Parisian art de vivre, in the capital of Laos

Overview: Tucked along the Mekong River, just a few minutes from the heart of Vientiane, La Seine is a wine lovers dream. Wine barrels frame the entrance, a wine showroom occupies half the ground floor, wine paintings frame the bar, wine plays in the promo videos, wine crates are repurposed for wood paneling, and the rooms are even decorated in three wine-themed shades—soft orange, chardonnay green and burgundy red. Even the sign at the airport is framed with corks. A glass of wine is, naturally, offered upon arrival. Welcome to Parisian art de vivre, in the capital of Laos.

Rooms: The hotel boasts 38 units; ranging from superior singles (B4,000) to glamorous suites (B6,500). For special occasions, there are two unique units: a duplex, which effectively stacks one room on top of the other, with a shared common space; and the La Seine suite, which boasts a deluxe room set on top of a two-story mini-ballroom-slash-gathering space. The hotel can even equip the latter for small conferences.
 
The rooms on the whole are exquisite; even borderline palatial, with art nouveau splashes, wine décor and geometric art deco-style furniture. The interiors are brilliant white, and the thick splashes of heavy red splayed across the room—in curtains, decorative glass, throw pillows, mirror frames, and ultra-modern curved furnishings—play like heavy lipstick on a geisha, in the best and lushest possible way.
 
The interior is designed with subtle layered lines, accentuated by soft light; as with long strips of light from the ceiling, which create an elevated frame, and the illusion of a four-post bed. The floor plan is largely open—the shower is like a room all by itself—and the visual centerpiece is a majestic standalone tub. The main mirror is almost as big as the bed.
 
Anon. Long panel strip mirrors, a distinguished leather executive ledger, a leather chair like a rolling throne, soap holders like wasabi trays, wrought iron balconies facing out over the river, and incredibly advanced light settings; mastering all the possible combinations would require several days.
 
Food & Drink: “How many bottles do we have,” laughs co-owner Ken Ea, “this is just a showcase. It’s not even the collection. That is at our store—Bara’vin—over by That Dam (pagoda, on Rue Samsenthai).
 
“Most of what we carry is French; the vast, vast majority,” he said. “You know, we actually tried other wines—I had American (California) wines and South African wines but it’s just like in people’s mind, there’s that old history, that mindset, that the best wines are French. So that’s just what people here drink.”
 
Despite Ea’s assertion, the hotel offers too many wines to list here; hundreds and maybe thousands of vintages. The ground floor showroom looks like a wine library. Old wine crates were even repurposed into wooden drawers—which pull out, carrying the vintage fire-branded on their faces. Jazz bands and duets play weekends in the first floor Red Rose lounge, and a rooftop skybar deck is slated for a late 2019 opening.
 
The cuisine is a combination of continental European, regional Thai dishes and Lao classics. Head Chef “Phan” (Thong Sa Vanh Nam Vong) began working for Vientiane’s Lao Plaza in 1998, before moving to Don Chan Palace Hotel across town. He then went overseas to Singapore—as part of the Inogen group—and was also a chef in Hamburg, Germany for six years. His specialty is “making Lao cuisine, in the most perfect way possible.” Expect all the classics: multiple types of sticky rice (including purple and green), tom mak hoong (saum tum) papaya salad, fried pork hmu taut, and simple phla nil gone upscale and exquisite, in soups and as filets. Chef Phan isn’t afraid to draw inspiration from his neighbors either, he can make any Lanna dish or Luang Prabang specialty that captures his fancy.
 
Why we'd come back: It’s a little bit of a shock, waking up in La Seine’s glorious environs and then walking out into morning Vientiane—with swarms of dragonflies, curling woodsmoke, chortling roosters, rusted corrugated metal roofs and mists rising over the sprawling browns and greens of the Mekong River. The worlds are so far apart. The hotel’s not perfect either—the doors have strange alarms (that ring when they don’t close fully), live Thai karaoke tunes float through the night from the adjacent nightlife strip, and airplanes buzz over the river through the daytime skies, headed to the nearby airport. None of it is a nuisance, but it is all noticeable.
 
Nonetheless, this is the place to be in Vientiane. The jazz band was an important cultural addition for the city. It’s hard to believe that a French enclave was without, for so long. The location is incredible, just outside the heart of downtown; a 15 minute walk to Wat Sri Saket—and just a short drive to the airport in the opposite direction. You can literally have an extra glass of wine, in the lobby, while waiting for your flight.
 
And while it is hard to say this are the city’s best facilities—taste is relative—as a boutique, it does offer a level of personalized service and care, large competitors can’t match.