It’s certainly not hard to find a bar in the town of Luang Prabang. Laos’ second largest city has a population of roughly 6,000, and it swells with a heavy tourist influx when the wet season turns to dry and the moist, hot air gives way to cooler temperatures and misty afternoons. The air carries the scent of the slash-and-burn agriculture practiced on the hillsides, and there’s a Rudyard Kipling-era romance that makes little Luang Prabang feel like a lost part of the planet, recently rediscovered.
At night, woven tapestries are placed on top of rickety teak tables, lotus lanterns scatter colored light and you can settle in to people watch on streets that are among the most clean, friendly and safe in all of Southeast Asia.
Apparently the local government is not wild about all-night parties, loud nightclubs and drunken tourists. There’s a modesty here that keeps it quiet and charming. May it ever remain so, because the sleepy ease is 99 percent of the allure. The Elephant is the town’s nicest restaurant, with a French menu, bright yellow walls, high ceilings, open-air seating, rich wood floors and an extensive wine list. The regional Miele Guide voted it one of “Asia’s Finest” for 2011 and 2012. If you crave a good glass of wine, a fine Scotch or a snifter of Cognac, this is your spot. The back page of the menu stays native with excellent dishes like Praneng Kai (about $10) — a mix of shredded chicken, minced pork and buffalo skin in coconut milk sauce — which accompanies a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc exceptionally well.
• Details: 011-856-71-252-482; www.elephant-restau.com. Reservations recommended.
Part cooking school, part restaurant/bar, part book exchange, Tamnak Lao is located in the dead center of town in a beautifully restored colonial building and run by a local family. Booking one of their signature cooking classes from 5:30-7 p.m. equals enjoying your Happy Hour in a whole new way. A skilled local chef demonstrates four separate dishes, allowing you to cook two of your choice ($20). The book exchange attached to the restaurant and bar has more than 1,000 titles, and you can exchange one-for-one if you bring a book or simply purchase outright. After your class, grab a novel and a cold beer for a quiet night on the bar’s upstairs terrace. It’s an excellent end to a fantastic day in Luang Prabang.
• Details: 011-856-7125-2525; www.tamnaklao.net.