Tourism threatens fragile beauty of former Lao royal capital

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30 March 2007 (AFP, by way of Yahoo! News) – While many articles about how tourism is threatening the site of Angkor, a similar scene is happening in Laos.

Tourism threatens fragile beauty of former Lao royal capital

World heritage status has turned the former Lao capital from a ghost town into a tourism hub, but too much of a good thing could soon prove the kiss of death, say experts and residents.

In recent years a trickle of backpackers has turned into a flood of tourists coming to the sleepy town of glistening Buddhist temples and palm shaded French colonial mansions sitting pretty on a Mekong river peninsula.

Camera-toting visitors now follow saffron-robed monks on their morning alms rounds and foreigners are transforming quiet neighbourhoods into rows of cafes and hotels, say those who worry about the town’s fragile beauty.

“People are surprised at the pace of change,” said Francis Engelmann, a former
UNESCO advisor and current resident of Luang Prabang. “There are more cars, there is more noise. Behind my house three new guesthouses are going up.”

The 700-year-old town, seen as the jewel of ancient Lao heritage, threatens to turn into “a mono-industry where everything depends on tourism,” he warned.

By the standards of many Asian tourist sites, Luang Prabang retains much of the tranquil charm that led the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation to list it as a world heritage site in 1995.

Nestled below lush hills between the Mekong and Khan rivers, it was once the capital of the Lan Xang kingdom, the Land of One Million Elephants, and remained the spiritual and religious centre of Laos in the centuries since.

Related Books:
A History of Laos by M. Stuart-Fox
Ancient Luang Prabang by D. Heywood
The Lao Kingdom of Lan-Xang: Rise and Decline by M. Stuart-Fox