The Most Beautiful Yoga Shala in the World? SongSaa Private Island, Cambodia

At $2,000 a night, winning numerous travel awards, and having been on CondeNast Traveller’s HOT LIST prior to its opening in 2012; Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia’s first premier luxury resort, occupying Koh Ouen’s two diminutive isles just across the azure shores of Koh Rong island, is every bit as jaw-dropingly beautiful most of us could only ever imagine it to be.

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With its own Song Saa timezone, allowing its guests a luxuriously longer day in the sun and a stunning sunset unique to anywhere else in the world; Song Saa Private Island is an untouched topaz promise land in Cambodia’s isolated Koh Rong archipelago.

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Set to seduce, surrounded by an endless turquoise sea-meets-sky, and against a dense jungle backdrop; Song Saa Private Island offers guests a range of 27 pristine thatched villas, dotted around a forest covered hill or stilted along the water’s edge; each with secluded terraces and private pools.

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Seamlessly merging with its outstanding natural surroundings, here turquoise water features merge with sundappled infinity pools, trickling into tiny ocean peaks.

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Step back from the water’s edge and paths working with the curvature of its island’s terrain lead guests to Driftwood, a sunsoaked, sandy lunch spot, the tranquil hilltop spa, across to Song Saa’s second island – an unspoiled area preserved for conservation – and of course, what may well be, the most beautiful yoga Shala in the world.

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Meander further along the driftwood jetty, under which shoals of tropical fish weave so swiftly through the crystal clear seas it’s as though they’re tickling your toes as you walk; and you’ll arrive at Song Saa’s Restaurant and Bar.

Wide open and exposed to its natural surroundings, here guests have the option of snow white day beds or chez longs to drink in their 360 degree sun-and-sapphire sunset view and languidly linger into a starlit supper.

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Original artworks and individual design details add a distinctive touches throughout; brass antiques sit next to upcycled fishing boats turned furniture, and in one villa there is a glass floor below the sunken bath tub with an aquarium view of fish in the sea below.

Glamour and tranquility are the order of the day at Song Saa.

My visit to Song Saa Private Island was short but very sweet, having been invited to a 1-2-1 yoga practice with the resorts equally beautiful and sun kissed yoga teacher, Sacha Bryce.

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In the serenity of a shala at one with the ocean’s floor and gently shaded by softly swaying white muslin; here Sacha expertly guided me through the exact dynamic vinyasa flow that my body was craving.

In perfect tune with my mind’s needs and physical ability, as she is for each of Song Saa’s guests; Sacha took me from a calming Hatha warm up, to fast paced, breath synchronised vinyasa, culminating (as requested) in a personal headstand tutorial.

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The class closed with a savasana like no other: The waves providing a natural rhythm for my closed mind and breath to follow, the sun tickling my skin through the movement of the muslin, and Sacha leading me gently into relaxation with peaceful mantras including “may everything we do today be for the greater good of all beings.

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The class was sealed with a Namaste and an almond milk cappuccino and carrot & ginger juice, over looking Koh Rong’s private Palm Beach.

Truly blissful.

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Yoga and wellbeing may not be everyone’s first check point to tick off when booking a luxury holiday with so much natural opulence to offer, which is why Song Saa and Sacha ensure all levels, needs and ‘schedules’ are worked with.

Included in your room rate is a daily 8am Hatha based morning practice; a gentle introduction to both your day and to yoga for anyone looking to incorporate a little wellness into their holiday ‘routine,’ or learn a little more about yoga.

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For those wanting to lay in those sumptuous kingside beds a little (or a lot!) longer than 8am, there is the option to salute the sunset rather than the sunrise with a 1-2-1 lesson instead.

Alternatively, for dedicated yogis not wanting to skip on their practice while away; Sacha also offers private classes any time of day, at $100/hour, giving guests the opportunity to tailor their flow to their needs or receive personalise guidance on any postures needing practice.

Luxury treading lightly; Song Saa Private Island is a unique, blissful, romantic setting.

My time here was incredible thanks to Sacha, Douglass and the whole sparkling team. Thank you.

To book your stay visit: http://songsaa.com

 

 

Castaway on Heavenly Palm Beach : Koh Rong Island, Cambodia

I’m It won’t take long for the murky waters of Sihanoukville’s backpacker beaches to fade into the horizon as Palm Beach’s private long tail boat skims the tops of tiny ocean peaks towards Cambodia’s beautiful, and largest, island of Koh Rong; an azure promise land of pure shores and pristine white beaches.

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Often described as one of Southeast Asia’s most divine stretches of coastline, backpackers heading to Koh Rong will tend to stay on the fairly generic Saloem Beach ; where shack-style bars and beds for the night line up along a sandy stretch occupied by flame throwers, hooller-hoopers & paradise seekers.

Those seeking a more peaceful paradise should opt to stay on Palm Beach, a private beach dipping softly into crystal-clear water, so clean you can count the blankets of tiny tropical fish meander pass your ankles as you wade into the sea; set against a backdrop of dense forest, under the cover of all encompassing heat and the occasional relief of its gentle off shore breeze.

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Here, dotted along the beach and hidden back into the jungle are 38 thatched bungalows each with private balconies. In a range of different sizes and offering varying levels of luxury, Palm Beach accommodates for budgeting backpackers, families, friends and honeymooners taking that step a little further off the beaten path.

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The living is easy at Palm Beach:
Sun-lounger or Swing? Snorkel or Swim? Mai Tai or Margarita? Are among the decisions you’ll be faced with during your time (which you’ll no doubt request to extend) here. All of which can be languidly fit into your lazy days thanks to the help of Rick and his friendly, dedicated team.

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On arrival, we eagerly stepped off the resort’s private ferry and on to Palm Beach’s jetty, tasting the salty sea air on our lips with our hedonistic-home-for-the-week in sight.

Your bags will be spirited away to their rightful home as guests are guided to Palm Beach’s Bar & Restaurant and handed their signature Welcome Drink (espresso shot, condensed milk, vanilla & ‘A LOT’ of whiskey).

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Extending our welcome further was the psychedelic sounds of The Beatles, their discography to be that afternoon and evening’s soundtrack, complementing the call of the quiet call of the jungle and the gentle movement of the tide.

That afternoon, the lyrics to the likes of I’ve Just Seen a Face and Drive My Car played out to many a round of Welcome Drink ($3.50) setting the bar for the calibre of playlists at Palm Beach – a definite relief for anyone who has spent their fair share of time in Asia with a zero tolerance policy for psytrance or Justin Beiber!

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After a brief introduction to Palm Beach and all it has to offer, how you choose to spend your time here is up to you:

Creative types while away days on their balconies or rocking under palm trees to sketch, paint or write.
Sun worshippers bask in the unbroken glare of the 30 degree heat, glistening in the island’s home made coconut oil ($3.50)

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The more adventurous (or those inclined for life in the shade) will trek into the private jungle to seek out vine-covered hideaways, meeting locals on route to Prek Svay fishing village on their path.

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Visits to Prek Svay, to join the locals on their fishing trips, can be arranged along with spectacular sunset snorkelling and fishing trips on offer every afternoon for $15 per person (weather permitting, but this doesn’t tend to present any problems in Koh Rong) and should you need anything else, all you need to do is ask.

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What you won’t find yourself doing here is checking emails, insta-bragging or idly scrolling through Facebook (missing the beauty that surrounds you) thanks to Palm Beach’s decision not to offer wifi* throughout the island, suggesting (via a blackboard over the bar) that guests talk to each other instead.

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*There is a small hotspot behind the bar for those needing to check-in with anything or anyone online.

Thanks to the digital detox, instead you’ll pass your evenings in Palm Beach’s bar and restaurant, gravitating towards new friends for fresh fish barbecues, cold beers and back-to-back rounds of Jenga, Polker, Uno…and conversation!

Breakfast and lunch are also served here, with predominantly western options on the menu and all very reasonably priced.

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If the lure of that day’s beating sun and the cocktails on tap haven’t sent you to sleep by 9pm; night dwellers can sneak off for a midnight swim in shores sparkling with plankton under unbroken starlit skies. Making for very special secret memories to last a lifetime.

Surrounded by turquoise seas and living in total freedom, you won’t want your spell on the magical Palm Beach to end – but as the saying goes, all good things must…

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Check-out and the reality of totalling your bar tab is an early 8:30am start with Palm Beach’s ferry leaving the island at 9:30am – in plenty of time to return with that day’s lucky arrivals for their fair share of paradise.

Koh Rong being the same size as Hong Kong, and Palm Beach being the opposite end of the island to Paradise beach means guests must book a return journey to Palm Beach’s on its private ferry; which can be done from their office on Serendipity Beach ($25 return / person).

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As there’s always one who thinks they can outsmart this slightly higher ferry fee (usually $10) by jumping on a cheaper boat and making their own way to Palm Beach, be warned now:
This attempt will leave you on the wrong side of Koh Rong, seven hours away from the resort with the only options of reaching Palm Beach being a $50 slow taxi boat, or one long trek (backpack in tow) through the jungle.

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Like going the extra mile(s) to reach Palm Beach, the private boat is also worth the extras; marking the start of your journey to the edge of the world, sharing the ferry with new friends and the week ahead’s Jenga challengees.

Prices at Palm Beach range from £18 to £45 / night and bookings can be made online here.

Those already in Sihanoukville can also pop into the Palm Beach office, next door to Mick & Craig’s, and chance availability for that night or the next.

Thank you so much to Roy, Rick and the whole team at Palm Beach for having us. Our (twice) extended stay was very special.

When the Khmer Rouge ‘soldiers’ seized Cambodia’s cities in 1975, sending anyone thought to be ‘intellectual’ to its oppressive torture camps, artists and musicians were among the first to disappear.

After little more than a decade of peace following 40 years of war, the country is awakening once more to its creative potential, recapturing some of its early 20th-century flair. No more so can this be said than of the dreamy and peaceful city of Battambang; Cambodia’s second largest city, yet relatively untouched by tourism.

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Few visitors include Battambang on their itinerary, missing out on a thriving contemporary cultural scene with arts cafes, art-funding projects and galleries springing up all over the riverside town; through which the Sankae river atmospherically snakes, and with rice fields, leafy villages and glittering pagodas haloing around its edges.

With its untouched ambiance and having survived Polpot’s regime relatively undamaged, in Cambodia’s sleepy “second city” you’ll find some of the country’s best-preserved architecture; retaining its Art Deco charm with jaded yellow and blue shaded French colonialism sat alongside modernist 1950s and 1960s style buildings.

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Battambang’s main street is built along the banks of the Sangke River, with the city’s night market taking centre stage and artsy little avenues acting as easy to navigate side roads; perfect to explore on a push bike, which if hired through Bambu hotel for $2 a day, means the money will go to its local school.

Cycle down streets 2 and 2.5 and you will find some of Cambodia’s coolest philanthropic art spaces, the newest being Lotus Cafe and Gallery, housed in the remnants of a colonial 3 story shop front.

Loving renovation from Darren Swallow has resulted in a stylish, exposed brick wall, retro floor tiled multi-purpose space that will host art exhibitions as well as films, music and live performances, and also features a bar.

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Gracing the walls of Lotus are some of the stunningly psychedelic artworks by Swallow’s wife, Khchao Touch; in feminine colours, fluid lines and fine tipped brush strokes, Touch’s works depict dreamy meditative looking-women surrounded by hallucinogenic swirls of lime greens and golds.

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Available to buy from Lotus cafe; stare into Touch’s paintings and their painstakingly applied dots of colour and you may find your own inner peace. – The gallery is split over three floors with plenty of other local artists work to admire.

Down the street is Sammaki, a community art space hosting local artists and helping to bridge the gap between art school and life as a professional artist.

Just one road away on Street 2 is Jaan Bai, a social enterprise run by the Cambodia’s Children’s Trust and arguably the best restaurant in Battambang. Melding good looks with real substance, here young chefs have been schooled in the art of creative cuisine and cocktail mixing; while local artists have the opportunity to share their stories and works.

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Characterised aesthetically at first glance by dusty, unsealed roads, weathered shop houses and the off architectural gem; delve deeper and discover is vibrant cafe scene, growing education focus and an artistic community unlike any other in Cambodia.

Vibrant yet untouched, there has never been a better time to visit Battambang.

Travel Indochina runs small group tours and tailor-made itineraries that feature Battambang. 

Sojourn Boutique Hotel : A Soulful Stay in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Cambodia is a very special country; and anyone who knows me well will know just how special the country is to me. – A country which, after centuries under Vietnamese and Thai siege and the devastation during Polpot’s Khmer Rouge Regime, rightfully still wears its heart on its sleeve; it’s heart-centre being the soulful Siem Reap.

As the country’s heartland, home to the famous Angkor Watt temples, Siem Reap has seen a huge increase in tourism in the last couple of years, bringing with it an equal increase in beautiful boutique hotels with frangipani-fringed swimming pools. However only one can lay claim to giving as much back to its local communities as it does for its guests – and that place is the stunning Sojourn Boutique Villas.

Soujourn Boutique Hotel poolside 1 Bianca Capstick www.borntobeawildflower.com

Nestled in the authentic Treak village, a short drive out of the dusty bustle of Siem Reap’s town centre; Sojourn Boutique Villas combines style with substance by offering guests an experience that stretches so much further than excellent exotic cocktails sipped at its swimming pool’s bar.

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Opening visitors’ eyes to its soulful surroundings, Sojourn Boutique Hotel stands out by offering guests walking tours around Treak Village ($5 per person), and ‘A Day in the Life” tours in Komphein Village, as part of its community enriching work through HUSK, an NGO lovingly set up by the hotel’s owners in 2009, following Typhoon Ketsana.

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The fee for the walking tour goes directly to HUSK, whose remit is to help people help themselves, give children access to education, improve basic hygiene, provide access to food and better nutritional knowledge, and help establish programs so that the villagers derive income through sustainable projects and tourism.

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Treak Village is also brought to life with even more vibrancy thanks to Sojourn Boutique Villa’s hands-on Cambodian Cooking Class* in its bamboo pavilion. Unlike any other Khmer cooking courses, this one starts with a short visit to a local family’s home to learn about food customs and beliefs within the village.

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Taking this new-found knowledge back to the hotel’s beautiful Bamboo Pavillion, sunkissed in the morning light; here under the guidance of Sojourn Boutique Hotel’s Head Chef, up to eight people will learn how to make three traditional Khmer dishes – followed by a sit down lunch together to enjoy your three courses of your own creations.

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Continuing to give back to its community, the majority of the hotel’s team of incredibly warm and smiling staff are those who live locally, walking the short distance to the utopian setting of Sojourn Boutique Villas each day.

Taking upmost pride in their roles, the team here go above and beyond to make your stay as special as possible, whether it’s squeezing a different fresh fruit juice for you each morning, shaking cocktails in the atmospheric lantern-lit restaurant or poolside bar or turning down your bed every evening and leaving chocolates on your pillow.

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Not a trick is missed at Soujourn Boutique Villas: Pick up to the hotel is arranged from wherever you require and on arrival fragrant Jasmine “welcome” bracelets and cooling face towels are lavished upon you.

Guests are spoiled further with the beautiful, winding palm and banana tree-lined walk to its villas, greeted by fluttering butterlies and perfectly-timed falling Jasmine flowers on route, adjacent to an ocean blue swimming pool surrounded by loungers, day beds, water features – and it’s in-pool cocktail bar.

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A family-friendly hotel; here children splash, sunworshipers worship, shade-dwellers seek shelter under the light cover of the Bedouin style double loungers, and those in full holiday mode sup sun-kissed cocktails, very reasonably priced at $4.50 or $3.50 during the 4pm-6pm Happy Hour.

Quicker than you can say “Happy Hour,” your bags, fresh lime juice and sweet, toasty coconut pancakes will have been spirited into your luxury villa, prolonging the welcome even further.

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With almost as many Jasmine flowers dotted around your heavenly holiday home as you’ll find in the grounds, beautiful attention to detail runs throughout.

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Coffee, English Breakfast, Earl Grey & Darjeeling Tea sit atop your well-stocked minibar; the rooms are adorned with statues of Buddha and local photography; the rain shower alone (let alone the stylish stone bathroom) was about the same size as my Hackney studio flat and locally sourced, ethically made beauty products sit alongside your giant stone sink waiting to be used.

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If the azure of the pool can’t lure you over for a sunset apéritif at the bar, each villa has its own balcony on which cocktails and light bites will be brought to you – and in a little more seclusion thanks to the dense tropical garden surroundings.

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Dinner here is atmospheric, the restaurant romantically lit by tea lights in Chinese lanterns, with the ripples of the swimming pool still in sight or sound. – And the food is exquisite.

Little is known about the diversities and subtleties of Khmer Cuisine and at Sojourn these delicately spiced flavours are played out in a sophisticated menu which offers the likes of a light, tangy Crab & Coconut Salad (easily the best salad I’ve ever eaten) and the delicious national dish Amok, the option of a daily special such as John Dory Fish steamed in ginger and local spices. France’s colonial heritage in Cambodia has shaped an impressive wine list of Bordeauxs, sparkling wine and champagne.

The restaurant is open from 7am-10am for breakfast, included in your room rate and offers the likes of perfectly cooked omelettes or decadent French toast dusted with cinnamon and honey; all accompanied by perfectly your choice of tea or a barista blended Flat White. The restaurant re-opens at 11:00am for the rest of the day.

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Soujourn Boutique Hotel flat white

Huge thanks to the wonderful, dedicated and philanthropic Fiona and Anthony for having us. A stay at Sojourn Boutique Villas really is the perfect oxymoron of altruistic luxury.

Soujourn Boutique Hotel

  • Room rates range from $165 / night in a Terrace Room through to $240 / night in a Temple Villa. Be sure to check their bookings page for any deals.
  • Treak Village Rd,Treak Village Siem Reap
  • (+855) 12 923 437 / info@sojournsiemreap.com
  • Donate to HUSK

*Cambodian Cooking Classes are $24 per person for the half day class and $35 for the full day class. There is a maximum of eight participants involved in any class. Classes are run daily at 9.30am and 12.30pm and take around 2.5 to 3 hours per class. Bookings are essential and can be made at reception. – Full review to follow.

Villa Maly Hotel : Luang Prabang (Laos)

Centered around a pristine pool under chic Chinese lanterns, you will find Villa Maly, a colonial mansion turned boutique hotel, hidden from the hustle of Luang Prabang by its dense green garden of sky high palm trees and vibrant banana plants.

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villa maly poolside 3 Bianca Capstick/BorntobeaWiildflower

villa maly poolside 5 Bianca Capstick/BorntobeaWiildflower

Like a grand mason from the French/Indochinese golden era lost in a lush southeast Asian jungle; Villa Maly blends Laotian hospitality with French flare to create a unique luxury hotel in the centre of Laos’ “golden city.”

villa maly mansion 1 Bianca Capstick/BorntobeaWiildflower

villa maly mansion 2 Bianca Capstick/BorntobeaWiildflower

Beginning your stay with a “welcome drink,’ of refreshing, chilled watermelon juice, served with traditional local snacks such as fried Mekong seaweed and banana chips; a visit at Villa Maly is as though guests are stepping directly into a 1940s picture-perfect travel poster for Air France or La Indochine; in an expertly matched colour palate of creams, greens and oranges.

villa maly welcome drinks and snacks Bianca Capstick/BorntobeaWiildflower

villa maly poolside 7 Bianca Capstick/BorntobeaWiildflower

Although reminiscent to staying in a jungle villa, the grounds are expertly kept by a dedicated team who, from sunrise to sundown, delicately trim and treat the floral filled gardens which surround  the swimming pool, discretely maintaining Villa Maly’s air of perfection.

You know that the team are there, but it’s almost as though they’re not as rogue leaves and empty cocktail glasses are spirited away with only the sound of the hotel’s trickling swimming pool to distract you.

villa maly garden 2 Bianca Capstick/BorntobeaWiildflower

These aforementioned cocktails, are those expertly blended by the talented team in Villa Maly’s Mouhot’s Bar, its namesake Henri Mouhot, the French naturalist who rediscovered the famous Angkor temples before travelling through Luang Prabang; and the bar, the classic kind of out-of-the way watering hole you’d image the explorer drinking in.

As well as Mouhot’s Bar, Villa Maly offers luxury dining at Le Vetiver a perfect alfresco experience, sited on a wooden deck, appointed with a warm rose wood furnishing and sheltered by a canopy.

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And on balmier evenings guests have the option of a poolside barbecue: Surrounded by the garden’s tropical frangipanis, ginger, orchids, lilies, gardenias and mango trees, and served next to what has been rates as one of the best pools in Luang Prabang, here Villa Maly’s team will fire up the grill and leave you to cook your selection of tantalizing cuts of well marinated tenderloin, ribs, pork, shrimp and fresh seafood.

villa maly poolside 1 Bianca Capstick/BorntobeaWiildflower

The hotel’s wine list complements both the grill and the various delectable local Laos traditional cuisine, which is served all day long.

Breakfast is buffet style – but not as you ma have come to expect from Southeast Asian breakfast buffets – as Villa Maly’s is the best I’ve experienced, with attention to detail and little touches like wooden honey twirlers, individual glass bottles of fresh juice to take to your table, and homemade jam served in miniature jars nestled in an impressive spread of museli, cereals, fresh fruit salads, croissants, pastries, omelettes, cooked breakfast options, stuffed tomatoes, cheese, cold cuts, fresh coffee and fresh tea. Everything for the hungry hearted to the health conscious.

villa maly breakfast 2 Bianca Capstick/BorntobeaWiildflower

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Blankets are strewn over the backs of the chairs too, making that challenging transition from cloud-like comfortable bed to breakfast that little bit easier – another thoughtful touch.

Bedrooms come in two categories and we stayed in a “Superior.”

Superior Rooms (US$ 214-320) at Villa Maly can lay claim to its own distinct appeal, featuring custom arrangements and distinguished artwork. The rooms do share similarities in hardwood floors, vibrant colors, slate-walled bathrooms, flat screen televisions and views of the gardens or pool. Some superior rooms boast a king sized bed; others offer a pair of beds. All promise a very individualized experience. Our Superior rooms have an average of 24 sqm living area.

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The Deluxe Rooms (US$ 254-360) were once the residence of Princess Khampieng, Ptince Khaman and their children.

The rooms are bright and well-lit thanks to their three broad French windows, although all afford privacy thanks to its lush garden surroundings, and benefit from sun-dappled green and red light dancing around the room, complementing the wonderfully subdued pastel colour palate in each room.

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With attentive staff, stunning rooms, thoughtful extras, great food, lush gardens, killer cocktails and one of the best swimming pools in Luang Prabang, Villa Maly offers a blissful and unique place to stay in Laos’ gorgeous golden city.

75 Oupalath Khamboua Road, PO Box 1148 Ban That Luang Village, Luang Prabang, Lao P.D.R
+856 7125 3903/04, +856 7125 3936 (Sales Office)
+856 7125 4912, +856 7126 0319 (Sales Office)
reservation@villa-maly.com

Thank you for having us.