Exploring Laung Prabang
The Expat|August 2017

Laid-back and unassuming, Laos is one of the region’s most intriguing travel destinations. Editor Chad Merchant visits the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang and finds it the country’s perfect starting point.

Chad Merchant

 

With the smallest population of any ASEAN country bigger than a postage stamp – sorry, Singapore and Brunei, we’re looking at you – Laos is about as close to being the region’s undiscovered country as you could imagine. It doesn’t have ancient temples like Angkor Wat or Borobudur to draw history and archaeology buffs, there are no beaches (as it’s ASEAN’s only landlocked nation), and there are no glitzy cities or shopping meccas anywhere within its borders. You might think tourism would be a hard sell in a place like Laos, and in some regards, you would probably be right. And yet, this little-known land pulls in visitors by the planeload, with the country’s nascent tourism industry recording impressive double-digit growth year-on-year in every year since 2010 except one. In less than one generation, the tourism sector has mushroomed exponentially, from just 80,000 international visitors in 1990 to over two million in 2010. And since 2010, that number has continued to soar, with the latest data showing a whopping 4.7 million tourist arrivals in 2015, a staggering increase of nearly 60-fold in just 25 years.

CITY OF HERITAGE, CRADLE OF COMFORT

Looking at a map, Laos is shaped somewhat like a palm tree and in the centre of its ‘palm fronds’ region is the small city of Luang Prabang, the former royal capital of Laos. In 1995, a number of the adjacent villages comprising the city were listed by UNESCO as the Town of Luang Prabang World Heritage Site, noted for its well-preserved architectural, religious, and cultural heritage, a blend of rural and urban developments over several centuries, including the French colonial influences during the 19th and 20th centuries. Unsurprisingly, the UNESCO listing contributed mightily to increasing the country’s tourist appeal.

Visiting Luang Prabang can be done on a shoestring budget, in bespoke luxury, or anywhere in between. Indeed, during the peak season, rooms costing several hundred US dollars per night are startlingly easy to find, a bit of a shock in this laid-back and unassuming town of some 55,000.

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