I spent my last night in Luang Prabang at the Sofitel – and it was sheer luck! I had reserved a night at the original Luang Prabang boutique hotel, the 3Nagas, managed by Sofitel, and because they were oversold was “upgraded” to the Sofitel. And what an upgrade that was! It’s a beautiful property a little outside town with great service and fantastic rooms – read my review if it is the right luxury retreat for you!
Location: One reason why I had not even considered the Sofitel, an Accor property, for my stay is their location outside the old town of Luang Prabang. To really experience the old town, you want to be able to walk across the night market, to the many temples and restaurants, along the river and to the alms ceremony in the morning with ease. The Sofitel is 1.6km (1 mile) or 20 minutes from the Royal Palace and 2.5km or 30 minutes from the tip of the peninsula where the two rivers meet – that’s a lot of walking! The Sofitel does provide a free shuttle service, based on availability to take you into town. I used that one way and would walk back whenever I was ready, making the location doable, especially after already spending a few days in the heart of town! The Sofitel is only 15 minutes from the airport and they also offer a free transfer from/to the airport.
Service: At the Sofitel, the genuine friendliness of the Lao people is combined with the excellent training and management of a luxury hotel chain to deliver outstanding, sophisticated service. I was welcomed warmly with smiles, cold towels and a welcome drink. While the formalities were taken care off, staff ran off to double-check on the room. Despite having been transferred over from the 3Nagas, I was upgraded to a Pool Suite as an Accor LeClub Platinum member, a very generous and completely unexpected treat! Staff showed me to my room, gave me the tour of the resort on the way and demonstrated the features of the room. I usually chuckle at that, but given the size of the suite, it was helpful and appreciated.
The staff, from housekeeping, to groundskeeping, security, restaurant and front desk, throughout my stay continued to follow that path of excellence, and it was easy to see why: In addition to the professional hospitality training the staff demonstrated, the management team was always close at hand, overseeing operations and stepping in whenever needed. Plenty of management in hotels in the region “hide” from customers, especially when there are issues, so this leading from the front was certainly noticeable and appreciated. For example, when staff carried out the weekly bug spraying (the only way to keep bugs in a tropical location at bay and much appreciated), the assistant GM went from guest-to-guest to explain the procedure and apologize for the noise and spraying. It’s this attention to detail that makes the difference between a good luxury hotel and a great one!
Room: The room is the other reason you should consider the Sofitel Luang Prabang for a special getaway – it’s in the top 5 rooms I’ve stayed in on all my travels! You enter the pool suite, mine was a corner unit, into a small hallway. On the left, you have a closet with coffee/tea maker and fridge and on the right, a separate toilet room. Going on, you reach the bathroom with a spacious vanity on one side and large closet on the other – with plenty of space for all your luggages and clothes.
You’ll also find a large safe, robes, slippers and umbrellas here. Through a set of glass doors, you’ll reach the indoor/outdoor part of your bathroom with a deep soaking tub on one side and a large, glass-enclosed shower on the other. The wall to the outside is made of folding wooden doors, giving you an option to open it up completely to the garden beyond! If you’d like to take a bath or shower with a view, you can! One first world niggles – I wish the tub was a jacuzzi tub – a great way to relax! I know, I know… it’s like asking for icing on top of the icing…
Turning left from the entrance will take you to the bedroom and living area of the suite. The bed is a huge four-poster affair with a comfortable mattress and luxurious sheets. You’ll also get a large seating area with local design touches, making for a very comfortable place to spend time. There is a large TV, which I never turned on, as well as a Bose sound system, which I did make good use off.
But we are not done yet with the tour: Exiting through the glass doors will take you back into the garden. Here, on the patio, you’ll have a day-bed on the one side and a table with chairs on the other. Both are in the shade most of the day and overlook the large, private pool. Most pool suites have a tiny dipping pool, but here you have a large pool that you could actually swim in. I’ve stayed at hotels that have a smaller shared pool!
Next to it are two loungers if you want to take a nap in the sun and get a tan! If you are planning a romantic getaway and are looking for privacy, I’d recommend to avoid my specific corner suite – it is surrounded by the property wall and on the corner is a watch tower that security staff has access to. From up there, they can see not only into the pool area, but also your bathroom, so you might want to be careful with that bath/shower with a view. Also, during my stay staff opened the gate to the neighboring suite, not something I’d want to be surprised by. Staff had also arranged for a welcome amenity that deserved the name: It was a large platter of cookies, chocolates and sweets, as well as fresh and tasty juice. It all worked well and had me snacking before dinner much more than I should!
Restaurant/Amenities: The hotel grounds are a wonderful time to spend your vacation: The hotel is housed in an old villa complex with all the rooms built around a large courtyard, the way you picture a palace. It’s beautifully landscaped with lush green, trees and a pond on one side and a large, shared pool on the other. You’ll find an old carriage and artwork throughout the grounds. Around the pool, you’ll find plenty of loungers for all the guests, as well as couches for lounge-style seating. Facing the courtyard is the restaurant, with some indoor seating and some outdoor seating under a tented roof. It makes the most of the gorgeous setting and I had my drinks and meals here outside.
The Sofitel had an afternoon tea and we enjoyed a refreshing drink and some cookies (again) and snacks. We were late and at that point, the bread and cookies were a little dry, not something I would have expected after the excellent quality till then.
The breakfast the next morning was also mixed. It offered some pastries, breads and fresh fruit buffet style and a main breakfast dish ordered a-la-carte. I ordered an omelette with some meat and it was excellent, probably the best hot breakfast I had on the trip. Unfortunately, the pastries were not nearly as good – I had high hopes from a French luxury hotel in Luang Prabang, but they were just average, sadly so considering the high quality of baked goods in town. Considering the high quality of the other food, I’ll blame this on me having breakfast fairly late…
The Sofitel also offers a large gym, a spa and a cooking school, none of which I had a chance to try during my much too short stay!
Conclusion: The Sofitel Luang Prabang is a fantastic luxury hotel in this beautiful city, offering some of the best service I have experienced in South East Asia, a region with above-average service to start. You’ll also get a stunning room, and I would recommend to splurge on the pool suite, with lots of space and privacy, providing the perfect setting for a special, romantic getaway! It’s all set in a beautiful property, the oldest in the Sofitel portfolio, with well landscaped grounds. All of this comes at a steep price, the going rate during my stay was $380 for a regular room and $490 for a pool suite – very high when the best properties in the Old Town go for less than $200. Rooms can be had for less, when I searched at different times of year I found rooms for $229 and suites for $344 – at which point I’d consider them good value.
The only downside is the location outside of town, so if you are planning to visit Luang Prabang, I’d recommend to stay at least 2 nights in town, maybe at the 3Nagas hotel to feel the spirit of Luang Prabang, before retreating to your luxury bubble at the Sofitel for some rest, relaxation and pampering!