Thomas Moons became General Manager of Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao in 2015 but worked at the hotel before that. He has also worked for InterContinental hotels and in Dubai. He invited me over for a tour, their Friday night guest cocktail party and dinner with him.
The Luang Prabang hotel describes itself as "French colonial style with authentic Laotian touches".
Thomas was waiting for me outside the hotel and helped ensure my tuk-tuk driver did not rip me off.
We had a quick chat by the reflecting pool in the lobby and then took Mr Phou Vao (the hotel teddy bear/mascot) out to the main infinity pool for photos with Issy and 'the gang'.
We then went to see some rooms, and the Mekong Spa, walking past the Orchid Garden and the frangipani trees.
The rooms I was shown have stunning views out over Mount Phu Si and the lush jungle and are finished in beautiful rosewood.
The tour ended looking at the hotel's archery range. It is quite a luxury tropical resort.
After the tour I was presented with a new teddy bear (a mini version of Mr Phou Vao); a book about UNESCO Heritage Site Luang Prabang that the hotel helped write; and a Lao scarf, that was the hotel turndown gift that evening.
Drinks in the Doc Champa Bar
The drinks were held in the bar off the lobby, where I got to chat with one of the hotel's English guests.
We drank cocktails based on Lao whisky but it ended with Thomas getting the bar to make me a perfect very dry vodka martini.
Dinner in Phou Savanh Restaurant
Thomas took me for dinner in the hotel restaurant that serves "sumptuously presented Lao food infused with 'secret' spices and high class French cuisine".
We ate out by the 13 meter infinity pool and had some of the first non-chilled red wine I have drunk in months.
With Thomas' help, I picked Lao dishes. A Lao version of ceviche - ghoi pa - that was mouthwateringly light & fresh and then kaeng glee - a sublime Lao curry - with pork.
The food was all delicious and there were some entertaining touches during dinner that were novel to me (eg a cold towel that expanded when staff added water, like the Japanese blossoming water flowers I knew as a child, with dry ice in the bowl below).
However, the real star of dinner was Thomas himself. He is a young Belgium who is as passionate about the luxury hotel industry as me, sensible and fun. I adored the few hours I spent with him and now regard him as a firm friend.
Thomas arranged for a hotel shuttle to take me back to town.
🐻🐻🐻🐻🐻🐻 (6 out of 5 ‘teddies’) - a sophisticated tropical resort, a dream GM Thomas and the party & dinner got this hotel the extra 'teddy'. My tip: try to stay there on a Monday night, so you can test your archery skills against Thomas.
Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao, Luang Prabang is one of the most luxurious (and expensive) hotel in Laos. Until 2014 Belmond was called Orient Express and still runs the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train, as well places like Raymond Blanc's Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxfordshire, the Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice (where I have had dinner) and the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town (where I have had tea). I stayed at the Belmond Copacabana Palace in Rio again last year and had coffee with their General Manager, Andrea Natal.
Si Frew has lived in the UK, Bermuda, Qatar, Cyprus & the Cayman Islands. During this time he met Whoopi Goldberg (in Claridge's), Mike Tyson (in the Concorde Lounge at JFK) , Gordon Ramsay (in the Doha Four Seasons), Chris Eubanks (in The Dorchester), Cherie Blair (in Bermuda & again in the Doha Four Seasons) etc. There are funny stories attached to all these interactions, feel free to ask Si about them when you meet him.