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 onetime 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.
Once the domain of backpackers, Luang Prabang is seeing the advent of more luxury hotels as Laos takes on hotspot status. So far, properties like Maison Souvannaphoum, The Grand, Villa Santi and The 3 Nagas are appropriately scaled and culturally sensitive - but Chinese and Korean mass marketeers are knocking at the door, making La Residence’s splendid isolation even more of a plus. And it’s still only a five-minute drive to the old city.
François Greck, a French architect who lives in Laos, miraculously transformed five Soviet-era, bunker-style buildings into airy, low-slung residences in the French colonial style - whitewashed stucco walls, extensive use of hardwood, internal corridors for cool air circulation. The spa takes on the ambience of a Lao village - four bungalows set around a water lily pond. Hanging fabrics, pottery, low couches and woodcarvings give public spaces a similarly local feel. It all has the stamp of approval by UNESCO, the town’s cultural watchdog, and attains the high bar set by Orient-Express Hotels, the luxury travel company which took over the property in 2006.
With 130 staff for 34 rooms, you’re guaranteed to be pampered, but not smothered. General Manager Jérémie de Fombelle, a young Indochina hand, rates Lao service highly; the natural hospitality and warmth haven’t been strained out by excessive training.
Knowing guests, like King Sihamoni of Cambodia, always check into a room with the mountain and temple view. Rates here are based on views, the size, layout and décor of the 32 rooms being similar. The hotel’s two suites are not substantially larger (60–65 square meters). All come with private balconies and bright décor featuring rosewood floors, sofas upholstered in local cotton and four-poster beds draped with mosquito nets.
Roomy and pleasingly simple. A bathtub of smooth green marble is nicely sculpted for the body - the shape inspired by traditional Lao forms. In most of the guest rooms, a large sliding window overlooks the mountains or garden.
At turndown service, a new printed recipe is tucked under your pillow each night. If you want to try your hand at them, popular evening cooking classes are held around the pool. Outside, the hotel organizes well-planned excursions including rides on the Mekong aboard a well-appointed boat with bar. Hotel tuk-tuks stand by for free rides into town.
The spa deserves special recognition. The first full service luxury one in Laos, it’s the hotel’s pride and joy. La Résidence delved into the Lao massage tradition, and it now offers remedies using ingredients from local organic farms. How about a “poultice of rice and black sesame seeds soaked in warm coconut milk?”
Luang Prabang, Laos
Telephone: +856 71 212 2530