LUANG PRABANG, LAOS: Sustainability may have been a burning issue — some would even say a buzzword — in the hospitality and tourism sectors in recent years, but for Luang Prabang it is simply part of the ancient city’s fabric.
From traditional locally-sourced menus that burst with freshness and flavour to responsible tourism activities that would make the most cynical traveller smile, Laos’ former royal capital prides itself on its mix of rich heritage, local culture and close-knit community that is increasingly hard to find on the 21st-century tourist map. And while many destinations are now attempting to quickly carve out a sustainable reputation Luang Prabang has already chalked up a series of respectable awards for its far-reaching efforts in the last decade.
“There are few examples of destinations in which so many positive experiences, such as responsible tourism, sustainable farming and corporate social responsibility initiatives, have grown so organically and are so accessible,” said Denis Dupart, acting general manager of Pullman Luang Prabang.
As the most highly-anticipated recent addition to the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s hospitality scene it is only natural then that Pullman Luang Prabang has embraced a raft of sustainable practices — both internally and through a collection of carefully selected local partners.
“Alongside the Planet 21 programme, which promotes similar practices throughout the AccorHotels global portfolio, and plans to introduce our own sustainable initiatives at the 16-hectare resort, Luang Prabang offers guests unique, immersive and unforgettable experiences”, added Dupart.
One such initiative to be rolled out at Pullman Luang Prabang in 2019 is the introduction of an expansive onsite garden that will supply Executive Chef Marc Comparot with an abundance of fruit and vegetables for his diverse menus. For the time being he makes the almost-daily sunrise pilgrimage to the city’s much-loved morning market to procure most of his ingredients, with the exception of some highly unique — to Laos at least — dairy products. For his mozzarella, ricotta, feta, blue cheese and yoghurt needs, Chef Marc calls on the services of Susie Martin and Rachel O’Shea — or more specifically their 150-plus buffalos.
Not content with being the first dairy farm in the country and introducing a brand-new industry, Laos Buffalo Dairy is transforming the way local communities make a living from what were once seen exclusively as beasts of burden. The socially-responsible enterprise also focuses on training farmers how to better care for other animals including pigs, chickens and rabbits and welcomes individuals and groups to experience the interactive farm, dairy facilities and of course the delicious products firsthand.
“We love to source locally. It is organic and extremely fresh,” said Chef Marc.
The staple food for almost every meal in Laos is, however, found much closer to home. Embedded into the heart of the landscaping, a series of stunning rice terraces take centre stage at the resort. In addition to growing it for use in the dishes at the 123-room hotel’s all-day dining restaurant L’Atelier, Pullman also organises seasonal rice cultivation classes for families and corporate groups. With the harvest recently complete, the rice husks, a byproduct of the cultivation process, were donated to MandaLao Elephant Conservation camp.
Another admirable programme that combines responsible tourism, animal conservation and local community involvement, the camp provides small groups intimate interactions with rescued elephants that range from full-day treks through tranquil teak jungles to cooking and feeding them handmade snacks along the banks of the river. Much of the elephant feed is in fact sourced from nearby communities, which provides an often vital source of income for local villagers.
If there is a symbol as synonymous with Laos as the elephant (the country after all was once called ‘Lane Xang’, which translates as Land of Million Elephants), it is surely the colourful and often highly intricate traditional fabrics worn throughout the nation. In recent years, these handwoven garments have garnered a great deal of international attention, putting traditional Lao weaving and handicrafts firmly on the map. Much of that fame can be attributed to Ock Pop Tok.
Launched in 2000 by local Laos weaver Veo Douangdala and British photographer Jo Smith, what initially began as a small-scale venture selling a handful of designs has evolved into one of the most successful, socially-responsible and sustainable startups in Laos. At the heart of the company is a strong commitment to female empowerment, evident at the Living Crafts Centre, an educational and interactive haven on the banks of the Nam Khan river. The Centre runs a series of immersive individual and group weaving classes, but for those who don’t have time to make the short trip there is an exclusive Ock Pop Tok on-site boutique at Pullman Luang Prabang.
“From straightforward, effective measures such as the introduction of locally-made bamboo straws and refillable water bottles to supporting strong, responsible initiatives and local communities, Pullman Luang Prabang is committed to promoting sustainable practices throughout the resort and with our partners through the city,” said Dupart.
“An exclusive 2-day itinerary including visits to Lao Buffalo Dairy Farm, MandaLao Elephant Camp and Ock Pop Tock can be booked through the hotel’s Tour Desk managed by Trails of Indochina. The rate starts at USD141 per person.”
AccorHotels currently has five hotels in Laos including three properties in Luang Prabang and two in Vientiane.