Brimming with culture and history, Laos’ most enchanting town celebrates 20 years of UNESCO World Heritage status.
Between November and December, the often-time sleepy town of Luang Prabang chimes with excitement as locals and visitors alike celebrate two decades of UNESCO World Heritage status. Wandering through the terracotta-coloured streets, hemmed by the deep greens of palms and ferns, you will discover golden Lao-style temples mingling with flawless examples of French colonial architecture. Mount Phousi stands proud on the skyline. The mighty Mekong River winds round to score one side of the peninsula, while the Nam Khan, the alleged river dwelling of the mythical naga, marks the other. As you lose yourself to the dream-like atmosphere, it comes as no surprise that this beguiling town is seen as one of the world’s treasures.
Photography: courtesy of the Elephant Conservation Center
Luang Prabang’s visual eclecticism is a reflection of its diverse and dramatic history. Since the 14th century the town has twice been heralded as the country’s royal and political capital. It was given the status of a French Protectorate in 1898, and was the stage for many key events during the Second World War, at which time which time it was occupied by numerous countries. While no longer the capital of Laos, the town remains a significant spiritual centre. As well as the dozens of inspiring temples, visitors will see hundreds of monks descend upon the town in a procession of saffron each morning, collecting alms given by locals.
To celebrate two decades of international recognition, the town has arranged a special event to honour one of its own priceless treasures: the Asian elephant. An emblematic symbol of Laos, a country once known as the ‘Kingdom of a Million Elephants’, there are today only around 900 of the species left in the country. As a result, Luang Prabang province has worked with Xayaboury province, the Lao World Heritage Department and the Elephant Conservation Center to launch The Elephant Caravan project. For a month and a half, a caravan of elephants will travel 630km across rural and urban Laos, accompanied by educational staff, theatre and musical performers. They aim to inspire the country’s population and to inform them about conservation efforts.
The caravan culminates in Luang Prabang, where a festival of visual arts from both Lao and international artists awaits. Visitors will discover performances, workshops and lectures across venues throughout the town. The festivities also coincide with the 2015 Luang Prabang Film Festival. Running from 5 – 9 December, organisers bring together some of the boldest storytellers from across Southeast Asia for display on open-air screens on lawns, at markets or at local hotels.
Experience the town at its most thrilling and book your stay at the luxurious Belmond La Résidence Phou Vao, perfectly positioned just moments away from the action. “December is a wonderful time to visit Luang Prabang” explains Oscar, the hotel’s Front Office manager, “Visitors can enjoy comfortable warm days and cool evenings. After a busy day exploring the festivities of the town, our Orchid Garden is the perfect refuge for drinks beside an open fire.” With our exclusive UNESCO Anniversary Package, you’ll also have the rare opportunity to talk with Frances Engelmann, cultural advisor and author of the UNESCO Anniversary book. Moreover, $100 from each booking will go directly to The Elephant Caravan charity.
Explore More World Heritage Sites with Belmond
Our collection of iconic travel experiences can be found at fascinating destinations across the globe, including many other UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Elsewhere in Asia we have Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor, mere heartbeats away from Cambodia’s awe-inspiring Angkor archaeological site.
On the other side of the globe you will find Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel located adjacent to the Machu Picchu Inca citadel in Peru. Encounter the majesty of the roaring Iguassu Falls while staying at Belmond Hotel das Cataratas in Brazil, or visit Botswana’s Okavango Delta and explore one of the world’s largest inland-water systems at Belmond Eagle Island Lodge.
by Daniel Hayden