Aman founder Adrian Zecha's affection for the sleepy Buddhist stronghold of Luang Prabang is well documented - since opening the elegant Amantaka resort there in 2009 it's been a favourite venue for his birthday celebrations.
Since Zecha left Aman in 2014, all eyes have been on his next move. Not surprisingly, his début property under the new Azerai brand has opened in the one-time royal capital in northern Laos.
The 53-room Azerai Luang Prabang is a joint production by Zecha, former Amantaka GM, Australian Gary Tyson, and Ben Faker, an alumnus of Sydney's fine-diner The Bridge Room.
It marks a significant departure for Zecha, whose Aman properties became trophy stays of the rich and famous. While a night at Amantaka costs about $US750, Azerai rooms cost from $US250. Tyson describes the hotel's charter as "affordable luxury". "We still bring that Aman level of service but at a more affordable price point," he says.
The bistro at Azerai Luang Prabang.
The location is prime, opposite the central night market and walking distance from the palace and temples of Luang Prabang, and its French colonial styling is sympathetic to the town's UNESCO World Heritage status. There's a pool, spa, bistro and bar, and open-plan accommodation ranges from 35-square-metre standard rooms to 85-square-metre Azerai rooms with private courtyards or balconies.
Faker's menu taps into the town's rich food scene with dishes such as wood-fired river fish with pickled mushrooms, grilled buffalo tongue, and Lao dark honey ice-cream with honeycomb and tamarind - alongside Western dishes such as organic beetroot with house-made ricotta, quinoa, pine nuts and oregano.
Concierges customise itineraries, from river cruises to alms-giving during the morning tak bat ceremony, when scores of saffron-robed monks walk through the streets.
Azerai Luang Prabang, Ban Hua Xieng, Sethathiranth Road District, Luang Prabang, Laos, azerai.com