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Luang Prabang retains its charm

A month before Lao New Year (Pi Mai) local authorities and residents of the World Heritage town of Luang Prabang are looking forward to celebrating a special year that saw their hometown reclaim a coveted travel award.

Locals are looking forward to bringing in the new year and welcoming the numerous tourists who will travel to the town from all corners of the globe to explore its ancient charms and find out for themselves why the town was voted as the world's top destination by readers of the UK's Wanderlust Travel Magazine last month.

Luang Prabang was granted World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1995. The town is the former capital of the ancient kingdom of Lane Xang, or the land of a million elephants.

Luang Prabang is a cultural centre in the region, with its numerous temples a testimony to a wealth of culture and civilisation.

Luang Prabang won the magazine's ‘top destination' title from 2006 to 2008 before falling to seventh in 2009 because the city could not maintain its beauty, attractiveness and cleanliness.

This year Luang Prabang received first place with a score of 94.74 percent, followed by Siena, Italy, with 94.67 percent and Berlin, Germany, with 94.15 percent.

“We were voted back as number one this year because everyone involved actively worked together to address the issues raised by UNESCO relating to the town's heritage areas and conservation,” said Head of the Luang Prabang provincial Tourism Department, Mr Khamphoui Phommavong.

Residents renovating or enlarging houses in the old part of the town without consulting authorities or gaining the appropriate approval is causing problems and endangering the town's world heritage status.

This, coupled with an increasing number of vehicles on the roads, are the main issues that local authorities must resolve to ensure the town retains both its unique charm and characteristics and its world heritage classification.

“We are proud of the award, which will encourage us to work harder towards unifying development and preservation efforts. But we will keep in mind that maintaining the title is very challenging,” said Mr Khamphoui.

The department will gather tourism operators, urban developers and the relevant sectors to explain future plans and what needs to be done to maintain the town's world heritage status.

The UNESCO listing is a significant factor in attracting visitors to the town and surrounding areas, where they can experience unique architectural styles, plentiful temples, and natural and historical sites and activities.

Although the town is renowned for its distinctive architecture, which blends French colonial styles with traditional Lao aspects, there are numerous other attractions for visitors to enjoy.

The Luang Prabang night market is one fascinating feature of the town, where visitors can enjoy shopping and browsing a wide variety of clothing, jewellery, fashion accessories and handicrafts produced by Laos' numerous different ethnic groups.

A trip to a market in many parts of Laos can be an unpleasant experience, with vendors hassling and pressuring you to make a purchase, but the Luang Prabang night market is a world far removed from this. The polite and pleasant vendors are more than happy for customers to browse through goods and are always pleased to try and answer any questions you may have.

Another interesting place to visit is the Luang Prabang Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre, where visitors can get a fascinating insight into the cultures, lifestyles and traditions of the nation's multitude of ethnic groups. On display are the traditional clothing of each group, along with accessories, tools and equipment used in daily life and detailed explanations of traditions and customs.

The region's longstanding culture and religion is an important factor in bringing unity to the town, and working together to preserve customs and prevent inappropriate developments is considered to be the job of all residents. The older generation is particularly eager to preserve the town for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations.

Mr Ole, a photographer born in Luang Prabang province, said for him the charm of the town stems from the daily activities of the local people who rely on the Mekong and Khan rivers for so much of their livelihoods.

He has spent many mornings and evenings down by the riverbanks snapping photos of men fishing for their family's dinner, women washing clothes, and children playing joyfully in the river shallows.

Mr Ole is pleased that most local residents are aware of the importance of keeping the rivers clean and preserving the environment.

“To showcase the region's beautiful environmental and cultural aspects to visitors, local people are willing to be involved in keeping their community clean. Cleanliness not only benefits the tourism industry but also keeps local residents healthier,” he said.

The efforts of the local people, combined with the town's unique architecture, splendid temples, spectacular natural surrounds, and fascinating cultural heritage are sure to keep the visitors flowing into Luang Prabang for many years to come.

By Phonesavanh Sangsomboun

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  1. I read this blog and can say that it is so informative blog having many information about Luang Prabang. It is must read post. Good Job!

    laos tourism


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