Aug 10, 2009
PERCHED ON PHOU VAO, THE HILL OF KITES, and ringed by 3.5 hectares of its own lush greenery, La Résidence prides itself on being a quiet sanctuary. The style is refined, understated and in sync with Luang Prabang, the former royal capital and UNESCO World Heritage Site. From the infinity pool fronting the main building is a view to kill for: over a canopy of coconut palms rises the golden-spired shrine atop Phou Si backed by a range of mountains. When the hilltop temple’s electrical system gave out, the hotel footed the bill for a replacement so diners could savor the shrine’s twinkling lights after sunset.
Luang Prabang is a destination that awakens a tenderness in anyone talking about it. I first became familiar with the ancient capital from friends and acquaintances waxing lyrical about its faded Indochinese villas and famed gilded wats. It wasn’t until I touched down in Luang Prabang for the first time that I fully grasped the magic of the remote, mountain-ringed town myself.
I’m convinced there are few better places to revel in the perennial stillness of the town than from the terrace of one of Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao’s suites. My arrival time to the hotel perfectly aligned with sunset, so by the time I arrived at my room—after being whisked from the airport and seamlessly checked in— Luang Prabang has been cast in hues of gold as the setting sun melts into the horizon.
It’s quiet, and the light perfectly highlights gilded stupa of That Chomsi on Phousi hill in the near distance.
The 34 suites of the charming hotel are snugged into the shady hillside of Phou Vao, which translates to hill of kites. It’s the site where young Laotian princes would come to fly kites before the hotel building was built in 1970 as a place for royalty to stay.
Having gone through multiple owners and renovations before Belmond took over the property in 2004, the place still feels fit for royalty. Coming from a concrete jungle like Bangkok, it’s the 3.7 hectares of verdant gardens that feel most luxurious (though easily reviled by their award-winning Mekong Spa and my suite, which teems with rosewood furniture and traditional Lao silk accents).
It’s all too easy to while away the day by the freshwater infinity pool with a book, especially since it sits next to Mountain Terrace, the French-Laotian restaurant that very conveniently will serve you at your lounger. But I end up spending a good amount of time with the merry staff exploring the town.
One morning, I joined Phonvilai, a staff member who has been at the hotel for almost a decade, on a breakfast cruise down the Mekong.
Onboard the hotel’s boat, which dazzles with gleaming wood floors, and plush day beds, I get to watch the sleepy riverside town come to life while (over) indulging in fresh pastries, locally-made buffalo cheese, and the most opulent caviar-topped salmon benedict I’ve ever laid my eyes upon.
Another day is spent making friends with bunnies and buffalos at the same farm where breakfast cheese was made. A cone of buffalo-milk ice cream on the way to Kuang Si waterfall was a highlight.
I’ve always been impressed by Belmond’s off-site experience offerings, and La Résidence Phou Vao is no different. Cycling, private diners at the waterfall, trips to a farming village outside town, restaurant-hopping in town, archery in the garden. For one of the sleepiest towns I’ve ever been to, it’s easy to stay active here, no thanks to the jubilant staff who are eager to introduce you to the town.
Ending the hotel after a day visiting Luang Prabang’s storied temples, I grab a cocktail made with local rum Laodi and take in the sweeping views of the surrounding hills and shrines. Heightened by the subtle scent of frangipani and the buzz from the rum, I am finally in on the spiritual Luang Prabang nourishment everyone has been talking about.
See where to get the best eats in Luang Prabang here.