The Look of Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is known for the distinctive architecture of its buildings, and from temples to houses, there was much to catch the eye. However, while I found the city visually exciting, I know little about the history of architectural styles I saw. The designs of some buildings resembled the Lanna style that is common in Chiang Mai, about 225 miles to the southwest in Thailand. Others like the structure pictured here are rather different than anything I have seen before. Learning more about how Luang Prabang came to look like it does is a project I hope to undertake before I make a return visit.

The building in this photo, which stands out from its surroundings and caught my eye immediately, is along one of the main streets of the city, not far from the Luang Prabang Royal Palace (now a historical museum) more or less in the center of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage site. I went looking for information about this structure, but found nothing except a photo in Google Maps. In that photo the building was opened up – it appears to house a shop selling clothes on the ground level. I am not sure why it was shuttered the day I passed by. Maybe the place was closed for the low tourist season in May.


Bear Rescue Center, Laos

At the entrance to the Kuang Si Falls park area, there is a small wildlife preserve run by an organization called Save the Bears. The refuge is for Asian Black Bears. Poachers hunt these animals for their bile, which is an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine recipes. The bears are also threatened by deforestation, one of those environmentally unfriendly, unsustainable by-products of economic development.

The bears are playing. As best as I could tell, the bear on the left was laughing in the face of the one on the right. I was standing in a building somewhat above my subjects; the fence separating me from the bears is not visible in the picture.


Turquoise, Kuang Si Falls, Laos

The water that cascades over the Kuang Si Falls is a startling shade of turquoise blue. An informational sign explains that the water picks up limestone particles with high levels of calcium carbonate as it falls over the rocks and this is what gives it the unique color. This was not an easy photo to work with. It took quite a bit of work in Photoshop to come up with a color that is a reasonable match to what I saw in nature.


Kuang Si Waterfall, Laos

The Kuang Si Waterfall area is about a one hour drive south of Luang Prabang. Over a road with numerous axle-breaker potholes. I rode in the back of what is called a tuk tuk in Laos, a pickup truck with a cover over the back and wooden benches along both sides of the bed. It was a bumpy ride.

The falls themselves are beautiful, and I visited at the tail end of the dry season in this part of the world. Significantly more water comes pouring over the falls after the summer rainy season begins in June. The good news is that the hot, dry month of May is the low season for tourism in and around Luang Prabang. There were plenty of other people visiting the falls, but finally it was not that crowded.