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Dream Town Luang Prabang

Protect, Position and Promote

THAI cuts back Bangkok-Los Angeles flights

Dream Town Luang Prabang

Backpacker’s paradise to world heritage site

Reinhard Hohler

Approaching Luang Prabang by air, there is only the mighty Mekong River winding itself like a snake through the green mountains of Laos. In the middle of the dry season, in February and March, sandbanks appear and make life difficult for the many boatmen who moor their boats on both side of the river.

The palace of Prince Phetsarat (1890-1959) in the compound of the grand Luang Prabang Hotel.

The higher mountains show dusty stretches of slash and burn agriculture, but suddenly a small mountain top appears with a golden pagoda glittering in the afternoon sun. This is Phou Si Mountain, a sacred site in the midst of narrow alleys, bustling markets and a network of more than 30 Buddhist monasteries. The city is still reflecting a divine world, where kings of bygone days ruled their mandala in all directions of the compass.

Luang Prabang was the former capital of Lan Xang Kingdom, founded by King Fa Ngum, a legendary ruler in 1353. According to an ever older legend, two hermits were attracted to this place, where a mountain is shaped like a mound of rice and three rivers find their way into the Mekong River within a stretch of 30 kilometers, namely the Nam Ou, Nam Xuang and Nam Khan.

A young Apsara dancer performs alternate evenings in the royal palace.

Today, the main part of Luang Prabang lies on a peninsula formed by the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong River and is one kilometer long and 200 meters wide.

In its center and between Phou Si Mountain and the Mekong River is the former royal palace or rajawang, also called ho kham or golden palace, which was built between 1904 and 1909 under the French, after Luang Prabang was declared a protectorate and Laos became a colony within French Indochina.

The last crowned king of the Lao Kingdom was King Sisavangvong who died in 1959. He was succeeded by his son, King Sisavang Vatthana, who modernized the whole compound and handed it over to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic established on December 2, 1975. Later it became a national museum.

Representatives of Lao Youth Travel offer trekking, biking and rafting tours.

The development of the tourist sector in Lao PDR started in 1990 and due to its position in the national economy, the government has identified tourism as one of the priority sectors in the national socio-economic development plan. The policy is to promote natural, cultural and historical tourism to attract international tourists.

First came the backpackers to Luang Prabang, who visited the sleepy town and wondered about the traditional wooden houses built on stilts and the marked difference to the concrete houses of the rich merchants. The poorer homes were even made of bamboo, as until a few decades ago, teakwood was exclusively used for palaces and temples.

Two wide streets run parallel to the river, crossed by streets at right angles. The gables of the houses are symmetrically aligned and surrounded by greenery. Interesting to note is that there are no bathrooms in the houses of Luang Prabang. People still bathe in the river or use a large jar behind the house filled with rainwater. Usually, nights are quite cool.

The river is still the preferred method of transport for goods, in a country which has a poor road network. National route no.13 has only recently been improved with the help of Chinese engineers to connect the town with Oudomxai and Luang Nam Tha in the northern part of the country and with Vang Vieng and Vientiane to the south, making weeklong river journeys obsolete.

As more and more affluent travelers arrive at the new international airport linking Luang Prabang with Chiang Mai, Sukhothai and Bangkok in Thailand, hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, handicraft shops and internet cafes have multiplied. Luckily, the town was declared a world heritage site in Berlin on December 2, 1995.

The work of UNESCO includes a new town plan to divide Luang Prabang into protected areas and makes it possible that old colonial buildings will be slowly rehabilitated within the existing framework. A few owners have even started to renovate their old wooden houses. Small alleys will be paved and clay tiles will once again become a standard building material for all new constructions. Luang Prabang with its 25,000 inhabitants is a Shangri-La of the East and the following places and institutions are highly recommended:

Hotels: The Grand Luang Prabang, once the private residence of Prince Phetsarat right on the Mekong River, is managed by Dutchman Gerard W. Verhoeven. Pansea Phou Vao Hotel is a boutique-style hotel, managed by French Nicolas Pillet. Souvannaphoum is a typical colonial style hotel. Le Parasol Blanc Hotel is located in the heart of the city, while Villa Santi Hotel is part of a package deal with Lao Airlines.

Guesthouses: Tum Tum Cheng is for budget travelers. Le Calao Inn combines history, elegance and romance at the Mekong riverside, while the Manoluck caters for families.

Restaurants: L’Elephant is the top French one, while Indochina Spirit serves typical Lao food, such as seaweed with sesame seeds. Tamnak Lao is already long established.

Tour agencies: Lao Youth Travel, Tiger Trail managed by German Markus Peschke, Asian Trails and Diethelm Travel, offering trekking, biking and rafting.

Temple sites: Vat Xieng Thong, Vat Visoun, Vat Mai, and Vat Buddha Bat to see a dramatic sunset, if you do not want to climb up the stairs to That Chom Si.

Excursions: Pak Ou Caves, Henri Mouhot’s Tomb near the Tai Lue village of Ban Phanom, Tad Kouang Si Waterfall and to a newly established elephant camp.

Entertainment: Royal Ballet Ramayana on every other evening at the Royal Palace. Walking Street at night and Muang Swa Nightclub, which closes at 11.30 p.m.

How to get there: THAI’s new Chiang Mai-Luang Prabang flights operate every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. Lao Airlines fly every Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday. So, don’t miss the chance to miss one of the still unspoiled places of Indochina. For further information, contact GMS Media Travel Consultant Reinhard Hohler by email [email protected] .co.th


Protect, Position and Promote

PATA Mekong Forum at the Sheraton Chiang Mai, March 26 – 28, 2004

The 9th Mekong Tourism Forum will officially open with a welcome reception at the Sheraton Chiang Mai, hosted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand on Friday, March 26. The welcome and opening address will be on Saturday, March 27, from 9 – 9.30 a.m., chaired by the minister of tourism and sport, Sonthaya Khunpluem as well as Peter de Jong, president and CEO of PATA - ADB - UNESCAP.

Peter de Jong, President and CEO, PATA

The following is the tentative program we received prior to going to press. Please check again with the hotel during the forum to see if any changes occurred.

Saturday, March 27th, 2004:

9.30 a.m. - 10.30 a.m. Keynote Speech: GMS in the 21st Century- Tourism as a Growth Engine, by Professor Kaye Chon, chair professor and head, School of Hotel and Tourism Management. The effects of 21st century global economics and tourism on the Mekong and its tourism industry.

10.45 a.m. – 1 p.m. Mekong Products and Destinations – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Yunnan, China (PRC). An overview of strategies and policies for tourism planning and development in each Mekong destination.

2.30 p.m. – 3 p.m. Brainstorm Challenge: Protecting, Positioning and Promoting GMS Tourism by Peter Semone, PATA’s vice president.

3.15 p.m. – 5 p.m. Brainstorm Session A: Protecting GMS Tourism by Prof. Walter Jamieson, dean TIM School University of Hawaii, managing and maintaining the integrity of the Mekong’s cultural and natural resources.

3.15 p.m. – 5 p.m. Brainstorm Session B: Positioning GMS Tourism by Les Clark, consultant, ADB, Integrating the Mekong’s tourism products through the four basic elements of accessibility, acceptance, accommodation and attractions.

3.15 p.m. – 5 p.m. Brainstorm Session C: Promoting GMS Tourism by Bert van Walbeek, managing director, ‘The Winning Edge’. How to put the GMS countries on the global tourism map through an integrated marketing approach.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

9 a.m. – 10.30 a.m. Finding Solutions – The conclusions drawn from Breakout Sessions A-C about positioning, protecting and promoting Mekong tourism, led by Bert van Walbeek, Prof. Walter Jamieson, and Les Clark.

10.45 a.m. – 11.15 a.m. Closing keynote speech from the private sector investments in Mekong Tourism by William E. Heinecke, the Minor Group.

11.45 a.m. –noon: Closing remarks from Peter de Jong, president and CEO, PATA, representatives from the governor as well as the Tourism Authority of Thailand.


THAI cuts back Bangkok-Los Angeles flights

PATA

Thai Airways International has announced that it will reduce flight frequency between Bangkok and Los Angeles via Osaka, Japan from seven to four flights per week on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. THAI will add three flights per week between Bangkok and Tokyo, bringing the total from 18 to 21 flights effective March 28. For more information tel. (66-2) 628-2000. Web site: www.thaiair ways.com