Old Champasak charm with a modern twist
A low-slung Chinese shophouse converted into a small, smart frangipani-framed hotel close to the most important Khmer ruins in southern Laos. What’s not to like?
Pretty Champasak is the gateway to the petite pre-Angkorian ruins at Wat Phou, staggered up the side of a terraced ridge, and set in the shadow of a holy mountain. The small town is the perfect antidote to traffic-choked, wire-tangled nearby Pakse city, and is strung out along one road, which traces the lower Mekong River, with homes, shops, glittering Buddhist temples, and the odd eye-catching grand French-Colonial building — once palaces for the Lao Champasak royals.
Perfectly located in the middle of this sun-baked town is Residence Bassac. The hotel sits between the tiny ferry port at one end of town, and the Wat Phou ruins at the other. Once its pool opens, with winning views of the chocolate-colored Mekong, it’ll be the top hotel address in Champasak, and you’ll want to book in for an extra night just so you can spend a day lounging in the riverfront pool, cocktails – or a Beerlao – in hand.
Previous visitors to Champasak will be familiar with the property. Formerly the Inthira, it was bought by the owner of Muang La Lodge, in Oudomxay province, a year ago and has been rebranded and upgraded. Restaurant Soum Noum is now less roadside diner and more Lao-Mediterranean cuisine focused, and with homemade bread, and ice cream on the menu, a solid cheese selection, a revamped wine menu which now features prosecco and cava; and the burgers are more robust, and made from Angus beef. Around 80 percent of the food is locally sourced manager Ronald Henskens tells me.
Restaurant tables at Residence Bassac are perfect for people watching. Open-fronted Soum Noum faces the main street with a couple of sun-dappled tables out front framed by frangipani trees. Eating croissants and passion fruit jam, and sipping Lao coffee for breakfast while the odd motorbike, Lao woman with umbrellas, or uniformed schoolchildren on bicycles mosey on by, is a gentle introduction to the cooler mornings before the intense heat strikes after 9am. At the other end of the day, the Bassac is illuminated with lanterns and candles and the trees are lit up giving the place a warm, inviting glow.
Residence Bassac’s rooms are off the road and set behind the main building along brick paths around a small garden plot. The four Deluxe Duplex and four Deluxe rooms are all patterned with pretty French colonial tiles, and bright cushions, and come with noise-free ceiling fans, large beds, bespoke furniture, bathtubs, and powerful showers. The deluxe duplexes feature mezzanines, and each has balconies with mountain views whereas the one-story Deluxe rooms enjoy ground-floor terraces. Families who need privacy will want the Deluxe Duplex rooms with the downstairs sofa-bed available; otherwise, I prefer the garden Deluxe rooms.
Residence Bassac has plans for a travel desk and experience curation. Meanwhile, the foyer is preparing to showcase local designers and artisans: delicate jewelry by Vanida Audenis of Birds Follow Spring (husband Jean-Baptiste created Residence Bassac’s new furniture); a selection of curated textiles from the charming mother-and-son team from Chez Maman; and the new, colorful local maps by Nicolas of mmapssouthernlaos. Residence Bassac looks set to awaken sleepy Champasak and transform it into a truly inspiring and memorable experience.
Champasak is only 40km south of Pakse, which is served by daily
flights from Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Siem Reap. Lao Airlines
also flies from Bangkok five times per week and from Ho Chi Minh
City three times per week. For hotel bookings, visit residencebassac.com
Text by CLAIRE BOOBBYER
Photos by RESIDENCE BASSAC