July 5, 2012
Luang Prabang, Lao People’s Democratic Republic
|Monks, temples and tourists in Luang Prabang, Laos
(Click on the photo to go to my album on this subject.)
A few days ago, we all began a hastily arranged and completely untested project. The purpose of the project was for all of us, working together, to learn as much as we can about the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos in general, and the town of Luang Prabang in particular.
The first part of the project was for students in Geog 101 (World Regional Geography) and Geog 307 (Geography of Asia) to do some online research, first looking for and perusing some good and reliable general sources of information. Second, students were to choose a topic of particular interest to them and learn a little about them.
The third part of the project is where I come in. I asked students to send me one or two simple research questions, based on the area of interest they had chosen. The questions were to be of a kind I could answer (or at least investigate) in the field here in Luang Prabang (in other words, the kinds of question that I could answer by looking around and perhaps talking to people.)
The culmination of the project will be a collection of annotated links on the the Lao P.D.R., some of the more specialized links found by members of the class, and finally a collection of some of the research questions I was asked and the answers I managed to find.
I have a day or so left here, and lots of work still to do. Here, in the mean time, are some of the great questions and tasks students have posed for me.
- What takes place during the alms ceremony in the city?
- How has Luang Prabang grown as a result of becoming a UNESCO site in 1995? How present are signs of UNESCO in Luang Prabang? Can you see active signs of restoration or preservation of the buildings and architecture?
- How do people in Luang Probang utilize the Mekong? Are their practices sustainable? (Much of my answer to these questions is in the collection of photographs I took during a late afternoon boat trip on the Mekong.)
- Although French culture is still evident in Laotian architecture and cuisine, why isn’t the French language as widely spoken in Laos (Cambodia and Vietnam as well) as it is in other former French colonies such as Quebec, Côte d’Ivoire or the Democratic Republic of the Congo? (I received several other questions along similar lines, asking about the impact and evidence of French colonialism here.)
- I received a wide range of questions about tourism and its impact on the local economy, cultures, and landscapes. Here are two examples:
With Laos having reversed its stance on tourism more than 15 years ago, and from what I’ve seen Luang Prabang being a top sight for visitors, are you noticing an overwhelming number of tourist attractions? More specifically, is the tourism industry in anyway similar to what we have seen of Bali in Indonesia? Do locals appear to be receptive and welcoming of foreign visitors?
and, in a similar vein:
Based on observation, does it appear that the city of Luang Prabang relies heavily on the tourism industry? Do you think it’s to an extent that could be harmful to the city culturally, economically, or environmentally?
What evidence do you see of Luang Prabang’s widely known Buddhist heritage in terms of tourism? What about the row of temples that supposedly line one of the city streets – is that a main tourist attraction or is it mostly meant for citizens of Luang Prabang’s religious use?
- According to Lonely Planet, a well-developed highway system has been built linking Luang Prabang with Thailand and China. This focus on infrastructure has apparently turned Luang Prabang into an important commerce point in Laos (Lonely Planet, 2012) Do you see any evidence of this increase in commerce in the form of Thai or Chinese goods in Luang Prabang?
(This question mentions two issues also raised by others: the development of Laos’s infrastructure, and foreign investment and influence of various kinds.)
- Are there any small private businesses? Or are there a larger shopping centers where people go buy things they need everyday?