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Losing Tradition in Luang Prabang

The Facts

Bangkok Airways (866/226-4565; bangkok air.com) now offers direct flights from Bangkok via Sukhothai. More airlines serve Vientiane, where you can connect to Luang Prabang on the (much improved) national carrier, Lao Aviation. Vientiane is worth a few days. The optimal time to visit Laos is from November to March, when the weather is dry and not too hot. But during those months slash-and-burn logging in the forests around Luang Prabang can drape the city in a smoky haze; clear days are rare. Late spring and summer bring the rains, along with a break in the haze.

HOTELS
Villa Santi Hotel A former royal mansion, this 25-room boutique hotel in the heart of the heritage zone has a colonial flavor, with teak and rosewood furnishings and antique fans. Note: Last year, the plush Villa Santi Resort opened on the outskirts of town, but the hotel wins out for convenience and charm. DOUBLES FROM $90. SAKKARINE RD.; 856-71/252-157, FAX 856-71/252-158; www.villasantihotel.com
Grand Luang Prabang Resort Another royal residence (Prince Phetsarah's Xiengkeo Palace) converted into a hotel. This one sits on the banks of the Mekong amid acres of gardens and rice fields, just a 10-minute drive from town. Opened in 2001, it's the most luxurious option in Luang Prabang. DOUBLES FROM $90. BAN XIENGKEO; 856-71/253-851, FAX 856-71/253-027; www.grandluangprabang.com
Pansea Luang Prabang On a quiet hill overlooking the city, this French-managed resort was recently renovated in a chic pan-Asian style, and now plays host to many business and tour groups. DOUBLES FROM $120. DOMAINE DE PHOU VAO; 856-71/212-194, FAX 856-71/212-534; www.pansea.com

RESTAURANTS
L'Éléphant Try the merguez sausage, the rough and hearty country pâté, or the jambon fumé and any of the salads made with greens from L'Éléphant's own garden. DINNER FOR TWO $40. BAN VAT NONG; 856-71/252-482
Park Houay Mixay First-rate Lao food, served on picnic tables in a tin-roofed roadhouse with a trickling fountain. Ask for khai pen ("Mekong weed"): dried river moss flattened into thin strips resembling Japanese nori, then lightly fried with garlic, chile, and sesame seeds. Don't miss the terrific Lao sausage or the hearty, anise-flavored beef stew. DINNER FOR TWO $20. 75-76 BAN XIENG MOUANE; 856-71/212-260
Café Ban Vat Sene The best breakfast in town (for only $2), in a pale yellow, fan-cooled space with rattan chairs and heavy teak tables. Also excellent sandwiches on fresh warm baguettes at lunch, and delicious watercress salads. LUNCH FOR TWO $14. SAKKARINE RD.
Princess Restaurant A tourist scene, but a worthy one: the Villa Santi's dining room serves some remarkably good Lao dishes, such as watercress-spinach-cilantro soup and peppery pork sausage, on a terrace overlooking the main street. Spice your dish up with the jamlike jaew bawng, made from chiles and dried water-buffalo skin. DINNER FOR TWO $20. VILLA SANTI HOTEL, SAKKARINE RD.; 856-71/252-157
Maylek Pub A sexy and sleek French-run boîte that comes alive late at night, after most of L.P. is asleep. BAN VIENG KHEO

SHOPPING
OckPopTok Joanne Smith and Veomanee Duangdala's splendid textile boutique. Shipping is easy to arrange. 73-75 BAN VAT NONG; 856-71/253-219; www.ockpoptok.com
Baan Khily Gallery One of the most respected galleries in town, selling local crafts and art (folk paintings on rough saa [mulberry] paper, antique photographs, wood carvings) in a cozy two-story space. Readings and lectures are common in the balcony café. SAKKARINE RD.; 856-71/212-611
La Nouvelle Galerie An intoxicating sight after dark, when this open-front shop is aglow with a hundred paper lanterns. The stunning designs are hand-carved of native wood and covered with saa paper, and will fold flat for shipping. 37-39 BAN CHOUM KHONG

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