World Heritage Site

for World Heritage Travellers



Forum: Start | Profile | Search |         Website: Start | The List | Community |
General discussions about WHS www.worldheritagesite.org Forum / General discussions about WHS /  
 

Luang Prabang, Laos

 
Author Calisota
Partaker
#1 | Posted: 27 Feb 2016 03:28 
I wavered about exactly where to post this and eventually settled on the General Discussion.

I am a Kiwi expat currently living in Luang Prabang, Laos. Kind of a long story how I got here and I can supply a link to my personal travel blog if anyone is interested.

In my time here I have grown extremely fond of the town and the people. It's a strange place to live though, with this combination of Buddhist beliefs, burgeoning tourism, massive gap between rich and poor, history both obvious and secret and an overarching communist government.

The town was given World Heritage status 20 years ago which has stopped a lot of over rampant development that would otherwise have taken place. There is so much history here but it is mostly overseen by a myriad of government departments and you can imagine what that means in a communist government setting. Getting information on anything is like pulling teeth.

However, I want to put together a website about Luang Prabang focusing on it's history and trying to preserve and document it. I imagine that 99% of people who visit, even those who know it's a listed town, are not aware of the full details. Websites about Luang Prabang tend to focus on which guesthouse or hotel to stay at and which trek or elephant ride is the best.

The things I want to incorporate into my site include:

Detailed history of each Temple in town (36 within the Heritage Zone alone).
Recordings of oral histories from people (many in villages still can't read or write).
Photographic archive, both old and newer ones, to document changes in the town over time.
Video archives of events as well as a record of daily village life.
Detailed histories of listed buildings in town.
Archive of artifacts, both antique and currently in use.
Downloadable walking guides of the town.
Plaques within Temples and throughout town detailing landmarks.
I would love to get google to "streetview" some of the major Temples in town.
Do's and Don'ts for visiting Temples and interacting respectfully with Monks.
General history of the town and country.

I have been working on a google map ( https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zJXDrT-j8yaw.kxMNiYOAAfJw&usp=sharing )with layers showing the different Heritage Zones as well as the locations of the Temples and listed building in those zones. Clicking on the points gives a name, photo, details of the temple or building. A work in progress at the moment obviously but something else I think would be important on my site as those points would have links to the detailed pages on the site.

So I am appealing to everyone here for comments and, especially, ideas. What would you like to see on a website about a World Heritage town before you visited and what resources would you like to have available to download or on the ground once you got there.

Thanks in advance.

Greg

Author Solivagant
Partaker
#2 | Posted: 27 Feb 2016 13:28 | Edited by: Solivagant 
Hi Calisota - your list of potential contents seems to be pretty comprehensive - even for us "World Heritage Travellers" who like to get into the detail of each site!
The mapping work is a nice start and would be a useful resource for any visitor interested in the detail - it is good that you seem to have access to the latest map of the site from 2013 (the original one from the Nomination of 1994 wasn't very good).
I presume you have found the UNESCO page with the list of its documents for Luang Prabang - http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/479/documents/
An unfortunate "missing" document is the original Nomination File. Is there any chance that you have access to that - possibly through some local source? If so we would like to have a copy!! There have been a fair number of "Reactive Monitoring missions" to the site but the only one whose report is provided is that of 2007. Do you know exactly why there have been SO MANY "Reactive Monitoring Missions"? At the bottom of Page 7 of the 2007 report it says "DR of Laos, Official Nomination File for the inscription of the Town of Luang Prabang on the World Heritage List, 1994 – pages 74-76 [accessible online from: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/479/documents/ ] . Unfortunately it is incorrect and the Nomination file isn't there despite being an important document.

Author Calisota
Partaker
#3 | Posted: 28 Feb 2016 00:18 
Solivagant:
Hi Calisota - your list of potential contents seems to be pretty comprehensive - even for us "World Heritage Travellers" who like to get into the detail of each site!

Thanks. If it can come somewhere close to satisfying you guys then I must be on the right track. It is going to be a long process though. I am starting to develop contacts in both the government and the private sector who should be a help.

Solivagant:
The mapping work is a nice start and would be a useful resource for any visitor interested in the detail - it is good that you seem to have access to the latest map of the site from 2013 (the original one from the Nomination of 1994 wasn't very good).

The map I'm working with is the "Heritage Preservation and Development Master Plan" dated April 2001. I got it from the Luang Prabang Department of World Heritage and the young woman seemed really surprised that a falang (foreigner) was interested. It took a while to dig it out of a drawer.

There is a minor boundary modification map dated 2013 on the UNESCO site but it's not detailed enough to see what the modifications might have been. It's certainly not detailed enough to be of help to me drawing the boundaries in Google maps. If I could find an official kml file I would be very happy.

Solivagant:
An unfortunate "missing" document is the original Nomination File. Is there any chance that you have access to that - possibly through some local source? If so we would like to have a copy!!

If I stumble upon a copy I'm more than happy to share it.

Solivagant:
There have been a fair number of "Reactive Monitoring missions" to the site but the only one whose report is provided is that of 2007. Do you know exactly why there have been SO MANY "Reactive Monitoring Missions"?

This is a tricky one to answer, especially given that I have pretty much identified myself with my original post and I still need to cultivate contacts within the government.

There has been a lot of development here in the last 20 years and, being a communist, cash based, developing, foreign-aided, more government departments than you can shake a stick at, everyone seeing opportunities to make money, foreigner suspicious, Chinese money flowing in...type of situation I'm not sure the government is able to fully control someone changing their family home, which happens to be a listed building. A bit of cash can make anything happen anyway.

I imagine that it is easy for someone to look around and make a complaint that the World Heritage regulations aren't being met. There is a lot of organic development here and a lack of building regulations at the best of times. For the 20th Anniversary last year, when a number of officials were in town, a lot of restaurants that had crept into the Nature Zone along the banks of the Mekong suddenly closed down and their balconies disappeared. A couple of local bars in the A Zone even had to remove their pool tables because they weren't considered World Heritage.

There is a lot of good work being done preserving buildings but still a lot that just seems to slide. Having frequent monitoring missions can only help to keep it under control.

Greg

Author Solivagant
Partaker
#4 | Posted: 28 Feb 2016 06:18 | Edited by: Solivagant 
Calisota:
This is a tricky one to answer,

Yes we appreciate the "sensitivities" - but thanks anyway for the little vignette regarding WHS in a rapidly developing country in the above post!
I have just boned up on some figures for Laos - c7 to 8% recent pa GDP increase (based on "official" sources). Tourism contributes 11% of GDP and is the 2nd biggest foreign exchange earner. Population growth c1.7% pa - lower than many but still significant no doubt to a town like Luang Prabang (LP) when combined with the general move from countryside. I see that the country as a whole still rates surprisingly low on international development statistic comparisons and, no doubt, it is genuinely difficult to claim too much priority for preservation in the face of development pressures - even before allowing for human greed etc!
I visited LP in 1997 - already a few years after the "opening up" of Laos but it was clearly changing rapidly even then - I suspect it will be very different after a further 18 years at an average 7% growth (around 340% compound)! I remember that we were able to get a room in the beautiful "original" building at the VIlla Santi (and not too expensive either). That hotel already had a modern annex at the back and I see that it now markets itself as the "Villa Santi Resort and Spa"!!
Interesting to sense your general "positive" attitude towards the results of World Heritage inscription on LP. It is 2 edged sword - providing some leverage to preservation efforts but also shining the international tourism spotlight on the location and thereby, to some extent, helping to alter the very thing it is intended to preserve.
If you read a number of the posts on this forum you will possibly get a general feeling of cyncism about the "rush to inscribe" from many quarters despite our obvious interest in the concept (maybe more so with regard to countries like Spain, France and Italy who seem to want to inscribe every vineyard and mediaeval town!). How much of it is really about "Preservation" and how much about national Pride and tourism Profit??
Laos only has 2 sites on its Tentative List and does seem genuinely to want to get the Plain of Jars inscribed (placed on the T List 1997 - 2 years after LPs success). This is currently scheduled for 2018 but has continually slipped since it first emerged. I guess this is "good" in that it demonstrates that the government is being held to the fire on important matters and is finding it "difficult" due no doubt to lack of money and skills/competence as well presumably to "Corruption". I wonder how much of the desire to gain inscription relates to a "strategic plan" to increase tourism in S Laos and how much to a genuine desire to preserve the history of the Plain!! My experience in dealing with people on the ground at WHS in developing countries is that they encompass a range of motivations - from the "careerist" who wants to deliver to his seniors and make a fair bit of money along the way through the "dogsbody" bureaucrat who just wants a quiet life and on to the "enthusiatic" academic who may well have put a significant part of their life into learning about and preserving the site in the face of both inertia and hostility!

Author Calisota
Partaker
#5 | Posted: 29 Feb 2016 02:57 
Luang Prabang has certainly changed a lot in just the 5 or 6 years that I've been here. I can only imagine what it was like 18 years ago.

I have a feeling that a lot of the preservation attitude will come from foreigners who want to restore buildings rather than the local in the street who doesn't see why an old building sitting on a multi-million dollar piece of land can't be torn down and a modern guesthouse built.

Having more tourists visit who have an appreciation of the history and specifically ask to be shown it on tours will hopefully go a long way to changing that attitude. Ultimately the dollar always seems to win so it's a matter of showing that more can be made if it's preserved than torn down. I suspect it's a similar mind-set change that happens in wilderness areas.

Someone I hope to be meeting with in the next few days is the head of the Chamber of Commerce and he is worldly enough to know that World Heritage status is a big draw card.

Author meltwaterfalls
Partaker
#6 | Posted: 29 Feb 2016 06:58 
Calisota, I haven't had a chance to look over bits in detail, I just wanted to say that map is excellent.

I've done some mapping of my own and know how time consuming it is, but that sort of resource is great, thanks very much for sharing.

Hopefully I will get a bit of time to engage a little more but just wanted to say thanks and well done.

Author Calisota
Partaker
#7 | Posted: 1 Mar 2016 00:20 
meltwaterfalls:
Calisota, I haven't had a chance to look over bits in detail, I just wanted to say that map is excellent.

Thanks for that. :-)

Hopefully it will become a part of a much larger website as well.

Greg

Author Calisota
Partaker
#8 | Posted: 2 Mar 2016 04:44 
I had a very positive, and I think successful, meeting with the head of the Luang Prabang Chamber of Commerce. He is very interested in the concept of the site and keen to take it further. Luckily I know from past dealings with him that he is not all about the dollar and is keen to preserve history and promote tourism that goes beyond just bars and elephant tours. We talked about the need to educate the local Lao people about their own history and have them want to preserve it in their own interests as well as a way to draw more tourists.

He is going to present the idea to the Chamber of Commerce as a potential Chamber website since they don't actually have one. I'm okay with that idea as long as it gets done.

He has asked me to give him a couple of examples of websites that other towns have done that showcase their World Heritage Status so he can show his colleagues.

Does anyone know of a couple that present themselves well that I could give him?

Author Solivagant
Partaker
#9 | Posted: 2 Mar 2016 05:40 | Edited by: Solivagant 
Calisota:
Does anyone know of a couple that present themselves well that I could give him?

If you look on the right hand side of each of the "site pages" on this web site you will see a link to any "official" Web site which exists for it (we managed to track down a Web site for most WHS but some are not very "official" - see the one we listed for LP! - http://www.luangprabang-tourism.org/ In fact it is a "misdirect" and should be removed!!!).
Some other members of this Forum might be better than I am at directing you to a couple of "good" ones but you may care to look through them yourself. You no doubt can also consider what sort of site might "go down well" with the guy (Asian v European etc - and also how (technically) "sophisticated" a site you might want to show him!!) I personally don't know of one which is as comprehensive as your "vision" of the map with all relevant buildings shown on it for instance.
See Melaka and Georgetown links here (Not chosen for any reason other than that they are SE Asian and in Enlgish! I notice that the Melaka one already seems to have dropped by the wayside!! And that is a frequent issue - someone starts a Web site full of enthusiasm but once gone no one else can keep it going!)- http://worldheritagesite.org/sites/melaka.html

Author Calisota
Partaker
#10 | Posted: 2 Mar 2016 06:14 
I guess I was just trying to be lazy and hoping that someone would just point me in the right direction. :-)

You're right though, I do need to look and see what comes closest, if any, to the vision I have.

Greg

Author meltwaterfalls
Partaker
#11 | Posted: 2 Mar 2016 06:30 | Edited by: meltwaterfalls 
Great work.

Els has listed the official websites on the main pages for the vast majority of the sites which may be a good place to start.

I'm trying to think of relevant examples, I guess some of the European cities will have very in depth ones, but that may not really be a good comparator.

I'll have a think if I have come across any good examples.

==EDIT==Solivagant beat me to it, will have a think about other examples though==

Author Solivagant
Partaker
#12 | Posted: 2 Mar 2016 15:19 | Edited by: Solivagant 
Calisota:
You're right though, I do need to look and see what comes closest, if any, to the vision I have.

In all honesty most of these "official sites" are pretty "old hat" - consisting of static browser-based pages suitable possibly for persons wanting to do some research/planning at home or in a hotel room but not much use for actually assisting a visit to a site.
The way forward for interactive tourist information must surely be some sort of App using GPS Location and/or QR codes to provide information on what is in front of one and instructions on "where next" based on wifi or 3/4G connectivity. These are beginning to appear - I was quite impressed when walking in Garajonay NP (on La Gomera island) the other month to come across way-markers in the depths of the forest with QR code labels which, when scanned, provided information on one's smart phone about the flora, fauna, scenery and the trail one was on! And this isn't exactly a high profile WHS. See http://www.gpsies.com/map.do?fileId=xxlnomovmdgjpnpm&language=en and https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mrbicho.parques.garajonay&hl=en
How much do you want to be involved in "platform" engineering and development and how much in data gathering about the WHS? I would have thought that your interest was really in the latter?? OK - you will require some sort of platform to deliver some value from the data and to convince those involved in helping to gather the data that the effort is worthwhile. To me this would seem to indicate a relatively minimalist approach on delivery to get the ball rolling, making as much use as you can of available tools (as per Google maps) whilst accepting that whatever actual format you adopt to deliver the information is going to be overtaken. For all I know there is/will soon be some off the peg generalised framework which could be adopted by any town/city/site to deliver tourist information. This report titled "Mobile Apps devoted to UNESCO WHS" might be of some interest
http://www.springer.com/cda/content/document/cda_downloaddocument/9783319039725-c2.pd f?SGWID=0-0-45-1438015-p176425564

Author Calisota
Partaker
#13 | Posted: 2 Mar 2016 22:42 
A plaque incorporating a QR code (or similar) was one of the things that I proposed in my meeting. A local 3G sim is really cheap and easy to get here so having internet access while walking around is much more common now than it was a few years ago, making this a much more doable thing. The Google map is also something that is accessible if you have internet and even though there is no turn by turn navigation here the GPS will still help you locate each point.

There are some walking tour type apps already available (https://www.gpsmycity.com/ for instance) that might be suitable to piggyback onto for a GPS based tour.

I do want to go a little slower on a dedicated app rather than having information available in already existing forms, like Google maps. I've seen too many "everyone else has an app, we should have an app" situations.

You're right that my first interest is in gathering the information but I am equally as interested in ways of making it available. It's no good coming up with ways of presenting the information if you don't have any as much as it's a waste to have lots of information but not have it available to people who are interested in it. I was shown the storage rooms of a museum a few years ago and realised that the amount of artefacts on public display was just a fraction of what they had. I wondered what would happen if someone like Google was able to digitise all of the items stored in museum vaults, cupboards and drawers and make it available. There is probably so much to be discovered about things that will likely never see the light of day.

Thanks for the link to the document; I'm settling in to read it.

Author meltwaterfalls
Partaker
#14 | Posted: 3 Mar 2016 04:37 
Thanks that mention of QR codes jogged a memory.

It isn't a World Heritage Site but have you ever encountered Monmouthpedia? The residents of a town in Southern Wales that became the first to be the world's first 'Wikipedia Town'. essentially they went around and put QR codes on everything of note and linked it to the relevant articles.

They have a pdf outlining the basics of the whole process aimed at similar towns. If it is something you are interested in let me know as I may have some contacts for you.

It perhaps maybe a good way of getting grass roots involvement and local knowledge shared (though I must admit I'm not sure on whether there are local obstacles to that with internet availability or site restrictions that may limit that).

Author Calisota
Partaker
#15 | Posted: 3 Mar 2016 05:14 
meltwaterfalls:
It isn't a World Heritage Site but have you ever encountered Monmouthpedia?

Thanks for the link.

That is really cool and pretty much what I was envisioning but linking to a dedicated website rather than wikipedia. It's now on my list of sites to convince them with.

General discussions about WHS www.worldheritagesite.org Forum / General discussions about WHS /
 Luang Prabang, Laos

Your Reply Click this icon to move up to the quoted message


 ?
Only registered users are allowed to post here. Please, enter your username/password details upon posting a message, or register first.

 
 
www.worldheritagesite.org Forum Powered by Chat Forum Software miniBB ®
 ⇑