Muang La Resort

Oudomxay, Luang Prabang & North, Laos Book from US$280

Reviewed by Kate Hall
A serene mountain escape in northern Laos, with treks to remote hill tribes, great fusion food and thermal pools
Perched beside a glistening river in the remote hills of northern Laos, Muang La Resort is one of the country's loveliest retreats. It’s surrounded by a wild valley of jungle, peppered with colourful hill-tribe communities, yet is surprisingly accessible and genuinely worth the journey to get here. As you arrive along a tiny track, you're greeted with smiling faces, and the glorious tropical arbors and sounds of the Nam Pak river are instantly relaxing. The idyllic village of Muang La is on your doorstep, and local life is very much part of your experience here. You'll see villagers bathing in the river and working their paddy fields, and Buddhist monks crossing the rope bridge for the daily alms-giving ceremony. But one thing you won't see much of is other tourists; when we visited in 2013, the area was still virtually untouched - and all the more beautiful for it.

Ten rooms are spread between wood and bamboo buildings, blending seamlessly with the landscape. Inside you'll find local art and woven fabrics, high ceilings, piping-hot showers and all-important balconies to capture the spectacular surroundings. Walkers, photographers and foodies will revel in Muang La, but it’s a perfect haven for anyone to unwind.

Highs

  • Trekking, mountain biking and 4x4 excursions with fantastic local guides. You'll go through incredible scenery to meet remote hill-tribe communities
  • Superb Lao-French fusion food, with 5-course set dinners and gourmet picnics; rates include breakfast and dinner
  • The warm and friendly manager, and ever-smiling staff
  • Thermal spring-fed pools to bathe in, plus massages and beauty treamtents in the spa
  • A totally authentic experience that's well off the tourist trail, with impressive eco and social credentials

Lows

  • Getting here: either an internal flight from Vientiane or a 6-hour scenic drive from Luang Prabang
  • Full payment at the time of reservation, and excursions are expensive
  • Rooms are not air-conditioned (only really a problem in the warmer months of April and May)
  • Service can be slow, but this is pretty normal in Laos
  • Expect moths and mosquitoes; mozzie coils and plug-in repellents are provided, but there are no nets

Best time to go

The best time to visit is between October and March when the weather is drier and fairly cool. During rainy season (June-September), the treks may be slippery and leeches may be active. During October the mountain rice is cultivated, and during November and December the low-land rice is cultivated. Hmong New Year, which takes place in December or January, is a fantastic time to visit, as the Hmong people dress in extremely colourful attire. The hotel is closed annually over Lao New Year (3 days, usually in April).

Our top tips

  • There are bugs and mosquitoes so bring repellent with you
  • The sun is very strong at this altitude so pack a hat and strong sunscreen for the treks, as well as good walking shoes or boots. As you will pass through very simple villages, bring small denominations of cash in case you want to buy anything
  • When you arrive at the resort ask if there are any Akha markets happening during your stay - their handicrafts are fantastic
  • Great for...

    Eco
    Family
    Foodie
    Great Outdoors
    Spa
    • = Recommended
    • = Best in region
    • = World favourite
    • Rural Hotel
    • 10
    • Half-board + lunch on request; 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
    • Bicycles Available
    Room:

    Rooms

    The 10 rooms are named after local hill-tribe communities, and decorated with their distinct colour themes. They are spread between beautiful timber and bamboo houses, and furnished with jewel-coloured cushions, locally woven textiles, lampshades and traditional art.

    There are 6 Garden View rooms. Lenten and Akha are twin-bedded and feel light and airy with silvery white walls, polished wooden floors, high vaulted ceilings and small balconies looking out to the lawn. Their bathrooms have showers only. The other 4 rooms (Tai Leu, Lao, Hmong and Khamu) sit perpendicular to the river, also facing the garden. These rooms have recently renovated bathrooms with large tubs and separate showers. As a result, we thought they were the best-value rooms.

    The 4 River View rooms have large balconies and are vast inside. Ceilings are extremely high, and with retro-style furniture and brightly coloured fabrics, they are more eclectic in design. Their terrazzo bathrooms are huge with double sinks and oversized bathtubs. Katou and Lamet are furthest from reception and feel very private; they would work well for a family or 2 couples as they have the added benefit of a shared lounge area with a coffee machine. We stayed in Katou and had the most peaceful sleep in the comfy queensize bed.

    Features include:

    • Bathrobes
    • Cots Available
    • Extra beds
    • Fan
    • Hairdryer
    • Internet access
    • Terrace
    • Terrace
    • Toiletries
    • WiFi
    • Wifi internet

    Eating

    Your stay includes breakfast and dinner. The dining area is rustic and open with a large deck overlooking the river - it has an African safari-lodge feel, and in cooler months they light a fire pit for aperitifs. Dinner is an impressive affair, with a daily changing 5-course set menu (though they can cater for dietary requirements). The food is a fine fusion of traditional Lao and French flavours; think brochette of pork with lemongrass or fish pudding cooked in a banana leaf. Everything is beautifully presented and we enjoyed every mouthful, particularly the Asiatic apple crumble, which had pineapple in the fruit mix and peanuts in the topping.

    For an additional charge, dinner can be served in the private sala on the small island opposite the resort, accessed by a rope bridge lit with oil torches. If you're here for a special occasion it's definitely worth it - we had pre-dinner drinks here one evening, surrounded by dozens of lanterns and candles.

    Lunch (extra cost) at the resort is also a set menu, including dishes such as green papaya salad, Khao Pat (pork fried rice), Pad Thai and pasta. If you're out for the day, ask for a picnic - we were really impressed with our scrumptious spicy beef and rice cooked on a portable gas cooker overlooking the most beautiful rice terraces. For a change of scene there are simple restaurants within walking distance.

    Breakfast is a Western meal, and less impressive than lunch and dinner, though certainly filling. We were offered a basket full of fluffy breads, croissants and pastries, plus eggs and bacon.

    Features include:

    • Bar
    • Cooking classes
    • Half board
    • Lunch by arrangement
    • Organic produce
    • Restaurant
    • Restaurants nearby
    • Room service
    • Vegetarian menu
    Eating:
    Activity:

    Activities

    The hotel offers a range of excellent activities, which include the following:

    • Take a guided tour of Pak La village. See how villagers live, watch water buffalo tend the rice paddies and visit the salt mines. Or take a mountain bike tour
    • Enjoy half-day guided treks through the undulating natural scenery and full-day treks to hill-tribe villages. Muang La's local guides are excellent, and will explain each village's tribal customs, lifestyle, daily chores and perspective on the modern world
    • Get more remote by 4x4; we loved the ‘Meet the ethnic groups of northern Laos’ excursion on our first day, which takes you by 4x4 to far-off Hmong, Ikhos and Khamu villages
    • Experience a traditional Baci ceremony in a local house - these are held to celebrate special events such as marriage or the birth of a baby, and are seen as a restoring of spirits
    • Soak in the natural hot pools, whose water comes from a thermal salt-water spring, or have a massage, pedicure, manicure or reflexology in the spa, followed by a steam
    • Take a cookery class, during which you'll visit the market and learn about local spices and aromatic herbs, and how they are combined in traditional Lao recipes
    • Awake early to watch the daily alms giving to Buddhist monks around Muang La village
    • Visit the sacred Buddha in the Pha Chiao Sing Kham temple, and other richly gilded pagodas
    • Take a river cruise down the Nam Ou from Muang Khua to Nong Khiaw, one of the most picturesque trips in the region. You'll see enormous limestone formations rising majestically from the water
    • Celebrating a special occasion? Release Chinese lanterns at night from the banks of the river

    Activities on site or nearby include:

    • Boat trips
    • Cooking classes
    • Cycling
    • Hiking
    • Historical sites
    • Mountain biking
    • Plantlife / flora
    • Private guided tours
    • Shopping / markets
    • Traditional cultures
    • Trekking
    • Well being

    Kids

    Families are welcome. The hotel can provide baby cots (free of charge) and rollaway beds for 2-12 year-olds (supplement charge), or children aged 0-12 can share the bed with their parents for free. Due to the nature of the excursions, the remote location and the limited variety of children’s food, the resort is best suited to active older children who love the outdoors, although you will need to pay full adult rates for 12+ year-olds.

    Best for:

    Children (4-12 years), Teens (over 12)

    Family friendly accommodation:

    Cots Available, Extra Beds Available

    Babysitting:

    On request.

    Kid Friendly:

    Our guests' ratings...

    10/
    Rooms
    10/
    Food
    9/
    Service
    10/
    Value
    10/
    Overall

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