Laidback relaxation in Luang Prabang
Cherish the tranquillity at Belmond’s La Résidence Phou Vao
Remember what the slow pace of life was like? I don’t. But this is exactly why places like Luang Prabang in Laos exist. It is to remind us that once in a while we have to take time to enjoy life at a pace slower than what we are used to. In a land, almost untouched by time, the Unesco World Heritage city of Luang Prabang has a certain charm to it that is only enhanced by stays at Belmond’s La Résidence Phou Vao.
It has been 10 years since I was last in Luang Prabang and few things have changed. Change, the only inevitable constant (apart from death) in a world like ours, is welcome in most places however, here one is almost relieved at the lack of it. It is one of those cities where time needs to be still. When you do visit, you’ll know exactly what I am writing about.
Is there anything better than a traditional Laotian welcome? La Résidence Phou Vao ensures that one is immediately immersed in Luang Prabang with its welcome. Over the last two years, the resort has been given a mini facelift, but retained its old-world charm. Resorts like these are rarely built these days.
Staying in is like staying out where large French windows offer spectacular views and let the light and the outdoors in. Brightly coloured flowers and handmade Laotian textiles dot suites, as a gentle reminder of the country you’re in. Though there are a couple of suites to choose from, I suggest the Mountain and Pool View Junior Suite. Why? It’s in the name! I always veer towards bodies of water and the suite’s spacious balcony offers sweeping views of the pool and the valley beyond with the majestic Mount Phousi in perfect sight on a clear day. I am a huge bath person and the terrazzo bath did not disappoint, especially after a long day of exploring.
The hotel’s grounds are home to a zen garden with a sala, where the traditional Baci or well-wishing ceremony is held. Another big sala on the lawns is where morning yoga classes are conducted, with views of a lotus pond. Though small lotus ponds are scattered around the property, it is the one near Mekong spa that is the most tranquil, if only because it is a “hidden gem”, along with the second and more private pool. The spa offers Laotian therapies using locally-sourced botanicals. The Sip Sen Lao massage is a must.
Breakfast is at the resort’s only restaurant that also offers views of the pool and valley. At Tam Nan, all dishes, though modern, incorporate Laotian cooking techniques. Breakfast is an ample choice of Asian and Western items, ensuring it is the most important meal of the day. Except for breakfast, every meal kicks off with the traditional sticky rice and three dips.
If you’re on a romantic trip, and trust me, Luang Prabang would be the ideal destination, and want a private dinner, there would be nothing better that a starlit romance beside the lotus lake. The entire field surrounding the sala near the lake is lit with around 500 oil lanterns to create just the right ambience for an enchanting setting.
If you’re like me and are eager to learn more about the local cuisine, executive chef Larisa Vesterbacka hosts cooking workshops in the small organic farm on the property. The outdoor kitchen is the perfect place to learn more about traditional Laotian cooking techniques, ending with you sampling the dishes in the restaurant.
It is important to note that the day begins early in Laos. Most often people are up at 4am to make the most of the day, which begins with the cooking of sticky rice. This, however, is not for breakfast but for alms-giving.
The ritual of alms-giving is one of the most local and traditional things to do in Luang Prabang. After the sticky rice is cooked, it is filled into bamboo baskets and you head into town, where most of the temples are. As you sit along the footpath outside a temple, a procession of monks in their vibrant orange robes will line up while you fill their bowls with a bit of sticky rice. Do remember to put just a little or you’ll soon run out, as there tends to be anywhere between 100-300 monks on any given day.
The sleepy town is rather small and one can explore it in half a day, returning for the touristic night market. The Kham Royal Palace Museum gives a good insight into the royal family and the history of the ancient capital. Wat Xieng Thong, which translates as “temple of the golden city” is a thing of beauty, especially the golden stupa that shines when the afternoon sun hits its gilded gold frame. If you’re not afraid of climbing stairs, then the 300-stairway to heaven or Mount Phousi will not be a problem. The climb does reward you with a 360° panoramic view of Luang Prabang. One of the best spots to watch the setting sun!
Though, the other top spot would be aboard Belmond’s long boat for a lazy afternoon tea cruise. The boat explores the mighty Mekong River and you get close to the confluence where the clear waters of the Nam Khan river meets the brown Mekong. The boat has daybeds for one to laze on while gliding into the sun’s warm rays. Bliss!
If you’re an energetic early riser, the Kuang Si waterfall is for you. Walk a paved path to the waterfall, which cascades 60m down into clear, azure pools. Though the real indulgence is a catered breakfast by Belmond’s La Résidence Phou Vao with a full view of the falls — an astonishing sight. After breakfast, trek up to the top, which offers mesmerising views on a clear day.
The hotel also offers an intimate encounter with elephants in association with the Mandalao Elephant Conservation, which is a non-riding experience focused on welfare and education. Prasop Tipprasert, who is the co-founder and director of the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre, heads the project. Once known as “Lan Xang” or the “Land of a Million Elephants” it is currently estimated that fewer than 400 elephants live in the wild in Laos and the elephants at Mandalao have all been rescued from logging sites.
Relax, unwind and embrace the tranquil spirit of Luang Prabang at Belmond’s La Résidence Phou Vao. This would be a good place to begin a journey of peace in the new year. Visit bit.ly/3QqRIQs.