A new resort with something for everybody is attracting visitors to an unspoiled corner of northern Laos.
The first time I travelled to Namkat Yorla Pa I almost didn’t make it. The day we set off, unbeknownst to us, the northern province of Oudomxay was experiencing the worst flooding it had seen in almost a decade. Landslides blocked the mountain roads and flood waters washed away a bridge we had to cross. We understood that travel in Laos could be unpredictable so we considered the options and decided that the best path was forward. We arrived after dark, wet, muddy and disgruntled. We shuffled through the dramatically designed lobby, had some dinner and called it a night.
A soak in my in-room Jacuzzi took the edge off, but it was really only the next morning, clean and well-rested, that the charm of Namkat Yorla Pa began to sink in. First, all the beautiful rooms in this brand-new resort, now only in its second season of operation, offer the blend of tradition and sleek design that are the trademark of François Greck, the French architect who has worked on some of the most prestigious projects in Laos over the past 25 years. All rooms in all categories have huge bay windows with river views, traditional wood furnishings and ultramodern bathrooms. Superior rooms offer a comfortable space, executive deluxe rooms sport amenities like that Jacuzzi tub, while the 184 square-metre pool villas offer private outdoor space, bars inside and out, a prep kitchen, a spacious living room and of course a pool you could host your own pool party in. My personal pick would have to be the deluxe room, with a separate sitting room and balcony as well as that welcome bath.
Closer to the activity areas, there are more options for travellers whatever their budget. ‘Eco’ rooms are cosy and compact but feature the same attention to design as the other rooms in the resort, including the stunning river views out floor-to-ceiling windows. Up to four campers can check into the fully equipped safari tents with hot water and balconies while individual tents with shared facilities are available in the campground.
I didn’t go all that way just to sit in my room. Shuttles are available to whisk guests around the property, but in the main hotel area, I preferred to walk. Landscapers have struck the right balance between the wild greenery and the well-kept grounds in the common areas.
The real star of the show however is the 6,000 hectares of jungle that surrounds the resort, the backdrop for the many activities on offer. You can choose between a variety of treks through the jungle, up mountains and across rope bridges. I did one short trek to the Taad Huay Soum waterfall, climbed the via ferrata, zip-lined to a treehouse then back to waterfall to rappel to the ground through the refreshingly cool water. It was exhilarating.
Another trek I did was into the forest of giant rosewood trees. Some of the path is steep and slippery, but the guide was always careful to go at my pace and help me through the more difficult obstacles. The serenity of being at one with these centuries-old trees was worth every drop of sweat.
You can tool around in an ATV, swim in the pools of the Namkat waterfall, ride bikes and choose from cooking classes and a tour of the resort’s Khmu village, where many of the hotel’s staff come from. A traditional Khmu dance performance can be arranged and there is an option to stay in a homestay in the village. Other choices include spending the night in a treehouse, and overnight treks with camping in the mountains.
The resort grows some of its own produce, like passionfruit and grapes, some of which ends up on the breakfast table as homemade jams or in desserts, all of which are made in-house. Ask to have a look.
If you need a break, a gorgeous pool overlooks the river and the therapists in the spa will provide expert treatments. The possibilities are really endless. Do you want a campfire in the cool winter months? Feel like having your own barbecue party? Would you like to tailor a day that you can’t find in the 42 readymade programs on offer? Just ask.