Category Archive for Laos

Sofitel Luang Prabang review: Laos luxury hotel! 3 Nagas restaurant, Black Friday grunge goth punk fashion.

luxury hotel Sofitel Luang Prabang

Ah, take us back to Laos! The laid-back, Buddhist country stole a piece of our hearts when my friends and I visited in September.

Staying at Sofitel Luang Prabang hotel made our trip particularly memorable. As you can see from the images, this property is a Southeast Asian tropical daydream.

Hôtel Sofitel Luang Prabang

In this final story from Luang Prabang, we’ll take you through Sofitel’s lush gardens —  as well as sister property 3 Nagas by MGallery. Fair warning: you might feel hungry when you see the river-fresh Laotian food we ate.

i am gia goth punk fashion

But first, since it’s Black Friday (Nov 23), I thought I’d share some finds that caught my eye. I Am Gia has Goth grunge punk clothes that are currently on sale for Cyber Monday.

(1) Their amazing one-sleeve bodysuit is apocalypse sci-fi ready.
(2) Love the plaid tartan and silver chain of Gia’s skirt.
(3) And how great is this leopard print coat:  reminds me of the one Shirley Manson of the band Garbage wore in the 90s!

Click the thumbnails for more of my I Am Gia picks:

nightmare before christmas bomber jacket coat

It’s almost the Nightmare Before Christmas, and these Goth clothes are on sale right now as well.

Love this Jack Skellington bomber jacket, this Gothic Xmas long sleeved dress, and epic skull sweater.

More skeleton designs below; click to view:

blogger closet sale selling wardrobe depop

I’m also offering Black Friday reductions on my closet sale! Just listed new items from my wardrobe, and happy to do bundles and discounts.

You can shop my Depop @lacarmina (or Google “La Carmina Depop” to find my shop). If you prefer, you can contact me by email (gothiccarmina attt gmail dott com) to do a sale, instead of using the app.

spa Hotel Sofitel Luang Prabang, Laos

Yukiro and I wore dresses with decadent accents to match the stately French design of Sofitel Luang Prabang.

OOTD: My dress is Cyberdog, and I’m holding a UV-protecting parasol by Boy1904 Umbrellas.  My shoes are these platform sandals by Rocket Dog, and my black lace capelet is Pheren Couture.


The Sofitel is located in Ban Mano, a peaceful residential quarter of Luang Prabang. The grounds are a fusion of Laotian materials with colonial-meets-contemporary French design. How inviting are these colorful pillows and lounge seats by the swimming pool?

sofitel luang prabang reviews

The inner courtyard features a lush pond with floating lilies, framed by palm trees and tropical flowers. We dared to do acrobatics on the stepping stones across.

(Photos by Julie Hunter)

bedrooms sofitel hotel luang prabang rooms

Sofitel Luang Prabang has rooms fit for royal queens. The suites feature five-metre-high ceilings, and open up to a private garden / patio, or personal swimming pool.

These modern rooms have an old-world nostalgia: traditional art on the walls, and a four column carved poster-bed shaded by mosquito netting.

luang prabang laos luxury resorts

The clay-roofed villas are outfitted with every luxury — yet you feel as if you’re nestled in the quiet countryside of Laos.

laos lounge swimming pool hotel

Luang Prabang is frequently described as a “sleepy” city, giving travellers a chance to slow down and focus on wellness. At Sofitel’s Le Spa, we indulged in ancient Laotian massages, where the ladies climbed up and used their elbows to work out all our kinks. The hotel also offers free essential oil baths, delivered right to your room.

garden suite pool villa sofitel luang prabang

Now this is how to enjoy life: lounge around, eat apples, and brew lemongrass and roselle tea!

Love how the Sofitel incorporates regional hand-woven textiles, pillows, pottery and antiques in each room.

breakfast buffet sofitel laos

Every morning, we feasted on the breakfast spread overlooking the pool and gardens. The pots hold sticky rice, stewed fish, vegetable noodles, and other local specialties.

laos rice rolls noodle soup

Sofitel Luang Prabang’s breakfast menu includes items made fresh to order: such as Indochina noodles in soup, and pork rice rolls. You can also choose from the international spread (croissants, yogurt, cheese, pancakes, eggs cooked in any way.)

laos instrument xylophone

The hotel honors Laotian culture through art displays and events. Guests can also take part in the morning alms ceremony, where locals offer food to a procession of saffron-robed Buddhist monks. 

poolside cocktails bar luang prabang

It’s hot and humid in Laos… this 25-metre mosaic-tiled pool is calling us in for a dip.

luxury accommodations luangprabang

Luang Prabang’s Old Town is only a 5 minute drive away, so the hotel is in the perfect spot for cultural explorations. (You can see the heritage city and temples in our first post about Laos.)

5 star Sofitel Luang Prabang

Sofitel Hotel Luang Prabang was once a century-old colonial mansion. It was transformed into a resort in 2010, but retains the elegant manicured gardens and amethyst tiles.

laos luxury travel vacations

“Step by step, oh, baby, gonna get to you, girl.” I think you can tell we had a grand time at Sofitel! (They’re one of my favorite hotel groups; I’ve stayed with them in Rio and Bangkok as well.)

Governor's Grill restaurant Sofitel Luang Prabang

One evening, we ate dinner at Governor’s Grill. The hotel’s steakhouse brings traditional Lao spices and flavors together with Western specialties. The cocktails, made with coconut and fresh fruit, were the perfect start — along with creamy pumpkin ginger soup. 

buffalo tasting menu larb laos

Then came this impressive buffalo tasting platter! The board was piled high with local buffalo prepared in different ways: steaks, kebabs with vegetables, Laotian larb (minced meat salad) and more.

chocolate shaped shoe high heels dessert

We hardly had room to eat the chocolate shoe with tropical fruits for dessert.

(The hotel also offers a four-course cooking class with the chefs. Guests get to visit a local market and then learn how to prepare authentic Lao fare).

3 Nagas Luang Prabang - MGallery by sofite

On another night, we checked out their other Luang Prabang property: 3 Nagas, an MGallery by Sofitel hotel.

“Naga” refers to a serpent or snake in Sanskrit, and reflects the mythical feeling of these boutique accomodations. There are 15 rooms in three restored historical houses, blending contemporary style with traditional architecture.

3 nagas boutique hotel laos

The colonial manors are furnished with dark woods, warm throws and spiral staircases. You can either sleep in Lamache House (once an ice cream shop to the royal palace) or Khamboua House (built for the king’s counsellor in 1903).

boutique art design hotel luang prabang 3 nagas

Red decorative accents add to the warmth of 3 Nagas. Guests can stroll in the courtyard garden, and rent one of the matching bicycles. This hotel is right in the city center, so it’s easy to see the Night Market, galleries and temples.

3 nagas restaurant tasting menu dinner

Parked outside, this vintage red automobile hints at the classic food served at 3 Nagas Restaurant and Bar. Try the tasting menu, which gives you a broad selection of Laotian favorites.

traditional laos food luang prabang

After a rice cake amuse bouche, we ate up this deep fried Mekong river weed, served with sesame seeds and homemade jam. Then came this generous platter with a variety of local dishes, paired with the famous sticky rice.

luang prabang fine dining restaurants

I spy Tom Son Pla (Mekong river fish soup with lemongrass and vegetables), Phanaeng chicken curry, stir fried beef, and steamed egg with mushrooms and herbs wrapped in banana leaves. We were surprised at how much we loved the cone of sticky rice, which is not sweet and goes perfectly.

3 nagas restaurant review dessert

We couldn’t resist getting dessert from the old-time parlor. Coconut, mango and roselle ice cream.. plus custom passionfruit ginger cocktails. A meal to remember.

weird funny strange luang prabang

Khop tchaï laï laï (thank you very much) to the kind Sofitel staff for welcoming us! We’re so happy we stayed at this elegant hotel, known as one of the most luxurious in Laos. 

I hope you’ll get a chance to visit as well. You can learn more on Sofitel Luang Prabang’s Facebook page and Instagram @SofitelLuangPrabang.

luxury hotels luang prabang

Isn’t the Sofitel Luang Prabang straight out a dream? Until next time, Laos.

(PS – a reminder that there are Black Friday sales going on right now, including the alternative styles below. Have fun!)


Luang Prabang, Laos day tour with private guide! Kuang Si waterfall, Buddhist temples with Tours By Locals.

travel blogger kuang si falls

Laos, you were lovely! After a grueling TV shoot in Japan and the madness of Bangkok, I was in dire need of R&R.

Luang Prabang, Laos was just the ticket to a peaceful getaway. It was a joy to get to know this Buddhist country with my friends and Tours By Locals. Read on for our journey involving temples and waterfalls and bears — oh my.

Outfit Details: I’m wearing a cut-out shirt by Michi, and hat by Bella Starr Hats. My heart-shaped Hope bag is by Lola Ramona; they also make a version that looks like a Sailor Moon bag. More tops like mine below…

Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham temple Luang Prabang

My friends and I wanted an authentic experience in and around Luang Prabang, so we linked up with Tours By Locals. They connect travellers with trusted local guides around the world, who take them on private excursions off the beaten track.

Our Luang Prabang and waterfall tour was entirely customizable, and easy to arrange online. Unlike typical group tours, I loved how we got to see the culture of Laos through the eyes of a passionate local.

luang prabang buddhist stupa wat mai

Our guide Jay Asia and his driver picked us up from our hotel in an air-conditioned car. Jay has a bright, easy-going energy that was perfect for us, as we like to be flexible in our travels. He was glad to make last-minute adjustments for us (such as when we wanted to stop for ice cream and coffee), and always answered our questions thoughtfully.

Luang Prabang is a tiny capital, so it’s possible to visit many attractions in a single day. We began our morning at Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham temple. Jay explained that this Gothic black mound is a stupa, or Buddhist monument housing sacred relics or remains.

(I’m holding my Boy 1904 umbrella, and wearing skeleton bone leggings similar to these ones.)

gold buddha statue wat mai laos

Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham is the largest and most ornate temple in Luang Prabang. The structure was built in 1780 by King Anurat, and the interior is shimmering with gold leaf and red lacquer. (All photos by Julie Hunter, Yukiro Dravarious and me.)

Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham monastery gold pillars

We sat down in front of the giant Buddha with Jay. He told us his personal story of studying with Buddhist monks as a child, and then becoming one for several years.

Jay knowledgeably answered our questions about the differences between Buddhism in Laos, and other countries in Southeast Asia. He walked us through his daily life as a monk (involving very early rising, receiving alms from locals, eating twice a day, meditating for hours, and abiding by precepts). It was fascinating to learn about Laotian spirituality from his perspective. 

golden buddhas statues luang prabang

I asked Jay about the portrait next to the giant golden Buddha. He told us that it honors Phra Sangkharat, the highest dignitary who resided in Wat Mai temple at the end of the 19th century.

jay asia tours by locals luang prabang laos

We chatted under the calm gaze of the towering gilded Buddha, seated in the meditation position. He is surrounded by many smaller Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, positioned in various mudras. The shrine also houses an emerald Buddha.

Outside, the gilded façade has bas reliefs depicting scenes from the Buddha’s life, as well as daily life in Luang Prabang.

wat mai two gold buddhas

Jay suggested that we walk around to see a hidden second Buddha, awkwardly seated right behind the large one! Originally, this was the main image of Wat Mai — but the founder’s younger brother decided to one-up him, and place a bigger Buddha right in front.

Haw Pha Bang Buddhist temple, Luang Prabang

Inspired by the poses we saw in the artwork, we went on to Haw Pha Bang. The eaves and decor look classic, but this temple was actually finished in 2006.

The green, red and gold temple sits near the Royal Palace of Luang Prabang. It was built in 1904 (during the French colonial era) to house King Sisavang Vong and his family. Today, the Royal Palace is a museum that preserves the history and lineage of the kingdom.

Wat Xieng Thong temple roof laos

We ended our temple-hopping at Wat Xieng Thong, one of the most important in the country. The temple and monastery were built in 1560 by King Setthathirath. This remained the site where kings were crowned until the Communist takeover of Laos in 1975.

tours by locals luang prabang private tour guide

Jay bowed three times to the golden Buddha inside, draped in the orange robes of a monk.

Wat XiengThong gold ship

Finally, we entered the royal funerary chariot house, where we were greeted by a fierce funeral carriage standing 12 metres high! These growling creatures are nagas, the mythical serpents of the Buddhist cosmology.

golden famous temple luang prabang laos

The exterior of the Royal Funerary Chariot Hall is a sight to behold. Completed in 1962, these gilded wood carvings show flowery scenes from the Phra Lak Phra Lam, the Laotian version of the Hindu epic Ramayana.

gold temple wat xienthong

This building was built to house royal urns, and the dramatic funeral carriage of King Sisavang Vong. When he died in 1959, the barge was carried through the streets of Luang Prabang.

luang prabang library volunteering charity

Next door is Luang Prabang Library, an educational non-profit that I urge you to visit. They provide books and school supplies to children in rural areas, where such items are a rarity. To reach these remote villages, the library operates two boats and make stops along the Mekong River.

voluntourism laos children's library

In the community space, volunteers teach local children music, languages, and other skills. (These two shy girls are playing the lanat, or Laotian xylophone).

You can support the Luang Prabang Library by dropping off books or school supplies for the children. Alternately, you can purchase a souvenir or make a donation.

donations luang prabang library volunteers

I had a million extras pens and stationery lying around, as well as old calculators and other items. It was simple to gather and donate them to the library. What we consider “clutter” can be invaluable in other parts of the world. 

The Luang Prabang library is doing wonderful work, and we were happy to support them during our travels.

private car driver luang prabang

Time to sing “Welcome to the Jungle” as we made our way to Kuang Si Waterfall, located about 18 miles south of the capital. Our driver took us on a 45 minute ride that wound through lush forests and rice fields.

Laos was a welcome relief from the pollution and traffic of Bangkok (our previous destination). Here, there are no fast-food restaurants or tall buildings, and we didn’t see a single bus of tourists.

hike to kuang si waterfalls

Tours by Locals offers a one-hour trek to the famous waterfall, but in this humid weather, we opted to drive most of the way. From the entrance, we walked along the path for about 10 minutes. As you can see, “it’s a jungle out there”… Pirate-planks over water, and trees with twisting roots! 

Pro tip: don’t lean on the wood railings of the small bridges. Yukiro posed against one… and the rail fell right off! I shrieked in terror, but fortunately, he wasn’t injured.

kuangsi falls luang prabang

As we got closer, the flow picked up its pace. Kuangsi Falls is a multi-leveled cascade, so the water crashes down from different heights. There are areas where people can swim… but the current was quite fast, which dissuaded us from going in.

Yukiro is wearing a black and white striped sunhat by Bella Starr.

famous waterfalls laos

The path leads to the main falls, with a 60 metre drop. The mist over the limestone pools made Kuang Si look like something out of a fantasy.

kuang si waterfall tour

Jay took this photo of me while holding up a leaf to the lens. We were happy to have him as our guide, as he always found ways to make our tour special. For instance, Jay got us grilled bananas and potatoes for us to try, and ran after Yukiro’s sandal when he lost it in the stream!

(I’m wearing a black cutaway top by Michi, and heart shaped Hope purse by Lola Ramona. They also make the heart bag in red and blue. See more of their retro pin-up styles below…)

kuang xi waterfalls secret pool

If you’re in Luang Prabang, you’ve got to make an excursion to the dazzling Kuang Xi waterfalls. Since it’s located outside the city, booking a private trip with Tours By Locals is the easiest way to see the falls.

bear rescue center laos

As you trek through the jungle, don’t be afraid if you come across some grizzlies. This is the site of Free the Bears, or the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre!

luang prabang bear rescue

This organization works to protect Asian black bears. Tragically, many of these creatures are trapped and killed for their gallbladders, which are believed to have medicinal powers. These bears are also killed for food, or taken as pets in the black market.

tat kuang si bear rescue centre

At Tat Kuang Si Rescue Center, we were glad to see that they are now living the Winnie-the-Pooh lifestyle! The non-profit provides stimulating, open enclosures for the bears.

free the bears luang prabang

Visitors come to say hi to the cute mammals, and learn about them. Outside, there was a “bears of the world” display… Can you spot the odd one out?

Smiling stone cat statue Luang Prabang

Free the Bears Laos also helps other animals, and employs locals in meaningful work. With their efforts, the endangered Asiatic black bears will hopefully rebuild their populations.  

buffalo dairy luang prabang coffee cafe

On the way back, we made a pit-stop at Laos Buffalo Dairy. This sustainable farm produces fresh buffalo cheese and milk, which they serve with coffee. And they make delicious buffalo milk ice cream, which helped us cool down from the humid temperature. (Try the pumpkin pie, tamarind, and coconut flavors!)

bunny rabbit farm luang prabang

Susie Martin, one of founders, took us on a tour of the farm. So many happy bunnies to feed and hold.

Susie explained how Laos Buffalo Dairy works with local farmers and helps the community. They rent the females to milk them for dairy products (a non-traditional use of the buffalo in Laos), providing the villagers with a source of income. The farm also provides better healthcare for the animals, and cross-breeds them for greater milk yields.

buffalo milking feeding dairy laos

Buffalo milk is nutritious, and easier to digest than cow milk (as lactose intolerance is common in Asia). This farm takesexcellent care of the animals, and the products help feed Laotian children, 44 percent of whom are undernourished. Cheers to Laos Buffalo Dairy for their innovative work.

saffron coffee shop cafe luang prabang

After our tour with Jay, we spent time exploring Luang Prabang on our own. This is the type of place where you enjoy a leisurely breakfast, go out to see a sights or take a swim, and then relax for hours in a local cafe.

Not many places in Laos have air conditioning, so we were relieved to visit Saffron Coffee (they have an AC area upstairs). Laotian coffee is fantastic — I thoroughly enjoyed my cold brew — and Saffron makes a mean gluten and dairy-free brownie, along with other sweets.

novelty cafe luang prabang laos

We also enjoyed hanging out at Novelty Cafe in Luang Prabang. They have a great selection of fresh juices and healthy foods, and the chic environment is perfect for working on your laptop.

luang prabang shops shopping stores

Luang Prabang avoids the typical tourist-trinket stores. We browsed local boutiques that sold Laotian handicrafts, scarves, textiles, and art.

laos masks artwork luang prabang

Leave it to me to find a devilish mask and red star!

Luang Prabang is so tiny that it’s easy to walk around everywhere. If the heat gets too intense, you can flag down a local tuk tuk.

night market luang prabang laos

We ended up at the Luang Prabang night market, where you can find snake liquor, glowing lanterns and other inexpensive items. Be sure to bargain — Yukiro got long pants for $1.50 US!

Jay then took us on a night out, starting at Tamarind restaurant. We feasted on Laotian eggplant, the national dish of larb (minced buffalo), pumpkin ginger soup, and surprisingly tasty sticky rice. Next, we had drinks at the Lao Lao Garden, a verdant bar with a lively crowd and pool table. Cocktails are only about $2, and you can pay for items in Thai baht or Lao kip. (Try the dragonfruit coconut cocktail, a new creation.)

phousi mountain luang prabang gold stupa

Finally, Julie took a walk up Mount Phousi, which rises over the center of the old town. (Yukiro and I elected to go back to our villa and get massages!)

As you climb the 355 steps, you’ll encounter gold Buddha statues and shrines along the way. The golden Wat Chomsi stupa sits at the top of the mountain, built in 1804.

mount phousi view mekong river luang prabang

When you reach the summit of Mt. Phousi, you’re rewarded with a panoramic view of Luang Prabang: temples, deep green mountains, and the snaking Mekong River. Many travellers come here for a spectacular view of the sunset.

luang prabang laos tour guide jay asia

A big hug to our guide and new friend Jay Asia — he made our trip to Luang Prabang one to remember! We thoroughly enjoyed our Tours By Locals experience, as it let us learn about this destination with authenticity. Without a private tour and driver, we would never have been able to cover so much ground in a single day.

laos buddhist temples buddha

Unlike other Southeast Asian countries, Laos lacks a single landmark or attraction that drives visitors (contrast this to Angkor Wat for example). However to us, this is an enormous plus: we loved being in an unhurried, non-commercial city. Luang Prabang let us kick back, and simply take in the local nature and spirituality.

Keep Laos in mind for your next trip. There are residents doing excellent non-profit work here — bear rescue, children’s literacy, local development, nutrition. I hope you’ll have an opportunity to visit and support them.

One more post from Laos to come, so check back… and I’ll be posting about Bangkok, Tokyo, Naoshima and Hiroshima too!