This photo taken on April 13, 2018 shows elephant parading in Luang Prabang, Laos. (LIU AILUN / XINHUA)
LUANG PRABANG — While relatively small, World Heritage-listed Luang Prabang city nestled between the Mekong and Khan rivers is quickly becoming more popular among Chinese tourists.
This recent surge in popularity has resulted in a slight communication headache for the owners of hotels, resorts and restaurants when accommodating large groups as Chinese tourists only speak their own language.
And 2019 promises to deliver more visitors to Luang Prabang and other provinces from the northern neighbour under the ongoing Visit Laos-China Year campaign.
Chinese and Thai citizens have been coming to Luang Prabang in numbers for several years to sample the plethora of natural and cultural attractions on offer
Deputy Director of the Luang Prabang provincial Information, Culture and Tourism Department, Soudaphone Khomthavong, said the city is currently riding a wave of popularity with Chinese visitors with some travelling in groups of hundreds of vehicles.
As a result, some Chinese restaurants have opened to cater to their culinary tastes.
“We recommend that restaurants add Chinese language to their menus so people can order the food they like,” she said.
Thai and Chinese citizens have been coming to Luang Prabang in numbers for several years to sample the plethora of natural and cultural attractions on offer. Local authorities expect Chinese tourists to top all nationalities visiting the world heritage city this year.
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When sizeable groups come to Luang Prabang, communication with staff at guesthouses, hotels and restaurants can be somewhat troublesome because the Chinese cannot speak the lingua franca of English.
About 655,000 tourists of all nationalities visited the province last year. Tourism officials hope to boost the number to 700,000 by 2020.
Today, Luang Prabang can accept up to about 10,000 tourists per day, but some worry about the sustainable future of tourism if visitor numbers rise further during peak times.
The ancient city of Luang Prabang, listed in 1995, is one of Laos’ two UNESCO World Heritage Sites with the other being the Vat Phou temple complex in Champassak province, which was listed in 2001.
More than 4.1 million visitors came to Laos during Visit Laos Year 2018, an 8.2 percent increase over 2017, according to the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.
Officials forecast that more than 1 million Chinese will holiday in Laos this year, with 4.5 million visitors in total expected.
The people of Luang Prabang are keen to preserve their traditions such as the morning almsgiving ceremony when monks parade through the streets. Temples are well used for prayer, merit-making and the chanting of scriptures by monks and novices.
Popular events throughout the year are the lively Lao New Year celebrations, the boat racing festival, festivals to mark the start and end of Buddhist Lent, and the lighted boat festival.
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Luang Prabang used to be the capital of the Lane Xang Kingdom and has been variously called Meuang Swa, Meuang Xiengdong and Meuang Xiengthong over the years.
In 1353, King Fa Ngum brought the sacred Prabang statue to Meuang Viengkham and in 1489 the revered Buddha image was moved to Meuang Xiengthong for public worship. The name of the town was then changed to Meuang Luang Prabang in acknowledgement of the presence of the statue and has remained unchanged ever since.
Luang Prabang was voted ‘Best City’ by readers of the British magazine Wanderlust in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015.
The town’s preservation has been supported by international organisations and friendly countries such as the EU, France, Asian Development Bank, Germany, Japan, Republic of Korea, China, Thailand, and the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation.
HONG KONG NEWS