luxury rooms stepping down a hillside terrace, presenting a 180° panorama of surrounding mountains and the UNESCO city.
Rooms with great views
The group took an evening hike up Mount Phousi, shopped in the Night Market, visited Kuang Si Waterfalls in the morning before the crowds arrived, and toured the city’s famous temples and National Museum.
Kuang Si Waterfall
The hotel hosted a traditional Baci ceremony to welcome guests and wish them luck before dinner on their second night at the hotel. After the meal, local businesses gave presentations, including Ma Té Sai Crafts, Luang Prabang Deaf & Mute Community Handicraft Shop, Pottery House Lao Food Tours, Saffron Coffee and their Cherry to Cup Tour, Luang Prabang Golf Club, and the Elephant Conservation Centre.
Luang Prabang View General Manager and LHA co-founder John Morris Williams further explained the alliance’s mission. “The LHA wants to be exclusive. We are hand-picking unique, luxury hotels in Laos with similar standards and good rates, yet different concepts,” he said.
“We want you to have faith in us,” he told the participating agents. “We want you to sell us on your tours. You may only need two or three LHA hotels on a Lao tour. That’s fine. We’re all here to work together,” Mr Williams concluded.
After giving morning alms to Buddhist monks, the caravan drove along the more scenic “Old Road” to Vang Vieng. This route presents unrivalled views of the steep karst landscape, with many noting the similarity to Middle Earth’s Black Gate of Mordor in The Lord of the Rings.
View from the “Old Road” to Vang Vieng
The ride ended at the Inthira Vang Vieng, tucked into a quiet slot on the Nam Song Riverbank, yet in the centre of town and just steps from Walking Street. Private balconies and infinity pool overlook the river with a jagged karst backdrop and sunset view.
View from a room at the Inthira Vang Vieng
Green Discovery Laos (GDL) sponsored the next day’s activities. One group opted to kayak down the Song River, an easy adventure interrupted by occasional rapids. The hardy tackled GDL’s Vang Vieng Challenge that included abseiling down a waterfall, zip-lining between tree tops, and tackling the ‘via ferrata’ cables.
Guests floated lanterns into the night sky from Inthira’s poolside patio to close out the LHA tour, during which Window of Thailand Managing Director Chintana Suwawan lauded the alliance and trip.
Launching lanterns over the Inthira Vang Vieng
“This tour really opened my eyes to new destinations, activities, and luxury accommodation in Laos. The LHA and this tour hold great promise. I am thankful to have gone on this journey,” she said.
The trip ended in Vientiane with a city tour, before participants flew home.