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Mass tourism swamps Asia's once remote pl

A fusillade of flashing, jostling cameras and videocams is triggered the moment Buddhist monks pad barefoot out of their monasteries in a serene, timeless ritual. A forward surge breaks into the line of golden-yellow robes, and nearly tramples kneeling Lao women offering food to the monks.

Later that day, a prince of the former royal capital struggling to preserve his town's cultural legacy, protests: "For many tourists, coming to Luang Prabang is like going on safari, but our monks are not monkeys or buffaloes."

Nestled deep in a Mekong River valley, cut off from most of the world by the Vietnam War, Luang Prabang was very different when I first saw it in 1974. Fraying at the edges, yes, but still a magic fusion of traditional Lao dwellings, French colonial architecture and more than 30 graceful monasteries, some dating back to the 14th century. It wasn't a museum, but a cohesive, authentic, living community.

Fast forward to 2008: Many of the old families have departed, selling or leasing their

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