Wednesday, January 20, 2010

[Laos] Luang Prabang: 15th Anniversary as UN World Heritage Site

This year, Luang Prabang celebrates 15 years as a designated United Nations World Heritage Site.

The UN Heritage Site program was established with an understanding that heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. They believe that as a world, our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.

The United Nations cites places such as East Africa’s Serengeti wilderness, the Pyramids of Egypt and the Great Barrier Reef of Australia among many other wonderful examples as part of our world’s heritage.

These are places that transcend nationality and in many ways belong to all the peoples of the world. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) continues to encourage identifying, protecting and preserving cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.

Laos has two sites declared UN World Heritage sites, the cities of Luang Prabang and Champassak, notably the unique Wat Phou complex nearby. There have been efforts to have the Plain of Jars also declared a World Heritage Site.

The name Luang Prabang translates roughly as: "Royal Delicate Buddha" and is located in Northern Laos. It is a city of just over 100,000 people and was the former royal capital of Laos. Today it continues to draw tourists for its mixture of natural and cultural attractions. Visitors are often struck by the magnificent wats and the classical colonial houses of old, the likes of which simply aren't built anymore due to modern 'sensibilities' in other nations.

This process has not been without controversy, because many sought to use UN funds to modernize and transform Luang Prabang into a city like any other, demolishing the same wood and stone structures of old, claiming these are the building materials of the poor, and deforesting the surrounding countryside to install hotels and other attractions like golf courses.

Hopefully, over time, an effective balance and understanding can be reached and Luang Prabang will continue to develop gracefully as a fine example to the rest of the world.

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