For travelers, historians and archaeologists alike, Luang Prabang is a most startling discovery: a jewel of a town slipped over a slender finger of land at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, 242 mi/390 km north of Vientiane. Circled by mountains, the beautiful town retains some of the most outstanding examples of regional architecture, a unique blend of local and European-style buildings built by the colonial powers during the 19th and 20th centuries. Acknowledging its importance to mankind, the town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Parts of the old town have since benefited from a considerable amount of restoration work.
The World Heritage label has worked for and against Luang Prabang. It is no longer a sleepy Laotian town with the vacationing Westerner here and there. Yet despite its changes, the influx of tourists, the sprouting up of dozens of restaurants and bars, Internet cafes and five-star hotels, Luang Prabang has managed to retain its dignity and charm.
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