Saturday, May 26, 2012

frozen in time

Actually, all of the buildings in Luang Prabang are similar to Villa Chitdara. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the local people are encouraged to maintain the centuries-old architectural style.

I hesitate to call it a city because I grew up in a sprawling metropolis with a population of 12 million. To me, Luang Prabang is just a tiny village-- albeit a very beautiful one that grew organically between two mighty rivers, the Mekong and the Nam Khan, was "protected" by the French who built all those fantastic colonial villas, and is now being preserved in all its charming glory, with the help of no less than the United Nations.

But I guess since Laos has only 6.5 million citizens in total, Luang Prabang's 50,000 is pretty substantial. AND it used to be the capital of the Lao Kingdom. So, yes, it's a city.

Luang Prabang is not, as one blogger called it, "Mediterranean Asia". It is uniquely, grandly French Indochine. There's nothing outside this little corner of Southeast Asia quite like it.

Another blogger dared to call it "incredibly fake" and "not authentic Laos". Oh, please. If it's not dirty, run-down or poor, it isn't authentic?

I became obsessed with the doors and shutters of the residences in Luang Prabang. My first impressions of the locals we met were: open, friendly and helpful. But the many closed doors and windows we encountered seemed to hide their fair share of secrets.

Just like in all of the beautiful places that I've visited, a timeless melancholy seemed to permeate the air. I get that feeling a lot in museums, as a matter of fact.

Luang Prabang is a living museum.