The Enduring Architecture of Luang Prabang

BBC + Rosewood Hotels & Resorts · April 1, 2017

At over 1,500 years old, the Laotian city is a testament to centuries of building styles.

Sipping a fresh lemon juice in the cool, tiled front room of a 150-year-old former royal mansion, it’s easy to feel the French colonial influence that still endures in Luang Prabang. The heavy teak and rosewood furniture, rotating wooden fans and patterned tiled floors are a familiar example of the carefully preserved, UNESCO heritage-listed town.

Formerly known as Muang Sua, the mountainous Luang Prabang has a 1,500-year history, including 700 years under the Khmer empire as the capital of the Lao region. In the 14th century, Luang Prabang was a loose collection of wooden houses centred around gold-roofed temples and connected by tiny, winding pathways and ponds. Look closely and you’ll see this ancient urban plan still exists today, alongside grandiose French Indochine designs of the 19th and 20th centuries. The Villa Xieng Muan is a wonderful example of traditional Lao architecture, lifestyle and ethnic history. It’s right next door to the Heuan Chan Heritage Museum, dedicated to the preservation of Lao heritage buildings in Luang Prabang.

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.


Heuan Chan Heritage Museum

Institut Français: Ban Vat Nong; +856 71-253-924
Royal Palace National Museum: +856 71-212-122
Heritage House Information Centre


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Written By: BBC + Rosewood Hotels & Resorts


Locations: Luang Prabang

See more: Art & Culture

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