An opportunity not quite captured, yet…
In most peoples minds, Laos is no doubt a very exotic destination. It’s not Thailand, Vietnam or even Cambodia, the places where most people go, or know someone who has been. Naturally, this is specifically why we wanted to go.
The first port of call for many first time travelers to Laos is the city of Luang Prabang, perched along the stunning hills of the Mekong River. We settled on the Luang Say Residence, the #1 ranked hotel on TripAdvisor, over venerable competition, and while the stay was good – it wasn’t yet “great”…
Unlike many stays, this stay began in advance of check in. I specifically emailed the hotel in advance, asking for some personalized tour suggestions, and although the hotel response was polite, it consisted of a list of their pre arranged tours, which matched the resource I had already browsed on their website.
This was an instant “sigh” from my end. If a guest makes an effort to ask for “something more”, especially something with no cost to the hotel, all efforts should be made to respond in kind. Upon landing in Laos, and sorting out visas on arrival, the formal check in began on far better footing.
For $9 per person (actually a bit steep in Laos), the hotel car picked us up, and lovely fresh cold towels with the smell of lemongrass were offered.
Upon arrival at the property, a mere 15 minutes from the airport, the charm was an instant hit. A colonial building, an ode to early French explorers and a friendly and polite staff. We were greeted both by the General Manager and Manager of the hotel, which was a nice touch.
Our room was magically (yes, we know it’s not magic) upgraded to a larger room, in the main building where meals are served. The property offers a number of rooms stretched across beautiful organic gardens, but ours was amongst the most central. Nearby was the bar, the restaurant, and most importantly the absolutely charming pool, with poolside bar service.
The room was classically beautiful, with a keen sense of adventure and nods to French explorers of Laos past. Despite the polished wood floors, draped bed and historic feel, wifi was extremely fast for any hotel, anywhere in the world with more than 30mb of upload and download speeds.
It was a very welcomed surprise, indeed. The room was beautiful and did feature air conditioning, but it wasn’t without its quirks. There was no toilet in the main bathroom, despite two large sinks, a bathtub and a shower. The lone toilet was around the corner, which made for a slightly strange work flow.
The air conditioning, while better than “no” air conditioning, was simply no match for the size of the room, or the humidity, which reached a true 100% at one point. We’d never seen humidity reports ever actually read a true 100% before. The perks of Laos in the off season are fewer tourists and lush green hills, the pitfalls are heat, heat and more heat – and likely, some rain.
To be sure, it was the missed opportunities that let this stay down. The food, especially the complimentary breakfast was outstanding. The dinner however, at prices which would rival any Manhattan restaurant was a gouge too far, in a country where $2 can get you a very decent meal and $1 can get you a nice beer.
$29 for an entree and up to $18 for a cocktail was nothing short of laughable. Even the overpriced sit down restaurants of the town came in at half, at worst. The staff couldn’t have been nicer, but it felt as if they were constantly looking for direction from management, and there was none to be found. Almost every request involved a “let me check” and this diminished the vibe of the friendly staff.
For such a small hotel, at a non peak season, I was shocked to only casually run into a manager once, in a four night stay. This seemed like yet another missed opportunity to interact and impact guests stays. One highlight, which went perhaps intentionally under the radar was the fantastic value of the $8 per person afternoon tea. The offerings were bountiful, delicious and the setting was lovely. Other than the breakfast included in the room rate, it was the only value to be found.