In the late 1800s, French colonial powers and the Lao aristocracy of Vientiane developed a new architectural fusion in Luang Prabang, inspired by local temples and materials, and French and Indochine architecture. The French brought in skilled Vietnamese builders to build two-storey villas throughout the town. Previously, bricks were only used for temples; the French introduced their use in their own buildings.
Thus, Luang Prabang consists of wide tree-shaded avenues lined with beautifully preserved 19th-century villas of brick, wood and stucco complete with high ceilings, wide wooden balconies and shuttered louvres, still in use today. So too are the brick and wood homes of the Vietnamese workers themselves, built closer to the peninsula. Interspersed are the ubiquitous golden temples, glinting in the mountain sun. Some of the oldest examples of French colonial architecture include the grand and sprawling Institut Français, and for a particularly striking Lao-French architectural fusion, the Royal Palace Museum, built for King Sisavang Vong in 1904. For an insight into Luang Prabang’s architectural history and UNESCO heritage status, visit the Heritage House Information Centre downtown.