Belmond La Residence Phou Vao

Luang Prabang & North, Laos Book from US$391

Reviewed by Tom Bell
Unremitting elegance, a spoiling spa, and a pool with a view make this temple of oriental chic impossible to resist
A fabulous hotel, one of our favourites in town, which will test your determination to be a good tourist. Extensive manicured gardens encircle you - palms, banana trees, frangipani, the trimmest lawns - while airy interiors flow gracefully from one room to another, past ornamental ponds and out to a sun-trapping terrace. At night thousands of lanterns burn in the grounds (four men take 2 hours to light them all) and dinner on the terrace gazing across the pool is very easy on the eye.

Whether the pool and its terrace is more beautiful than your room is an impossible question to answer - and, quite frankly, you will be far too busy enjoying yourself to care. But, for the record, the view from your sun lounger on the terrace leaps across the treetops to Mount Phu Si, while your exceptional bedroom is airy and elegant and opens onto a private balcony where opium beds takes the strain. In case these don’t do the trick, there’s a spa to pamper you into submission (including a free 30-minute massage for i-escape guests).

Highs

  • Serene airy rooms with their exquisite balconies for tea in the shade
  • The view from the pool across treetops to Mount Phu Si
  • Perfect service makes the difference: nothing here is too much trouble
  • There’s French and Laotian flair in the kitchen, too, expect delicious food
  • Interesting trips and activities with which to fill you days, if you can tear yourself away from the pool that is

Lows

  • You’re on the flight path, close to the airport, but it’s far from busy, more like a country airfield, and the sound of propeller planes overhead is actually quite quaint
  • The hotel is away from the old town - and all the more tranquil for it. A free tuk-tuk service will whisk you down from 10.30am-10pm
  • Excursions and spa treatments are quite expensive
  • We've had reports that some rooms are looking a little tired

Best time to go

The rainy season is May to late October; hot, humid and wet. November to mid February is the cool season – but still hot, making this a great time to come. Mid February to May is the hot season and out in the rice fields the lushness disappears, but 85% of Laos is forested mountain, so expect the place to be green. Luang Prabang gets much less rain than Vientiane.

Our top tips

Luang Prabang is one of the loveliest towns in Asia. Its two-story streets give the feel of a village on the banks of a big river. Locals don’t hassle you, tuk-tuk drivers wait for you to approach them, a unique experience in Indochina! So don’t come for a couple of days. Come for a week. To do what? you ask. Well, nothing much, but that’s really the pleasure here, this is simply a great little town to chill out in with enough culture to keep you busy and plenty of time to do nothing at all.

Great for...

City Style
Family
Honeymoon
Spa
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Luxury Hotel
  • 34
  • Restaurant + bar (open daily)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
Room:

Rooms

The hallmark here is an impeccable simplicity (don’t come looking for clutter). You’ll find whitewashed walls, contemporary four-posters kitted out in crisp white linen, shiny teak floors and a wall of glass opening onto shaded balconies or terraces. Here you get 2 opium-bed loungers embedded in wooden frames. In between, there’s a small coffee table with sparkling tea pots, so sip your Earl Grey, read your book, snooze through the afternoon.

All suites at La Residence are gorgeously airy and spacious, and come in the same cool style. They are categorised by their view (prices rise as the views get better), so choose from Garden View, Mountain View, Mountain Pool View or top-of-the-range Phou Vao Suite. We had a Garden View Suite and loved it, but Mountain View rooms are not much more expensive, so you may want to splash out on one of these. We felt the Mountain Pool View Suites were a little less private, and thought that the 2 Phou Vao Suites would be best suited to those staying long periods of time due to their separate sitting areas.

Inside, you get cushioned sofas, good lighting, TVs and mini-bars that are hidden away in pretty wooden cabinets. There are bowls of fruit, too. Big airy bathrooms are equally wonderful and come with polished rosewood surfaces, huge wall mirrors and terrazzo baths in green with overhead showers; all come with robes, slippers and soothing oils.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer
  • Internet access
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Phone
  • Safe box
  • Satellite tv
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • Tv

Eating

A fabulous breakfast is served in the Phou Savanh restaurant and is accompanied by a newssheet that brings you up to date. You help yourself to a huge buffet breakfast. Dig into fruit salads and freshly-sliced fruits, assorted jugs of freshly-squeezed juice, cold plates of cheese and ham, hot plates of bacon and eggs (and even baked beans!), then a raft of patisserie, all of which is baked in the kitchen: pain au chocolat, croissants, baguette, brioche, even chocolate cake.

Throughout the day a menu of light snacks offers pasta and salads, sandwiches and burgers, onion tarts, spring rolls and home-made potato chips. If you want something more substantial for lunch the dinner menu is available, too. You eat either in the airy dining room, where glass doors retract and open the room up to views of distant mountains, or out on the terrace, which is lit by candle lanterns at night; if the temperature cools, they light coal fires to keep you warm. Try stuffed bamboo shoots or foie gras, wok-fried Mekong perch or magret de canard, tropical fruits or tarte au chocolat. It’s all delicious and there’s a good wine list to enjoy. All meals can be brought to your room, or you can opt to dine amongst 500 candles or in a secluded pagoda upon request. Unwind with a sundowner in the Doc Champa Bar, which overlooks the pool and has an impressive wine and cocktail list.

Luang Prabang has some of the best food in Indochina with a clutch of excellent cafés and restaurants from which to choose; the streets at night are alive with tourists and locals. Staff are more than happy to recommend restaurants and make table reservations.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Cooking classes
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Restaurant
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Room service
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason: this sleepy city on the banks of the Mekong is one of the loveliest in Asia. It is a perfect spot to while away a quiet week and has enough lovely diversions to fill many a morning
  • Take a boat 25 km up the Mekong to the Pak Ou Caves. You’ll find Buddha statues jostling for space and the cruise up the river is spectacular
  • Drive or cycle up to Kuang Si waterfalls and check out its impressive 150m drop that tumbles from the sky over four ledges (at its best in November-January, after the rains); there are swimming holes downstream, but remember that Laotians bathe fully clothed. The journey south through the countryside is equally enjoyable.
  • Ride an elephant, trek in the hills, bike through the mountains, take to the rivers in a kayak. There are several tour companies; try Tiger Trail on the High Street
  • Cross the Mekong and climb up the hill to Wat Chom Phet, a ruined temple with great views of Luang Prabang across the Mekong
  • Don’t miss the Royal Palace (not that you can, it’s in the middle of town). An hour here is well spent; outlandish interiors with fine murals and interesting curios
  • Phu Si, the temple on top of the only hill in town: come up for sunset and meet every other tourist in town. Tacky - well, yes, a little, but the views of forest and the Mekong are great, and you can see the wood smoke settling above the tree-line at dusk, one of the loveliest sights we saw in Laos
  • Play pétanque by the banks of the river. Luang Prabangers seem to love this game and there are pitches all over the place
  • Check out the markets: Phu Si market, away from the old town, is where locals do their shopping. The night market sprawls through the side streets around the Royal Palace and its pretty lights make it a lovely evening stroll
  • Chill out at the Residence with a Lao massage in the spa, or a cookery lesson

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Cooking classes
  • Cycling
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Shopping / markets
  • Traditional cultures

Kids

The hotel is child-friendly, with extra beds and children's menus available, but the pool is not supervised. Under 2s go free; 2-12 year olds pay 50% for food and beverages; over 12s pay normal rates.

Family friendly accommodation:

All rooms can fit an extra bed or baby cot, but we'd recommend the Phou Vao Suite as it comes with a sitting room that features a single sofabed as well as being able to fit an additional bed or baby cot.

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Electric bikes are extremely popular and this ‘half day no temples’ version avoids anything that could bore kids!
  • Elephant Adventure where you can ride elephants
  • Kuang Si Waterfalls is a classic for all ages, there's also a bear sanctuary
  • There are zip lines nearby

Kid Friendly:

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