Luang Prabang is becoming a trendy destination and the small town has a good number of restored colonial houses and mansions turned into upscale hotels. But amongst them all, Belmond’s La Residence Phou Vao stands out with pure luxury in a serene environment that’s hard to find anywhere else in Laos.
Walking into the open lobby at arrival, you can see the gardens and pool on the other side, with the iconic Lao mountains in the background. We were warmly welcomed by Front Office Manager Oscar and his team with refreshing towels, and check in was a breeze as the team took care of all formalities while we sipped on our hibiscus juice welcome drinks and took in our surroundings. Before heading up to our room, we were shown a range of different natural soaps and chose a green tea soap for our stay. It was presented in hand made paper bags and brought up to our room for us.
The rooms at La Residence Phou Vao are set in traditional villas overlooking the gardens and mountains, with teak wood and natural materials as far as the eye can see. Our room on the upper floor of the main villa had a beautiful balcony with teak sun loungers overlooking the hotel’s main pool, with a view of Luang Prabang’s famous Mount Phousi in the distance. Everything in the room was made from natural materials, from the dark wooden floors to the bamboo wicker baskets holding plush cotton towels and the organic toiletries in the bathroom. Lao textiles and fresh flowers provided colorful accents without going overboard.
The king size bed had a soft pillow top mattress which was a welcome relief from the rock hard mattresses found elsewhere in Asia, and the mosquito net was expertly draped. Our room was spotlessly clean and had a lot of little details for us to discover. The personal welcome letter from General Manager Thomas Moons came with a selection of cookies and one of the biggest fruit baskets I’ve ever seen in a hotel room. We were quick to snack on the cookies and enjoy them with a cup of coffee from our in-room Nespresso machine, while browsing through the selection of books provided on our balcony table.
We loved that the entire hotel was practically a library: Throughout the hotel – in the rooms, the lobby, the bar and of course in the actual library room – there were tables with interesting books everywhere. Books on architecture, design and local Lao and Luang Prabang history featured prominently. My favorite was a book on the traditions of coffee. There was even an outdoor reading space in the middle of the garden: Surrounded by tall bamboo, a group of comfortable chairs were placed around a fire pit, and a little bird house style cabinet protected a selection of books from the elements.
A Day at the Belmond La Residence Phou Vao
Our days at La Residence Phou Vao started with their delicious breakfast by the pool. Set half inside the restaurant and half by the pool, a large buffet offers contemporary Asian cuisine with Lao essentials such as sticky rice and Luang Prabang sausages as well as Western staples and a generous selection of French pastries. Hot dishes were presented in clay pots and rice steaming baskets over hot coals, and cooking stations offered eggs cooked to order, customized soups and a design-your-own-smoothie juice bar where smiling cooks created fresh and healthy drinks on the spot. No breakfast is complete without a good cup of coffee, and La Residence Phou Vao made without a doubt the best coffee we had in Laos.
With the beautiful almost jungle-like gardens and an infinity pool overlooking Mount Phousi, it’s tempting to never leave the hotel. The books, wooden chess sets and other board games could have kept us entertained all day long. The serene pool area was a great place to relax, and staff made sure we were keeping hydrated by bringing us hibiscus juice and fresh fruit skewers any time we were lounging by the pool. For us fitness fans, the small fitness room provided everything we needed for a workout with cardio equipment, free weights, and a workout station to work every body part. Bottled water and a basket of fresh fruit were on hand as a reward afterwards. The award winning spa area, set in a quiet corner of the garden, was a great area to relax post workout. It felt like a private hidden jungle hideaway with its small infinity pool above a pond and the dense greenery surrounding it.
Luang Prabang has much to offer though, so as tempted as we were to stay at the hotel, we did venture out. The hotel provides complimentary shuttle services into town as well as motorcycles and bicycles for rent. We loved their bicycles, which were just as stylish as the resort they belonged to. In a bright Belmond orange, with wicker baskets to hold your purchases and leather handles, they were perfect bikes for a day out in town.
If you’d like a more guided experience, the hotel also offers tours around the area on their private luxury boat. Cruise down the Nam Ou or the Mekong to see Luang Prabang’s famous Pak Ou caves. The hotel team will prepare a picnic lunch for you on a white linen dinner table set on the banks of the river surrounded by breathtaking mountain peaks while you explore the caves. Other activities include trips to waterfalls, city tours of Luang Prabang and some unique Laotian cultural experiences such as the famous alms giving ceremony at dawn.
For those times when you just can’t get yourself to leave the hotel, enjoy one of the hotel’s spa treatments or get chopping in a private cooking class with La Residence’s chef and learn how to cook authentic Laotian dishes. In the evening, you can’t miss enjoying the romantic atmosphere as candles and lanterns get lit all throughout the hotel and the gardens. Sip on a signature Lao Lao cocktail by the pool or in the cozy bar, and enjoy occasional musical performances by Lao musicians.
Dinners are served both inside and outside at Phou Savanh Restaurant, or if you’re looking for a truly unique experience, try the hotel’s candle light dinner with a private table surrounded by five hundred candles.
The team around General Manager Thomas Moons will also help you choose personalized dinner experiences around Luang Prabang that you’ll enjoy. We were really impressed that the hotel didn’t just have a general recommendation they would send everyone to. Instead, they listened to what it was we were looking for and made unique recommendations. For us, that went as far as Thomas personally calling up the chef of an upscale Luang Prabang restaurant to arrange a fine dining insect dinner for us. We’d requested “adventurous” food, so we were more than impressed by being served ant egg dishes that weren’t even on the restaurant’s normal menu. It was an experience we couldn’t have gotten without the help of La Residence’s team, because we would never even have known this option existed.
Only for the adventurous: Ant egg and caviar steamed omelette at Blue Lagoon
The Verdict: La Residence Phou Vao
Everything at Belmond’s La Residence Phou Vao is five star. From the carefully restored villas to the level of service, everything comes with extra attention to detail that’s rare to see, even in five star hotels. The space is simply stunning, and we were incredibly impressed with Thomas Moon’s team who managed to be incredibly attentive whilst being unobtrusive. They seemed to have a mystical power to appear whenever we needed them and went above and beyond – from calling up local restaurants to request unique off-the-menu dinner options to helping me fix mobile internet on my phone and setting us up with one of their wifi dongles when we couldn’t get our mobiles working immediately. Our stay in Luang Prabang was unique and memorable because of this hotel, and we’d visit again in a heartbeat!
We enjoyed our stay as guests of Belmond’s La Residence Phou Vao. All opinions are my own and I will only recommend hotels and activities I truly enjoy.