Beautiful Luang Prabang

20 years of World Heritage in Luang Prabang

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Liam is a travel consultant in our Bristol office, and just returned from a recce trip to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. In this post, he compares Luang Prabang today with the town ten years ago, when he last visited.

Wat Mai, one of Luang Prabang's World Heritage gems
Wat Mai, one of Luang Prabang’s World Heritage gems

In early December 2015, Luang Prabang celebrated its 20th anniversary as a UNESCO Heritage Town, and I was lucky enough to catch the parade to mark this special day.

Luang Prabang is well known for its architectural beauty, with French-style colonial buildings and more than 30 ancient Buddhist wats (temples) in the area. The criteria UNESCO cites for listing Luang Prabang as a World Heritage Site are:

1. Its exceptional fusion of traditional Lao architecture with European colonial buildings
2. Its combination of sophisticated architecture of “religious buildings, vernacular constructions and colonial buildings”
3. The remarkable preservation of all of the above

Beautiful Wat Xieng Thong
Beautiful Wat Xieng Thong

This was my second trip to Luang Prabang, the first being back in 2007, and I was interested to see how much the town had changed. I was also interested to see how I would react to the place now that I was 9 years older, having only been a teenager the first time I visited.

Being a UNESCO Heritage Town means that the centre of Luang Prabang is protected from becoming developed in a way that doesn’t fit with the current architecture of the town. So I knew that the beauty of the town would be intact. I did, however, anticipate that it would be a lot busier than in 2007, but I hadn’t anticipated how much busier!

The parade
The parade
Parade

I wasn’t aware of the anniversary until my guide informed me about it on the day I arrived. I had just expected a nice quiet day of cycling around town, visiting wats and the old palace, but as soon as I left my hotel to drive across town to the e-bike station it looked like half of Laos had turned up for the celebrations!

My guide and I decided to ditch the car as soon as we set eyes on the traffic. We ran across town to grab our e-bikes and then cycled to the centre to catch the rest of the parade. The parade was beautiful, with so many colours, lots of traditional instruments, and even elephants. I also got a glimpse of the President and First Lady of Laos! Interestingly, the parade featured lots of educational banners and placards, displaying things such as anti-smoking messages. The organisers knew that a lot of folks from the countryside would be turning up to see this, so it was the perfect opportunity to promote social welfare causes.

Thousands of people turned out for the celebrations
Thousands of people turned out for the celebrations
The President and First Lady of Laos!
The President and First Lady of Laos!

As I only had one day in Laos on this trip, I felt so lucky to have arrived on the day I did. I felt like I appreciated the town in a different way than on my first visit. I think there are three main reasons for this. The first is that I’m now older and have more knowledge and understanding of the general history and culture of Southeast Asia. This meant I could really appreciate the history and culture behind Luang Prabang in a way I hadn’t before.

Elephants taking part in the parade
Elephants taking part in the parade

Secondly, and in relation to this, I had a guide with expert knowledge with me who taught me so much about the town and Laos in general. And lastly, I have been living and travelling in Asia for the last four years, visiting many cities and towns. Having visited all these places I can honestly say that Luang Prabang is by far the most beautiful of the lot! I really appreciated the relaxed, peaceful vibe and the calm and friendly nature of the people. It’s a far cry from the hustle and bustle of my old home in Ho Chi Minh City!

Wat Xieng Thong
Wat Xieng Thong surrounded by palm trees
Stunning countryside surrounds laid-back Luang Prabang
Stunning countryside surrounds laid-back Luang Prabang
Out on the river near Luang Prabang
Out on the river near Luang Prabang

If you’re an avid reader of the Inside Vietnam Blog, you’ll already know how much we love Luang Prabang, and all the fantastic things you can do there. If you’re ready to start planning a trip – take a look at our World Heritage Indochina Self-Guided Adventure or our Indochina Encompassed Small Group Tour for starters!

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