This is part of my Asia Trip Spring 2018.
This is a bit of a detailed hotel review so if you’d rather not read and just look at pictures, in short: Only 20 minutes from the airport and 10 minutes from downtown. Stunning design and landscape, wonderful management and friendly staff, delicious food curated by a hilarious chef, and secluded from the rest of Luang Prabang but in the heart of local dwellings. This resort embodies A Sense of Place and is a beautiful and relaxing home in Luang Prabang. The management team and staff here, with their smiles and welcoming nature really make you feel like family by the end of your stay. It is still brand new and has a few kinks to work out, before its truly worth the hefty pricetag but with time this resort will shine and get to the level of attention to detail it needs to be at.
Luang Prabang, Laos
Review: Rosewood Luang Prabang
Review: Oman Air 787-9 Business Class Bangkok-Muscat
Review: Qatar Airways 787-8 regional “First Class” Muscat-Doha
Review: Qatar Airways 777-300ER Q Suites Doha-New York JFK
Rosewood Luang Prabang
During the second half of our 4 night 5 day trip in Luang Prabang, Laos we spent two nights at the brand new Rosewood Luang Prabang. This was our first time staying at a Rosewood and at a hotel during soft-opening.
Originally slated to open late 2017, the resort ended up opening a few months behind schedule. Upon visiting one can kind of see why, there is a lot going on both in the landscaping and interior appointments. The resort ended up having its soft opening on March 27, 2018, so we were literally one of the first few guests to stay here. Please note as mentioned already the hotel is in soft-opening stages as such, it is not perfect yet. Does that mean I did not enjoy my stay? No way! This resort is spectacular, is run by a dedicated and wonderfully outgoing Managing Director and with time the kinks currently seen will definitely sort themselves out. Does this maybe mean you can wait a little before spending the money to stay here? Probably yes. But perhaps you should just go ahead and stay here as they need guests to stay, provide feedback so that they can continue refining the kinks and get to where they can and need to be at.
Rosewood Luang Prabang is currently under the management of Managing Director Elias Pertoft who has had extensive experience at a few Amans as well as Francis Ford Coppola’s Turtle Inn in Belize. He is very friendly and quite dedicated and open to every guests’ feedback.
This is one of the smallest hotels by room count I have stayed at, smaller than most Amans. Only 23 rooms: 4 Riverside Rooms, 4 Riverside Suites, 3 Riverside villas, 6 Waterfall Pool Villas, 6 Hilltop Tents (a first for Rosewood Hotels and Resorts). The resort layout revolves around the river that flows through it as well as the oval pool (which is beautiful, large and pleasant to swim in). The open-air Grande Maison serves as the lobby, lounge and main restaurant serving primarily Laotian flare. This opens to the pool, loungers, two tented lounge pavilions and pathway to two secluded riverside villas. You cross the river by ways of the Elephant Bar that spans the river. Here you stumble on the least private villa, villa #3 a riverside villa, followed by the building that houses the 8 Riverside room and suites. The brick path linked by wooden swing bridges leads you to the 6 Waterfall Pool Villas, 3 tented Spa Rooms and up the hill to the 6 Tents.
The resort is designed by famed hotel designer Bill Bensley, who’s most famous properties includes the Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle near Chiang Rai. Bensley believes “luxury is dead,” in the sense that for him luxury is now about being one with nature, using only locally sourced materials and decor, and being in touch with a resort’s surroundings and the locale’s culture and history rather than going all out (though he certainly does that too). Which is fitting for Rosewood’s philosophy of “A Sense of Place.” While there is a lot going on with the design, Bensley manages to sit right at the edge of overwhelming and tacky, its just the right amount of opulence, subdued grandeur, and flashy. True to his philosophy, each room is designed differently. From layout to interiors. In fact each of the 23 rooms are unique and themed. The tents are named and designed after key ethnic minorities in Laos, the Waterfall Pool Villas pay homage to explorers and pioneers as well as regional history. Not 100% the themes and design focus of the rooms, suites and riverside villas, though from what I could tell it is similar to the Pool Villas with a touch more local Laotian culture.
We booked 1 riverside room and 1 hilltop tent. Upon arrival the riverside room was upgraded to the waterfall pool villa (from what I could tell its because the riverside rooms and suites are mostly not quite ready yet, also note some tents and pool villas are also not ready yet).
All rooms are appointed with modern amenities including bedside USB ports. Phones are your old-school turn-dial phones, so lots of fun. Bathroom amenity pouches made from local textiles are your’s to keep and there is a his and her’s one. Although knowing that one of our rooms would have two women, they did not have two her’s pouches in that room, which is a detail that they should have gotten. Glass water bottles are constantly refilled, fully stocked mini-bar with utensils, complimentary tea and nespresso machine. Towels are large and soft but dont abosrb very well. Unfortunately in the name of form over function all rooms only have two hooks to hang dry towels or swimsuits which is a bit of an oversight in my opinion. The rooms do not have a directory because the goal is to provide those services by guest interaction since it is so small and has a rather high staff to guest ratio. There are also no pen and paper in the room. Furthermore shower mats were not provided until we requested and seemingly only showed up during turndown service, but once we brought it to Elias’ attention, the shower mats never left. There is turn-down service with slippers, and on one night no gift and on another night there was, but every night delicious Laotian snacks and sweets awaited us in the living room area. Each room also comes with a woven day bag with a hat that is your’s to keep.
The twin waterfall pool villa we had was great. It was botany themed. The bathroom design is where many of these villas differ in terms of layout. This villa, villa #18, has a large open vanity area, followed by separate shower and toilet (though separated by a see-through wall sculpture) with outdoor bathtub. Which to be honest this villa feels designed more for couples who would opt for a king room not a twin. The other villa we toured, villa #14, which is themed after the King of Siam and the military, is a king room but has a bathroom fit more for those who would prefer fuller separation of shower and toilet (see images below). Villa 14 also has a lower gazebo area with daybed swing while Villa 18 does not, however the pool in 18 is larger than that of 14. So as you can see, while unique and stunning in their own ways, each villa is really quite different. This is just something to be aware when booking and to make your needs clear when booking! Each pool villa has a balcony with armchairs and table and is also in this outdoor area that you will find your mini-bar, and nespresso machine in the cupboard. Also note that the pool villas are build basically adjacent to one another, meaning from the balconies and pool decks you can see into your neighbor’s villa, and you can be seen from the main pool area too, just to keep in mind its not 100% private, you are after all one with nature and the resort!
The Hilltop tent is spectacular. From design to the views. It features a large couch, work area, bar area, open tub, vanity area, and separate curtained off toilet and shower stalls. It features a massive balcony featuring views of the mountains, surrounding village, and in the far distances Luang Prabang, it faces East so its perfect for waking up to see the sunrise. This is glamping in all its glory. There is supposed to be safari chairs by the marble countertop on the balcony for guests to enjoy drinks/ a meal/ or the views but Elias mentioned that these have yet to arrive, and in the meantime he was kind enough to have staff place temporary bar stools there for us! The theme of different minority groups is seen in the decorations, some traditional head pieces, framed dresses and the story that is told on the blue bathroom walls (gold painted, just like in the temples). There is a lot of attention to detail in the design and deliberate choices in furnishings.
Overall, just like the resort grounds, the rooms are great and breathtaking. Now there are a few areas where form definitely triumphs over function and I think as more and varied guests come through with an array of needs and requests, the management here will eventually figure out how to make things work the best for the majority of guests that stay here.
Pool and Spa
The centerpiece-oval-shaped pool is gorgeous. It faces the waterfall and river, and in line with the design philosophy does not feature a deck at all. The pool is surrounded by the grass and soil of the resort grounds, this is also where the loungers sit, except for the ones in the two tented pavilions and the two wooden deck overhangs on the riverbank. It seems like an odd shape and small but as a swimmer, I can tell you it is not bad too swim in at all. It also features two jacuzzi seats that didnt exactly start at the push of a button, you have to twist the nozzles as well. Then on the other side is the infinity-esque edge that faces the tranquil waterfall. There is a pool-area shower, by ways of a large black and white vase and wooden ladles. When relaxing by the pool, each lounger comes with two huge beach towels that do absorb well. Staff will come by with water, but it did take a while. There is a his and hers bathroom by the pool/ main restaurant/ lobby area, and kind of funnily we were informed that the designer was not pleased with the original vanity mirror he used for these restrooms so until he finds one he is happy with, these restrooms are without vanity mirror, again just an FYI.
The printed spa-menu is in the works but while we were there it was on an iPad. There are plenty of treatment options including ones done by a Hmong healer BUT he requires at least a 24-hour advance booking based on his availability and we were not informed of this at check-in or in a pre-arrival communication (which we didnt receive in any form, but would have been nice!) and with our shorter stay could not book him. Nonetheless the variety of massages we got were all excellent, the resort has a great team of therapists. The spa tents are great. Darker wooden tones create a relaxing atmosphere. The spa table head-hole looks down into a glass floor so you can stare at the greenery below. My 90-minute detoxifying massage was super relaxing.
Restaurant and Bar
The only restaurant is the Great House or “Grande Maison.” This is where a la carte breakfast, lunch and dinner is served. The food is primarily Laotian but there are western options and the usual resort comfort foods like a classic Club Sandwich. All the food curated by Chef Sebastian is delicious. Overall service was always super friendly but slow (though the service pacing got better with each meal we had). This is a mix of factors, Laotian culture is laidback which is part of it but it is also because the staff is still getting ramped up on knowing the menu, the customization of some of the items and knowing how to serve some of the dishes. We expected this for soft-opening so it was fine, but whats great is you can tell everyone here has been trained well and the effort with smiles goes a long way. Language is a common barrier across Laos with some requests requiring a bit more explaining, which again is fine but just FYI.
My favorite breakfast item was the Laotian omelette served with sticky rice (a national staple), Luang Prabang sausage, and sweet chili paste. Simply perfect. There is a wide range of juices, smoothies and blended juices (all freshly pressed) available. Though they have these juices iced on the main service table in the lobby, it was unclear if this was self-service or just there for decoration and ultimately was to be served by staff. Breakfast pastries, from croissant to baguettes are incredible.
Lunch, which I believe is the same menu as dinner, is delicious and also quite affordable for a hotel of this level, each dish averaging $7! My favorite dish was the duck coconut curry, which was out of this world. We also had some Laotian papaya salad, stir fried ground pork, spring rolls, and Luang Prabang Buffalo and Pork sausage, served with sticky rice. If they kitchen has it in stock, you must try the locally made Buffalo milk mozzarella, it is delicious, if not the yoghurt served at breakfast is also from this nearby buffalo dairy farm!
We never had dinner here but did have a “special occasion” snack and drinks evening at the Elephant Bar. It was my mom’s birthday so Chef Sebastian and I arranged for a relaxing evening of Laotian snacks (fried river seaweed, banana leaf noodle spring rolls, rice crackers with condiments, fried mushrooms to name a few) with a bottle of Riesling and drinks at the bar. They do not yet, and not sure if they ever will, have defined special occasion dining options but this was great. I did say cake was not necessary but Sebastian created a delicious bit size mango cheesecake for us. I do wish some dish or something came with a simple birthday message of sorts, that would have been a nice extra touch.
The Elephant Bar is incredible. A wooden structure over the river and on the edges of the resort (which is not walled off from the road, something I quite like actually). The bar-top is a large wooden canvas with a painting done by local artists depicting a story of the sacred Elephant featuring images of the Managing Director, Designer and owner of the resort! Each corner of the wooden floor also features a hand-painted elephant, and there are a lot of elephant sculptures that line the entire bar. There was no full cocktail menu, not sure if there will be, but all the liquors they have are laid out so really just order what you want or have them surprise you. The wine list is not extensive but what they do have are some tasty reds and whites and a few bubblies. For me this bar is the perfect locale for a gin and tonic.
I’ve mentioned my thoughts on the service throughout. Were we expecting perfection? No, because it is soft-opening which means there are areas to be refined as the resort comes fully online both soft and hard product wise. And the things I noted are nothing devastating but again for a resort of this caliber and at the rates they charge one hopes to experience exceptional personal service and attention to detail.
That being said, and like I mentioned in regards to the restaurant staff, you can tell the core training is already ingrained in the staff as it shows through their effort. Quite frankly the service is already very good, everyone smiles and is friendly and of course that is also because that is just how the Laotian people are! The front of house staff and even some restaurant staff had our itinerary on file and knew exactly when and where we would be going and always asked us how thing went upon our return and also asked if we needed anything before we left on a certain excursion. Now, if they could find the fine balance between staying true to the more laidback nature of Laotian culture but with having a tuned sense of personal service when its needed (ie: moment you see a guest lay down on the pool loungers, come over within 5 minutes with water and ask if they require anything else), then they’d hit the sweet spot. But many of the staff addressed us by name, some were not quite there yet, but you could tell they were trying, and eventually they will get there. After all there are only 23 rooms. We only had to mention our room numbers to clarify who in our family was staying in which but otherwise every staff knew which rooms we as a family were staying in. While in some regards they hit the mark with anticipating needs, in others refinement is needed to achieve that “knowing what you want and need before you do” level of personal service.
But over all we felt at home, welcomed and the staff felt like family by the end of our short stay, which is exactly what the resort is trying to achieve and which is why I’m smiling as I write this because the entire experience was just so warm, relaxing and great.
Simply put, what an incredible resort. I cant reiterate enough how beautiful this place is. It is so relaxing, so comfortable and so warm. The food and beverage program is top notch and all round delicious. The glamping, one with nature, and the interior design of this resort may not be for everyone for sure. But if you like that rustic yet refined luxury this place really hits the nail on the coffin. The staff and management team are all great, friendly, professional and easy to talk to. Acceptance to feedback, the effort, as well as the evidence of proper training is why l strongly believe with a bit more time and with more guests that come through the resort will refine some of the initial hiccups and come out as one of the region’s top luxury hotels.