The driver handed us cold hand towels, fresh cookies, a bottle of water and told us there was wifi in the shuttle for the short drive from the airport. From that moment, we knew our stay at Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao in Luang Prabang was going to be a standout experience.
La Residence Phou Vao
We wound our way down the hotel’s beautiful treelined driveway with individual tea light candles nestled into holes in a low brick wall at either side, creating a twinkling trail to the hotel foyer. Staff were quick to greet us and usher us to a sitting area, where we were presented with more cool towels and a signature hibiscus iced tea.
The resort’s white washed and dark wood colonial-style buildings fan out to either side of the reception area, taking full advantage of the hotel’s hill-top location. Seated comfortably in its private leafy surrounds, La Residence Phou Vao sits admiring the small town below and the brooding mountains beyond. The communal area centres around the gorgeous freshwater infinity pool with it’s mountain views. There are also a number of cosy alfresco sitting areas dotted around the grounds, where you can work via wifi, read a book or simply enjoy the tranquility of the setting.
There are Garden View, Mountain View and Mountain and Pool View Suites. The Mountain and Pool view suites have the most expansive view of the hotel and surrounds. That’s the room to book if you can. They are very popular with honeymooners for obvious reasons.
The Junior Suite at Belmond Luang Prabang
It was this twilight mountain view that was waiting when we settled into our Junior Suite – the sky flushed with pastel pinks and peaches, a subtle silhouette in the distance. Rosewood features made the suite feel warm, while crisp white linens, carefully decorated with fresh cut bougainvillea from the garden was just a small sign of the considered, luxury feel nurtured at the hotel. A king bed sat alongside a sitting area, leading on to the balcony. A gorgeous bathroom with an inviting freeform tub looks out on to the outdoor lounge area for two. Lush natural body products are provided as well as plush robes and plenty of thick white towels creating a truly indulgent and calm oasis from the Laotian heat.
The room has all of those features you’d expect from a five-star luxury hotel – from satellite TV to wifi and a Krump coffee unit with unlimited coffee pods. But it’s the personal touches that were the real highlights for me; a nightly turn-down service, including a note on the forecast for the following day, the mosquito net put in place, slippers laid out and fresh-baked cookies for a midnight or early morning snack.
Hunger led us, quite literally, up the garden path to dinner at the hotel restaurant, Phou Savanh. It’s not often you’re staying at a hotel which also houses the best restaurant in town. The menu featuring Laotian cuisine with a French touch is talked about, not only by guests, but it’s known as the restaurant in Luang Prabang where you take someone to spoil them. It’s that delicious.
Taking a seat on the outdoor patio overlooking the hotel pool, the surrounding area was illuminated by lanterns and candle light and with only a couple of other guests dining at either end of the restaurant, we felt like we had the place to ourselves. That suited us perfectly as we were visiting Luang Prabang for our first wedding anniversary, so it was the perfect way to start a romantic few days.
It was our first Laotian tasting and the food was incredible. The highlights were the steamed fish cooked in banana leaf with steamed vegetables and a rich, sweet Laotian beef stew. We really appreciated the chef, Wally coming out to check on our meal after dinner, too.
For those looking to ramp up the romance, the hotel offers an extremely indulgent and private Five Hundred Candle Dinner.
The restaurant patio is also where you’ll enjoy a peaceful buffet breakfast each morning while taking in the view down towards the iconic Mount Phousi (marking the centre of town). Breakfast is a healthy spread with everything made from scratch.
Try the carrot and orange gazpacho, fresh crab, tuna or fruit salads or home made yoghurt for a fresh start. Eggs are made to order with all the trimmings. Fresh baked French pastries and breads will transport you to Paris. Or if none of that hits the mark, you can order a la carte, the likes of Luang Prabang sausage made with lemongrass and served with fruit compote (warning: it’s addictive), french toast, Belgian waffles, Eggs Benedict or home made trifle with Choc-Almond Sticky Rice and fresh mango.
Staying Active at Belmond Luang Prabang
For a boutique hotel, I was pleasantly surprised at the workout space they had on offer. We trained every day in the bright space. There’s a treadmill, cross-trainer, stationary bike, floor space, free weights and a combination machine weight set up in the corner. We only once shared the space with another guest, so you’ll likely have it to yourself, to work off those breakfast baked goods!
What to do in Luang Prabang
You’ll find it hard to tear yourself away from the sanctuary of the 13-metre freshwater pool during the day. The jade green tiles ease you into the water as you enjoy uninterrupted views of the trees below and valley beyond. But when you can, why not borrow the hotel bikes and cruise down to the point where the Mekong and the Nam Khan rivers kiss and grab some lunch. It’s a very gentle and safe bike ride. We did just that on the day of our wedding anniversary. We rode, stopped for coffee and explored the town (it’s a small place so you can take it at a very relaxed pace). We arrived home just in time for a celebratory glass of bubbles at the Doc Champa Bar, where they serve complementary canapés during happy hour. Delicious. Thomas, the General Manager also gave us the perfect recommendation for an anniversary dinner back in town and the hotel shuttle dropped us at the door. Thomas was very hands on during our entire stay. He knew each group of guests by name, was always on hand checking in on everyone and ensuring they had everything they needed. It was a very personal approach to management that we really appreciated. He’s also a really nice guy, so that helps too.
The award-winning Mekong Spa is Luang Prabang’s best (and almost the only) luxury spa. So why not wander through the garden for an afternoon of indulgence. The spa specialises in massage, using nourishing products made from local botanical ingredients. It’s also the location of the hotel’s other pool if you’re seeking a bit more privacy for a dip.
When deciding where to stay in Luang Prabang, La Residence Phou Vao stands out at the perfect luxury traveller’s choice for so many reasons. In true Belmond style, the service, the food and every single detail at the hotel has been carefully considered and delivered with a sophisticated subtlety that only the best luxury hotels in the world have mastered.
La Residence Phou Vao
The Fit Traveller was a guest of Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao for this stay. As always, the opinions, images and words are authentically our own.
* A special thank you to Thomas, Oscar and the staff at Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao who made our stay so relaxing and effortless. Nothing was a problem with the team at this beautiful hideaway in Luang Prabang and it was the perfect setting for our first wedding anniversary.
Skye is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Fit Traveller.
She is a journalist, writer, photographer, intrepid traveller and a former personal trainer with a passion for helping others reach optimal health.
As a TV journalist and producer, Skye has worked for household names such as 60 Minutes, Sunrise, TODAY and Nine News. She has also written for Women’s Health, Fodor’s Travel and Yahoo7 Travel, among many others.
Equally comfortable in a 5-star resort or hiking a far-off mountain, Skye loves the unexpected and enriching life experiences that each trip brings and can often be found in a backstreet chatting to locals with her camera in hand.
Skye is based in Sydney, working to master the balance between motherhood and her appetite for adventure.
Read more about Skye’s story here.