Overlooking the World Heritage town of Luang Prabang, Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao is designed in traditional style and filled with modern comforts. Teresa Ooi checks in.
What: Belmond La Residence Phou Vao, Luang Prabang, Laos.
Why you’d choose it: Set on a hill above Luang Prabang, this is a quietly luxurious, all-suite hotel with balconies overlooking an expansive garden and an infinity pool. The dark teak wood floors are refreshingly cool to walk on, but they do creak – a lot! So no slipping into the bedroom after a late night out. Everyone knows what time you got back. Designed in traditional style, the 34-suite hotel has a calm, tranquil ambience in keeping with the sleepy World Heritage town, the former royal capital of Laos. Conveniently located only two kilometres from the town centre and about four kilometres from the airport.
Where we stayed: Our 55 square metre junior suite has a king-sized bed with a mosquito net, which always adds a romantic touch in the evenings when the bed is turned down. The dressing table is big enough to accommodate laptops. The bathroom has a terrazzo bath and shower, rosewood furnishings, an espresso machine and a sitting area with a complimentary local fruit basket, which is refreshed daily. There’s a spacious balcony with table and chairs where you can have your breakfast while admiring the mountain views.
Where we ate: We sat outside under the star-lit sky, candles on the table and lanterns hung from the trees and shrubs. The views of Mount Phousi in the distance were an added attraction. Phou Savanh is one of Luang Prabang’s best restaurants with an interesting choice of fusion Laotian flavours with a touch of French. We tried the banana flower salad with minced duck and Mekong perch in coconut soup with galangal and quail eggs, which were delicious with just the right mix of Laotian spices and herbs. Breakfast at the same restaurant was always a joy. A pop-up stall offering Laotian noodle soup and a selection of fresh local fruits including the tropical chikoo, a deliciously sweet sapota fruit thought to have originated in the central American rain forests. Bread and croissants are baked fresh daily.
What else can you do?: We opted for a champagne sunset cruise to get a sense of Laotian tranquility on a private boat. We ended the day watching the last sun rays set from the top of Chompet hill, overlooking Luang Prabang and the Mekong River. We were served crisp, black mushroom canapes washed down with chilled champagne. It was magical. It costs US$300 for two people including champagne and return transport from hotel to the riverbank.
What we did: No visit to Luang Prabang is complete without taking part in the traditional alms giving or “tak bat’’. We had to wake up at 4.30am to get ready for the 5.30am pick up. I carried a straw basket of freshly steamed sticky rice to give to Buddhist monks in the town centre. I had to wear a white scarf over one shoulder, kneel on a bamboo mat and use my fingers to dish out the hot rice into the alms bowls of passing monks. The neat lineup of monks clad in brilliant orange robes seemed unending. I wished the rice was not so hot, but it was an uplifting experience.
There’s something quietly magical about Luang Prabang which celebrated its 20th anniversary as a UNESCO World Heritage site last year. The people are charmingly friendly and helpful. Service at the hotel is faultless. Laotian coffee is deliciously strong. The colourful night markets are so cheap that you feel like a heel when you bargain and beat down the price.
Bookings: Our suite cost US$450 ($612) a night with breakfast. Call 1800 217 568 or see belmond.com