Landlocked Laos is often overlooked as a tropical getaway in favour of its neighbours—Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia—and has predominantly been a destination for adventurous backpackers revelling in its laidback vibes and little-visited jungles. Over the last decade, however, Laos’ relaxed capital has bolstered its portfolio of luxury properties and wellness resorts, attracting a new kind of tourist. A boutique hideaway just outside the centre of UNESCO destination Luang Prabang, Rosewood Luang Prabang is a luxe Laotian jungle hideaway. Set in a wilderness of greenery, bird song carrying over the trees, dragonflies zipping over the oval pool and Mekong River, and colourful flashes of butterflies among the cabanas, the ring of nature will be the soundtrack to your stay. The architecture and design bear the unmistakable quirkiness and irreverent charm of Bill Bensley, adding more than a touch of inspirational creativity as well as holistic wellness and Laotian culture: Compare Retreats’ expert Catharine Nicol explores the resort over a weekend in Laos’ capital.
Located a 25-minute drive from Luang Prabang International Airport, and just 10 minutes’ drive outside the charming temple town of Luang Prabang in Laos, Rosewood Luang Prabang is conveniently located for short breaks and cultural holidays. The resort offers complimentary shuttles to town daily and guests can borrow bicycles to explore the area. Being outside downtown Luang Prabang, the Rosewood Luang Prabang takes full advantage of its green surroundings, with grounds that span to the Mekong River and stretch up the hillside.
With two distinct seasons, the temperatures in this part of Laos are generally between 20°C and 30°C but can dip down to the teens in the winter months (November to March). The warmer months are April to October, which also brings the rainy monsoon season, peaking in August.
The resort has just 23 rooms, suites, pool villas and luxury tents, making it a true sanctuary that always feels blissfully exclusive. Guests are welcomed at The Great House, simultaneously the lobby and all-day-dining restaurant with views out to the pool. Nearby, the Elephant Bridge Bar straddles the river, the ideal place for a sunset drink. A little way up the hill on the other side of the river is Sense, A Rosewood Spa, which brings local healing traditions and healers to treatment rooms that are situated over a tributary of the river.
The Great House is the 24/7 gathering place for meals, daytime snacks and restoring iced coffees, with a front desk tucked away and staff always available for consultation. Upon arrival, this breezy building perfectly frames guests’ views straight through to the turquoise pool and greenery beyond. Within the building, the wrap-around verandah lounge seating takes advantage of the breeze, while the inner room’s sofas are flanked by crackling fireplaces; very comforting during cooler evenings.
Simultaneously a bridge and a bar, the Elephant Bridge Bar invites guests to lounge in hammocks just a few metres above the river. It’s a favourite place to shoot the breeze with the barmen and fellow guests over a cold local beer or a beautifully created cocktail.
The hotel is ideal for couples and families looking for a relaxed and culturally sophisticated experience of Luang Prabang and its surroundings. The staff, many of whom are local, are charming and approachable and make sure you get the very best stay. On arrival, guests are paired off with private butlers who help arrange treatments, experiences and itineraries throughout your stay.
The rooms, suites and pool villas along the river mix dark teak wood with turquoise blue interiors and entertaining features that are pure Bill Bensley, like the kitsch tiger bath mat. Every time you return to your room you notice another artefact or piece of art, which inform and entertain, reflecting the local culture and historical characters who have been part of Laos’ history. All accommodations include alfresco space too, some with decking and pools overlooking the river.
High on the hillside, the luxury tents offer beautifully spacious interiors with open plan living, bedroom and bathroom areas seamlessly flowing from one to the other. The luxury tents have huge windows to unzip for access to the private decking with lounge seating and birds’ eye views over the property and hills beyond. First thing in the morning with a cup of green tea, or as the sun dips below the trees on the horizon with a cocktail in hand and some of Chef Sebastian’s impossibly light and crunchy crisps, this is the place to witness the world wake up or turn in.
My tent mixed artefacts from the Hmong tribe with total luxury: the bed was one of the most comfortable night’s rest I’ve ever had, the en-suite boasted a stunning tub overlooking the valley, and the verandah had a huge day bed for relaxing. The dressing room area of my tent-suite included a complimentary tote bag and turquoise fedora, and the minibar is a treat of house-made snacks and a variety of drinks.
The Great House’s menu covers both East and West while embracing seasonality. Culinary Director Chef Sebastien Rubis is a long-term Laos resident, fluent in Western and Laotian cuisine. He is always on hand to advise when it comes to food, encompassing dietary requirements in his stride including healthy menus for more wellness-specific retreats. While there are menus, dishes may vary according to what’s available at the market or in the property’s organic kitchen.
His team can rustle up a mean noodle soup if you want to start the day like a local, with a selection of condiments like sugar, chilli and soy, crispy rice cakes and greens. Alternatively, Western plates feature eggs and all the trimmings, including buffalo sausages for a local addition.
Lunch can be as light or as hearty as required, with menus that cover comfort food and local snacks, while dinner takes the cuisine up to fine dining levels, whether in French-influenced western dishes or beautifully presented Laotian dishes, offering a true education into the local cuisine.
I tried a variety of local dishes like the crispy river weed with a spicy sambal, a fish larb-like dish bursting with citrus and spice, light soups with local veggies as well as fish and meat, all beautifully presented in mismatching ceramic dishes.
While the Rosewood Luang Prabang isn’t a retreat per se, it does offer thoughtful healing programmes, and given the seclusion and calm location along with the research that has gone into its locally influenced treatments, it’s a great place to get a taste of the healing available in Laos.
I experienced the Spiritual Retreat, a curation of various experiences over the course of three days, beautifully customised for the length of my stay and my interests.
Early riverside yoga lessons are taken by Michelle, an Australian yoga and meditation instructor who lives in Luang Prabang. After discussing what I wanted, or perhaps more accurately what my body needed, she took me through a combination of asanas and stretches, before finishing the session with a delightful guided meditation.
On the second morning, Somai, officially the excursions manager and unofficially the spiritual compass of the retreat, took me to the local temple Wat Phanom for almsgiving in a serene and profoundly spiritual atmosphere where we were the only tourists. The excursion includes a walk through the Morning Market, ideal with Somai to explain what various snacks, vegetables and customs are.
That evening he took me to Wat Pa Phai to listen to the monks chanting and take part in a group meditation. Losing yourself in the sublime sound of temple chanting was a supremely beautiful experience, as was witnessing the young monks learning their vocation.
05:30 Almsgiving at a local temple followed by a visit to the morning market
07:30 Yoga with Michelle
10:00 Cultural experience with local weavers or temple tour in town
14:00 Spa experience with Mr Xong
18:00 Drink at elephant bar
Back at the resort, Sense, A Rosewood Spa, is a bijou spa, with treatment rooms that delivery a wow factor via the view from the treatment bed, looking down through a window in the floor to the river below: it’s one of the most interesting views I’ve had from a massage table, and searching for fish makes for a different focus during a treatment.
Ron Mutuc, spa manager, spent a lot of time and energy researching local healing and treatments in order to bring the most authentic therapies into the spa, which included teaming up with the Pha Tad Ke Botanical Gardens, where local plants are labelled with their medicinal properties, as well as working with healers to get the best out of local treatments.
My treatment with Mr Xong was one of the retreat highlights. A local healer from the Hmong tribe, Mr Xong brings his recipe of foraged herbs and leaves from the forest, which are wrapped up in poultices to apply to the body. He is said to have healing powers that inform him about any health problems you have. I loved meeting him, having him read my fortune via my palm before he performed his poultice massage. Kneading and stroking the steamed poultices for muscle easing and skin softening, he shared some wellness issues I should look out for, which were all spot on.
Longer treatments like the combination of scrub, massage and facial were ideal for the first day of arrival to slough off the journey and the heat. Post-treatment, local treats are served on the balcony overlooking the river—the perfect way to return to (semi-) reality.
The retreat is a wonderful reflection of the destination. Combining the unique cultural, healing traditions, and spirituality of Laos and Luang Prabang, the resort marries all the aspects of wellness and a memorable holiday in one.
On the one hand, you are staying in a stunningly luxurious resort, while on the other, the connection the team have within the community makes it possible to visit weavers, healers and temples usually only known to locals. The perfect mix of physically relaxing and healing, mentally calming and insightful, and spiritually enlightening, this retreat is a thoroughly modern and luxurious version of an emotionally restorative retreat.
This retreat is perfect for anyone who isn’t after a detox or hibernation and isn’t a purist, but does want to experience authentic local life as well as luxury.
The sound of the river, from early morning yoga classes to dinner at night was a calming presence 24/7. The staff were another highlight, as they were always on hand to help, advise and philosophise.
Probably one of the most exciting and intriguing aspects of this retreat is the interiors. The tents were hugely fun to live in, the Great House’s day beds were ideal for unwinding with a book in the afternoon, and the Elephant Bridge Bar’s hammocks were an unusual addition that enhanced the jungle-getaway atmosphere.
There are three things you have to do at Rosewood Luang Prabang. Make sure you book a treatment with Mr Xong. He speaks very little English, so everything is translated by the spa’s staff, and in some cases it needed some cultural translating too. (For example, after the massage he said I needed to eat less BBQ, which meant eating less meat.)
Make time during your stay to explore the spiritual, cultural and also shopping Mecca of Luang Prabang. There are some beautiful shops for antiques, clothes and artefacts in town.
Finally, don’t miss the Ock Pop Tok (local weaving and crafts collective) experience, combined with a village visit to watch the weavers in action, before a show and tell at the Ock Pop Tok Living Craft Centre. It’s a unique experience you won’t find elsewhere.