Heritage meets hospitality at Avani Southeast Asia hotels

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The Avani+ Luang Prabang was built as a bungalow for French military officials more than a century ago.
The Avani+ Luang Prabang was built as a bungalow for French military officials more than a century ago.

In the pale light before dawn, we knelt upon bamboo mats, rolling balls of sticky rice between our fingers while the monks crept in on bare feet.

Each morning in Luang Prabang, Laos, the streets fill with saffron-clad Buddhist monks from more than 30 local temples. Filing silently through town, the meditative monks receive their morning alms from locals and visitors. Mystical and mesmerizing, the daily ritual known as tak bat in Lao has been practiced for more than six centuries in this spiritual haven along the Mekong River.

Designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1995 for its cultural and architectural heritage, Luang Prabang retains elements of its French colonial legacy, which is particularly notable at Avani+ Luang Prabang. What was built as a bungalow for French officers in 1914 has been completely transformed by architect Pascal Trahan into a 2.5-acre enclave built around a century-old bodhi tree and an 82-foot pool.

Originally opened in 2017 by the founder of Aman Resorts, the 53-room property became the first Avani+ property in 2018, ushering in a new brand extension for the Asian-based Avani portfolio, all of which adhere to an enhanced safety and hygiene program known as AvaniShield. Introduced in May amid the coronavirus pandemic, AvaniShield is employed at each property to work in compliance with guidelines from respective governmental health ministries.

Situated at the foot of Mount Phou Si, the French-influenced hotel and its graciously accommodating staff provide a blissful sanctuary in the heart of Luang Prabang's colonial quarter. The hotel's Main Street Bar & Grill overlooks the Royal Palace as well as the Night Market, and a 300-step climb to the summit of Phou Si provides a panoramic perspective on this peninsula town at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers.

Sunsets from atop Phou Si are popular, as are sunset cruises on the 130-foot river boat Monsoon, which also provides transport to the three-level waterfall of Kuang Si, where the cerulean pools recall a prelapsarian paradise.
The congenial atmosphere at Avani+ Luang Prabang makes it equally easy to remain within the compound where the heritage-infused modern rooms open onto fully furnished balconies overlooking the courtyard and the ancient tree of knowledge. Sometimes the wisest choice is to breathe in the moment.

For another take on Avani+ heritage hospitality, there's the FCC Angkor, located in Siem Reap, Cambodia, so named for the Foreign Correspondents Club in Phnom Penh, where expatriate journalists and photographers convened for cocktails and camaraderie in a colonial-style building.

In keeping with the property's pedigree, the Khmer-hued guestrooms at the FCC Angkor include vintage typewriters and rotary dial phones, with private balconies overlooking tropical gardens and saltwater pools, all of which fosters a film noir atmosphere ripe for seduction and screenplays.

Nestled alongside the Siem Reap River across from the Royal Residence, the FCC Angkor was once the residence of the French colonial governor, and the tastefully refurbished villa now houses the Mansion, the hotel's elegant Khmer restaurant with peacock chairs and terrace views onto bustling Pokambor Avenue.

Scribe, the bar at the FCC Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Scribe, the bar at the FCC Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Signature cocktails at Scribe -- think lemongrass daiquiris and kaffir gimlets -- evoke an era when foreign correspondents were as daring and dashing as Hemingway.

The Khmer cuisine at the Mansion, including fish amok and mango sticky rice, is plated with French flair. Each evening at sunset, thousands of fruit bats soar into the sky above their home at the neighboring Royal Independence Gardens.

To better capture the breathtaking beauty of Siem Reap and its vast Unesco World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat, the FCC Angkor collaborates with veteran photojournalists for sunrise photography workshops conducted at the 12th-century ruins of the majestic temple with its iconic lotus bud towers. Based on insider knowledge, the immersive tours showcase temples such as Ta Prohm and lesser-known locales away from the selfie hordes.

The sharpening of one's photography skills also proves beneficial when witnessing the jaw-dropping Cambodian circus known as Phare, where the acrobatic performers perform with infectious energy and high-flying derring-do in shows based on traditional folk tales. One of Cambodia's most celebrated social enterprise models, Phare provides education and arts training for Cambodian youth. Similarly, the heavenly Haven restaurant on Chocolate Road serves as another inspiring example of social enterprise conjoined with indigenous cuisine for the betterment of local youth.

The rooftop deck at the Avani+ Riverside Bangkok at dawn.
The rooftop deck at the Avani+ Riverside Bangkok at dawn.

International visitors to Cambodia and Laos often fly through Thailand, which recently introduced its Special Tourist Visa (STV) that enables visitors to stay up to 90 days. Because one night in Bangkok is never enough, and especially when ensconced at the waterfront Avani+ Riverside Bangkok.

Opened in 2016, the 26-story, purpose-built hotel complements the Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. From the hotel's pier, guests can embark upon a sunset dinner cruise with Manohra Cruise or take the hotel's shuttle boat service to Bangkok's largest night market with its signature Ferris wheel. Yet it is equally tempting to soar to the top of the hotel, where an 82-foot infinity pool offers panoramic vistas of the Bangkok skyline.

In the evenings, the hotel's incandescent Seen restaurant and lounge beckons like a beacon to Bangkok locals who flock to the Avani+ rooftop to "Sin and Be Seen" with cocktails as intoxicating as the glittering nightscape. For those who take the venue's tagline to excess, the hotel's restorative breakfast buffet encompasses nearly the entirety of the 11th floor with its uninterrupted views of Bangkok's breadth.

As one local suggested, Bangkok is an amalgam of Hong Kong and Singapore, albeit more chill and cheaper, both qualities of which are in evidence in the creative quarter around Talad Noi, where the Thailand Creative Design Centre and Warehouse 30 serve as anchors for the young and hip -- and a reminder that Southeast Asia remains a hub of visionary energy and humanitarianism.

Starting room rates at the Avani+ properties range from $150 to $230. For an equivalent luxury in-flight experience, Cathay Pacific offers 12 daily nonstop flights to Hong Kong from six U.S. hubs.

For up-to-the-minute government travel advisories for Laos, Cambodia and Thailand, visit the U.S. State Department website.

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