Can learn from neighbours' mistakes

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 February, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 February, 1996, 12:00am

I ENJOYED David Sutton's article headlined, 'Reflections along the Mekong' (South China Morning Post, February 10); his comments on Luang Prabang's inaccessibility, the drama of flying in and his observations on the environment and daily life were vividly personal.

Although a road, the possibility of a larger airport, horrors of development and change were also graphically mentioned, little attention was given to the true significance of Luang Prabang.

Laos has always had but two centres of any urban significance - Ventiane and Luang Prabang.

Even though Ventiane is the capital today, Luang Prabang continues to be regarded as the historical royal capital city and is the 'best preserved traditional city in Southeast Asia'. So, to flesh out David Sutton's article a little, at the beginning of this year, the Department of Museums and Archaeology of the Laotian Ministry of Information and Culture was able to announce that the nomination of Luang Prabang as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Site had been approved.

A total of 111 civil buildings and 34 wats or monasteries, are now protected within a larger zone of restriction extending to both sides of the Mekong River. New buildings must conform with the prevailing styles.

It was the advent of road-building plans north from Ventiane to the border with China which made international action urgent.

Now a ring-road around Luang Prabang is planned, with the possibility of a ban on motorised traffic within the city.

Two French architects, Francois Greck and Jean-Christophe Marchal, of Ateliers Peninsule, were invited by the Laotian Ministry of Culture to collaborate on the preparation of the UNESCO report. Committed to assisting Laos to preserve its heritage and identity, they live, work and teach in Ventiane, but continue to research among isolated hill tribes further north.

Laos is a small and backward country surrounded by powerful neighbours, but it can learn from their mistakes. Indeed, there is little likelihood that Luang Prabang will become another Chiang Mai.