Greenpark Villa Hotel: Vientiane, Laos

Nestled in a curve of the Mekong River is Vientiane: Laos’s laid back capital which blends French architecture alongside 16th Century Buddhist temples; where monks in their orange robes still (just about) outnumber tourists as they stroll down broad boulevards and shaded tree-lined streets, as dotted with golden shrines as they are art-deco style cafes and patisseries.

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Here colonial roofs and gilded temples including Wat Si Schet which features 1000 images of Buddha, form the skyline making it hard to decipher whether you have stepped back in time to 16th Century South East Asia or or 1940s Paris.

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Firmly on the tourist map, Vientiane is not quite the peaceful butterfly and fluttering-bird filled capital it once was, with increasing commercial infrastructure popping up among its atmospheric crumbling French mansions and inspiring monuments; however it still retains some of its authentic charm.

Sinking comfortably into Vientiane’s leafy and stylish embrace is the tranquil Boutique Hotel, Greenpark Villa, pitched just outside of the city centre, the grounds flanked by swaying palm trees, banana plants and flourishing fauna.

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Reminiscent to Japanese styling, water features throughout the hotel as structured Jasmin filled moats with wooden walkways lead from the light filled reception to the ‘Dok Dala’ lounge bar and restaurant, spa and guest apartments.

The garden is a flower filled oasis, centred around a frangipani-fringed lily pond and sun dappled swimming pool surrounded by sumptuously comfortable sun loungers – the perfect antidote to a morning spent strolling those broad boulevards and local morning markets.

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Cool and calming is the focus at Greenpark Villa; the soundtrack to your stay a harmony of its trickling water features and soft jazz playing from Dok Dala lounge bar. Dok Dala is open throughout the day, home to an impressive bar with a stylish spirit selection and a smiling team of bar tenders who know how to mix any cocktail with ease – a rarity in Southeast Asia.

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As the sunlight disappears from the poolside, guests can head to Dok Dala to overlook light fading over the lily pond with their choice of classic a Martini or a Lao style cocktail blended within local whisky or arak (coconut) liqueur.

So, “when in Rome”…. I opted for the Lao Cocktail, a vibrant and refreshing concoction of Laos Arak, Orange Curaçao, Tripple Sec, fresh lime and or orange juice; my cocktail accompanied by Tempura Vegetables (eggplant, green beans, asparagus, carrot and baby corn) served with tangy Raita.

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Dinner can be taken at Dok Dala, which is also a soothing spot for afternoon tea, or up in the hotel’s restaurant; and to relax guests even further, there is also the option of the hotel’s in-house spa…

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A blissful hotel with a warm and personable team, readily available and attentive manager, pool, spa, local craft shop, restaurant and bar; you might forget to leave the hotel to visit Vientiane’s numerous, and equally beautiful, sights!

Doubles start from US$128, +856 21 264097, greenparkvientiane.com

Backwater of Beyond : Nong Khiaw & Muang Ngoi (Laos)

In between the mighty Mekong and calming Khan rivers lies laid back Luang Prabang; a Unesco-protected world heritage site and a genuinely chic little town thanks to its colonial French Indochinese heritage.

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These good looks come at the price of drawing in many a tourist, and while falling in love with Luang Prabang is easy, it may leave those looking for the ‘authentic Southeast Asia’ still searching that little bit harder..

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Lucky enough that search won’t take you too much further – a 4 hour drive north to be precise – to the stripped-back, thatched-housed village of Nong Khiaw. A town where roosters rule the road and locals smile at the sight of you, sitting on the spectacular river Ou.

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imageHere the simple way of life doesn’t just mean cotton weaving and vegetable picking as we watched young boys chase litters of chubby black baby boars off their porches and proudly present sling-shot snakes for their dinner that night.

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Having been lucky enough to call Nong Khiaw our home for two weeks, this sleepy town set in the foot of spectacular limestone mountains is not necessarily for those living life in the slow lane; with the area priding itself on untouched trekking, kayaking and mountain biking excursions.

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Smiling down on it all is the Ban Sop Houn ‘View Point’, a fairly challenging 2K ascent up a mountain path, naturally sun-dappled thanks to the jungle overhead. Entrance to the ‘View Point’, a wooden shala balancing a top Nong Khiaw’s peak 20,000 Kip (£1.80), and the views of the surrounding villages and valleys from the top are most definitely worth the effort.

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An hour’s boat trip north-west lies Nong Khiaw’s even more beautiful little sister, Muang Ngoi, a tiny village on which bombs fell from B-52s during The Secret War of 1962-75.

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Truly one of the most idyllic settings I have ever found myself visiting; here a country stroll through mountain paths, along side glistening streams and rice paddy wetlands, will lead to the cave of Tham Kang, in which the entire population of the village sought shelter for during The Vietnam and Secret Wars.

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Despite their authentic, jumbled and edge-of-the-world feel, the rural ways of Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi by no means involve ‘roughing it’, for travellers…

As well as the usual plethora of £8 a night guest houses, in Nong Khiaw you’ll also find the stylish, stilted, eco villas at the Riverlodge (where we volunteered for 2 weeks), with private balconies as perfect for drinking in the views as they are for drinking in a warming tumbler of Lao Lao, the crystal clear locally brewed rice whisky.

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And over the bridge you’ll find Mandala Ou, a boutique hotel offering not only fully immersive yoga retreats in its cliff-edged shala, but also the serenity of its infinity pool and tropical garden restaurant for soul food, excellent soya banana smoothies and the perfect spot for a post-stretch savasana.

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Both hotels are priced at £34 a night.

In Muang Ngoi Guest Houses offer private bungalows for around £3.50 a night, in most of which you’ll also find hammock-filled gardens for whiling away your days.

Foodies will fall in love with The Gecko Bar a restaurant and shop serving incredible Laotian specialities such as Larb and Papaya Salad, as well as selling locally made honey, Laos Mountain Coffee and ethically woven scarves. – It was here I had the best latte I’ve drunk in Laos, made with coconut milk and a dash of agave syrup.

For unrivalled river views and a dark Lao beer, head to Riverside Bar where you can watch villagers literally living off the river, with steps reaching down to the “dock” for your sunset ride back to Nong Khiaw.

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Now no longer accessible from Luang Prabang via a lazy river trip due to the first of seven proposed dams (a moneymaking plan by the Chinese to harness the river’s hydro electric power) to be built along the River Ou; Nong Khiaw and Muang Ngoi are threatened by imminent modernity.

Following the dams is also the planned construction of a high-speed railway line from China to Singapore, passing directly through Laos. These, along with ever-increasing tourism to South East Asia means those travelling to Laos should definitely make the trip to this norther, rural oases while it still retains its authenticity!

Tips for Backpacking in Style

Slip Dresses & a Scaramanga Backpack

I can understand why a backpacker might never utter the words “capsule wardrobe,” out loud for fear of being ostracised by fellow travellers. But a carefully curated capsule wardrobe, and how to cart it around, is probably more applicable to a backpacker than anyone else.

By this I mean a condensed collection of clothing, true to your personal style, which can be successfully worn together, fit into a 65 litre backpack and last 6 months across numerous countries and climates; without resorting to utility belts and generic “Ali Baba traveller trousers.”

If you’d never wear it at home, why wear it abroad.

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Your travel kit needn’t tick off Vogue trends but it doesn’t have to begin and end with an arm full of friendship bracelets and a Chang beer branded vest. And if you’re a bit of a style mavern with a “uniform,” at home then why not stick with the same when off seeing the world.

For me it’s slip dresses, play suits, kimonos and a vintage, leather backpack, with sandals in the summer and Chelsea boots in the winter.

A boho-luxe look that can, and has been, replicated with ease across Asia.

Tip 1: A Decent DayBag

Scrap the money belt for starters: A decent sized, vintage, handmade Scaramanga backpack (small £65 and large £120) works as a stylish day bag; and with its proper compartments and study buckles offers enough security and space for your money, camera, passport and any extra clothing layers needed. They also double up as bus/train/plane hand luggage.

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FAR better quality than anything you’ll buy in and Asian night market, get yourself a Scaramanga boho leather backpack before you fly!

Inspired by the vintage leather rucksacks worn by intrepid explorers and adventurers discovering distant lands; each backpack is completely handmade with distinctive and durable Hunter leather. As practical as it is stylish.

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Tip 2: Slip Dresses and Camisoles

When it comes to what to wear, slip dresses or camisoles with shorts are not only easy and breezy in scorching parts of Asia, but these silky sinuous dresses and bias cut best tops were a staple in numerous SS16 collections.

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Tailoring:

When heading to India, a sub-continent famed for its beautiful and ethically sourced silks, why not take your favourite summer dress (slip dress or not), find a decent tailor and have a few fail safe pieces made. This way you can stay true to your style, in something original, that you would also wear at home.

If being both environmentally and style conscious, why not also have a pair of shorts, a top and a kimono made in the same print to help ensure no silks or cottons are wasted – and to mix and match your wardrobe.

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Tip 3: Lengths and Layering

Layering

If concerned about fluctuating temperatures or covering up to dress more modestly as you move from place to place, slip dresses also lend themselves perfectly to layering.

A fine-knit polo neck underneath a slip dress will keep you warm; alternatively a floaty kimono or a crochet top over the top will cover your shoulders when required, and protect you from the sun

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Lengths

The Length of your slip dress is key: Too short looks too come-to-bed, but midi or floor-length look more modern and are more modest. -Or just opt for a silk camisole worn under a biker jacket with jeans.

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Tip 4: Playsuits and Pants

Obviously dresses aren’t for everyone so a playsuit is more daytime-practical than a dress if you’re hiking about; and the same tips apply wwhen it comes to layering, dressing it up and covering up.

Jeans, not skin-tight or white, are inherently useful (travel in them to save weight on your back). Also denim cut-off shorts –which if you literally “cut off” yourself from an old pair of jeans are a backpack freebie.

Of course if trousers really are your thing, well-cut, linen cigarette pants in cream or black are lightweight to pack and lightweight to wear – if not quite as festooned with pockets as cargo/combats pants – or as ridiculous as elephant print ‘Ali Baba,’ trousers (which you will never ever wear again. Even as pyjamas!)

Cigarette pants easily work as an evening look too with a quick roll of the hem and can be worn with simple T-shirts, vests, camisoles and kimonos.

 

 

Ibrik Resort Hotel : Bangkok Riverside Living

Virtually impossible to find amidst a secret garden right on the banks of Bangkok’s beguiling life on the river, you will find Ibrik Hotel; the city’s first ever boutique hotel which opened its doors in 2004.image

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With just three individually designed bedrooms, each with private balconies; guaranteeing a night or two in this charming, hidden haven means booking in advance.

However, all good things come in small packages, as Ibrik’s intimate size makes it more of a stylish ‘home away from home,’ than a hotel and an ideal place to retreat when Thailand’s capital feels a little too much.

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Despite being tucked away, Ibrik is only really only a short tuk tuk ride away from main tourist attractions such as Wat Arun, ‘Temple of the Dawn,’ which can be admired across the river from your balcony, and the Khoa San Road.

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It’s also ideally placed for the more romantic and traditional option of touring the city by riverboat, be it via a 700THB day pass for all of the boats to peruse the floating markets or to drift down to China Town; or by hopping on a local boat for the 20 minute ride to the Bohemian Soi Rambuttrt for, as little as 3THB for the return journey.

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Once you’ve found the hotel, which is made easier by Ibrik’s comprehensive online map and set of travel instructions written in both British and Thai; you will wiggle through a cosy stone path to an oasis-like front garden, where love bird statues nestle in corners, amidst wild vines and potted tropical paths, where guests can opt to take breakfast or afternoon tea.

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The antique adorned lobby has something to admire in every corner: To your right you’ll find a beautifully stacked, rich wood, bookshelf filled with everything from travel guides, novels and former guests’ (almost retro) copies of Vogue. These can be immersed in on the hotel’s antique three piece suite with retro coffee table, on which you can also relax with handcrafted wooden versions of games like chequers or dominos.

In the right hand corner is a record player with a spot-on selection of vinyl in lung Styx, Moody Blues and Dire Straights, waiting to be played over a Chang, Tiger or Singh or two…

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The “River” bedroom is luxuriously large, with private balcony running its length. The lapping waves from Bangkok’s river will send you to sleep with ease and gently wake you up from your slumber in your pillow like, silky soft, four poster bed.

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A real bonus is the late check-out time of midday and the fact that a full English breakfast, included in the rate, can be brought to your balcony as late at 10:30am, because these beds are true temptresses…

The bathroom is an industrially chic beauty. Tucked in its corner is a free standing, very deep, wooden barrel like bath tub, just begging to be filled up and sat in. Which is exactly what I did, post late-breakie and pre late-check out as the piping hot shower washed that city smog right out of my hair.

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The hotel’s three gorgeous cost around 4000THB a night and if you book via I-escape, you receive a small gift of Thai handmade crafts.

This truly is a soulful and special spot to stay, hidden in the hectic city of Bangkok.

Thank you Ibrik for having us.

Address 256 Soi Wat Rakhang, Arunamarin Rd., Bangkok-Noi, Siriraj, Bangkok 10700 Thailand

T: +66 (0) 2848 9220 F: +66 (0) 2866 2978 E: ibrikresort@gmail.com / www.ibrikresort.com

Luxemme: Parisian Style in Luang Prabang, Laos

Hidden in the shadow of lofty green mountains, in between the mighty Mekong and calming Khan rivers, lies the laid back town of Luang Prabang, a UNICEF designated world heritage site and the most stylish of Laos’ tourist draws, thanks to its French Indochinese heritage.

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Steeped in culture, Luang Prabang is home to the most enchanting and historic Buddhist monastery in the entire country, Wat Xienv Thong. An intricately designed, graceful place of worship, watching this temple’so famed golden walls dance daily in the sunlight is quite something.

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Luang Prabang is also endowed with chic colonial French architecture, making the town as dotted with red-roofed temples as it is red-wine bars. Like stepping back into the 1940’s, Luang Prabang is a perfect pocket-sized blend of prohibition-era Paris and the innocent, but beguiling, Buddhist way of life on the Mekong.

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Therefore, while Luang Prabang’s sunrises can be spent practicing yoga over the mountains and its days spent cycling the small town to take in temples and vibrant side streets; its sun soaked early evenings are for stepping out in style to a golden-era Parisian wine bar (or two) for a couple of glasses of the country’s best fine French wines.

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A perfect time on my trip away then, for a Holly Golightly, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” moment to debut my classic, and new favourite, little black dress from Luxemme, a forward-thinking, Manchester-based fashion brand, which like Luang Prabang, takes inspiration from classic French and Parisian style.

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Operating with the mantra that combining definitive looks with a modern twist is a stellar way to stay on trend, Luxemme’s “Anita” is a sophisticated and fail-safe LBD in a flattering, floaty chiffon – ideal for skimming your figure and sexily showing off your back in summer – or for teaming with tights, Chelsea boots and a suede tasselled kimono in these colder climes. – and only £35!

In 25 degree evening sun, I kept it simple with a couple of chunky gypsy style bangles bought in Hampi, India; and my silver Tiffany’s necklace (keeping it Holly Golighty of course), and no shoes – as is custom in most Buddist countries…

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While Paris (and the 1940s) might be a million miles away, both Luxemme and Luang Prabang bring you that little bit closer… Feeling a million dollars as they do it.