Old Fashioned Charm and Relaxation at Le Calao Inn, Laos

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Le Calao inn is one of the loveliest hostelries anywhere in Asia. It cannot quite be classed as a hotel even though the price on the tariff puts it in the same bracket. The label “boutique hotel” may also be a bit vague. Le Calao is best described as a glorious bed and breakfast, low on facilities but absolutely brimming with character. The name is actually derived from the origins of the owners (Canada and Laos) but for a rather more romantic explanation turn to you French dictionary. Calao is French / Malay word for the tropical hornbill bird found throughout Asia – it incidentally is also the hotel’s emblem.

The building is a lovingly restored 1904 French mansion, a true remnant of the romantic Indochine past. The exterior is lusciously French, with archways, shutters and decorative balconies. The interior is a rare glimpse of a forgotten era. The inn is filled with polished dark wood with depth and soul. Floors creak and give a little underfoot, the small cocktail bar surely belongs to another era. Le Calao is rich in colonial history, but it is not rich in facilities nor luxury. This provides an authentic experience. There are no gyms, TVs, or anything else that would feel out of place in the early 20th century.

The inn’s simplicity is absolute, being utterly personal it has only six rooms. The charming rooms are spartan and simple, but in a thoroughly enjoyable way. Beds are solid and sturdy, light switches and wiring exposed and the bathrooms are tiled with homely Gallic blue and white tiles. The only traces of the modern world are the air-conditioning units and the rather weak electric showers. From the four upper rooms your every footstep is amplified as you slip along in your socks to the balcony which overlooks the languid Mekong and provides a perfect spot from which to admire the sunsets. The two lower rooms are much larger and spill into quiet terrace gardens.

Hotel facilities are almost non-exist but the tranquility here is bliss. The location overlooking the Mekong and within a leisurely stroll of the splendour of Luang Prabang palaces is petty much unrivalled, the venerable Wat Xieng Thong is less than 150 metres away. The food at Le Calao is simple and unfussy, but the staff are superbly sweet and helpful A wonderful, wonderful retreat.

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