Everyone is seduced by Luang Prabang. From the moment when Laos opened its doors to tourism in the 1980s, visitors have talked in reverent tones about the sleepy town far upcountry on the banks of the Mekong. It captivates. It weaves a spell. It carries some flavour of Indochina before the modern world got there.It has always been thus. Over a hundred years ago the explorer James McCarthy grew misty-eyed at the mere sight of its temple roofs from the Mekong. ‘The pagodas’ spires and gilded moulding glancing in the light of the setting sun,’ he swooned, ‘…caused in me a feeling of irresistible melancholy.’ Fifty years ago the American Harry Franck described it – perhaps just a little over the top – as one of the cities of Utopia. Thirty years ago Richard West quoted a Cambodian on the vanishing charms of Indochina: ‘Luang Prabang is the last paradise left,’ he said. West’s concerns touch upon an anxiety about Luang Prabang – that it is vulnerable, that it cannot last forever. The town seems too fragile, too otherworldly, to survive the corrupting world of tourism. In visitors it provokes two responses. There are those who rave about it, and… Read full this story
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