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Critical Asian Studies

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UNBEARABLE PRESSURES ON PARADISE?


Keir Reeves; Colin Long

Online publication date: 13 April 2011

To cite this Article Reeves, Keir and Long, Colin(2011) 'UNBEARABLE PRESSURES ON PARADISE?', Critical Asian

Studies, 43: 1, 3 22

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Critical Asian Studies


Reeves and Long / Unbearable Pressures

43:1 (2011), 322

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UNBEARABLE PRESSURES ON PARADISE?


Tourism and Heritage Management in Luang Prabang, a World Heritage Site
Keir Reeves and Colin Long

ABSTRACT: This article critically appraises and evaluates tourism strategies and heri-

tage management in Luang Prabang, Lao Peoples Democratic Republic, a Unescodesignated world heritage city. Luang Prabang is widely regarded as one of the most significant heritage cities in Southeast Asia. The city is renowned for its Buddhist and royal culture and also its historic vernacular Lao, French, and LaoFrench architecture. The city earned world heritage status in 1995, but since that time the boom in in-bound Asian tourism has put pressures on Luang Prabangs authenticity and, for some, called into question the validity of its world heritage status. This article examines these substantial and wide-ranging pressures and argues that the growth in tourism and the treatment of Luang Prabangs heritage are symptoms of broader regional processes of political and economic change, including the expansion of Chinese and Korean investment and the growth of intra-regional tourism. The authors argue that it is unreasonable to expect traditional heritage management mechanisms, including the world heritage listing, to be able to cope with the pressures on sites like Luang Prabang. The very least that is required, the authors contend, is an expanded understanding of the context in which heritage places sit, and the authors make a case that the cultural landscapes approach, combined with explicit concern for intangible heritage and poverty alleviation, must be at the core of any strategy for long-term protection of the citys cultural heritage values.

Two years ago in this journal, a photo-essay by Dawn Starin detailed a number of 1 problems in the Unesco-designated world heritage city, Luang Prabang. Starins article cogently and evocatively alerted readers to the threats posed to
ISSN 1467-2715 print/1472-6033 online / 01 / 00000320 2011 BCAS, Inc. DOI:10.1080/14672715.2011.537849

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Map of Lao Peoples Democratic Republic. (Maps courtesy of authors.)

Luang Prabang by the rapid rise of tourism. Other journalistic pieces in recent years have celebrated Luang Prabang or alerted us to the risks posed to it by its growing popularity as a tourism destination.2 In this article we take these discussions as a departure point, but go much further to provide an in-depth analysis of the issues surrounding Luang Prabang as a heritage tourism site. Our goal is to stimulate a deeper level of understanding about the dynamics of tourism, development, and heritage, and about the influence of the political and economic context on such sites than can be reasonably provided in journalistic pieces. We discuss the tensions between place, community, heritage, tourism, and development in Luang Prabang, the former royal capital of Laos. We place these tensions in the broader political-economic context that conditions the position of Laos in Southeast Asia. With the advent of increased site visitation and heritage tourism promotion, new threats to the built environment are apparent. Less readily discernible, yet equally important, are the pressures on the intangible heritage of Luang Prabang due to increased development. This article considers the heritage of Luang Prabang by evaluating the historical significance of the site, its heritage values, and the site management challenges the city faces today. We contextualize these challenges in terms of the central importance of heritage tourism revenue to the economic prosperity of the region. More broadly, this is a community-engaged piece that indicates important research strategies for

1. 2.

Starin 2008. See, for instance, Balfour 2003; Billard 2007; Perlez 2004.
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Map of Luang Prabang, showing its location on a peninsula at the confluence of the Mekong River and its tributary, the Nam Khan.

developing awareness of rich local histories and intangible heritage in order to tie local voices and cultural landscapes into public understanding of this exemplar world heritage site. As the title of this article suggests, place, community, heritage, and tourism need to be considered in conjunction in order to conserve the vernacular Lao and colonial era architecture and also to effectively understand the intangible heritage of Luang Prabang. Furthermore, we argue that the heritage of Luang Prabang is best interpreted and managed by considering the world heritage site as a multi-layered cultural landscape (for the purpose of this article the term cultural landscape thus covers a broad range of definitions, all of which reflect the way people have shaped the environment in order to suit their needs or desires). Luang Prabang, situated on a peninsula at the confluence of the Mekong River and its tributary, the Nam Khan, is the most visited of Lao PDRs two world heritage sites. The city has a sedate ambience, as would be expected of a place best known for its Buddhist culture and French colonial era architecture. For many this is the primary reason why it is regarded as a prime tourist destination. The Lao National Tourism Administration (LNTA) admitted as much in commenting that Luang Prabang is a place where one can sit having a cool drink perched high on the banks of the Mekong where you can watch life go by at a 3 very slow pace. Since obtaining world heritage inscription in 1995 for its cul-

3.

Lao National Tourism Authority 2007.

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Fig. 1. Shop-house streetscape in the world heritage precinct of Luang Prabang. (Credit: A. Dillon)

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tural heritage values, Luang Prabang has become an international heritage tourist destination and is now regarded as a key site of the cradle of ancient kingdoms, which is the promotional branding of the Greater Mekong sub-region that includes Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and Chinas Yunnan Province. In November 2007, a mission from Unesco traveled to Luang Prabang to evaluate the heritage values of the city and establish whether the increased tourism traffic and commodification of the city as a heritage tourism destination had compromised the integrity of the heritage streetscapes and built environment of the old city.4 Tellingly, the mission was also concerned with appraising the extent to which the increased profile and commensurate rise in tourism had affected the ability to preserve Lao culture.5 When Luang Prabang was first listed by the World Heritage Committee, visitors to the site noted that the inscription had struck an important blow for conservation and heralded a new era of conservation in the region, suggesting that Laos may be backward and surrounded by more powerful neighbors, but it can benefit from their mistakes: it is now virtually certain that Luang Prabang will escape the fate of its near neighbor, the once charming but now developed Chiang Mai in Thailand.6 For some, in contrast, Luang Prabang risked becoming a sophisticated cultural heritage theme park resplendent with shop-house streetscapes (see fig. 1 above) Buddhist temples, the Royal Palace enclosure, and an extensive collection of French colonial buildings (see fig. 2, below). Luang Prabang was technically incorporated into French Indochina as a protectorate rather than a directly run colony. It remained, during the years of French colonialism, the royal capital of Laos, although the king was little more than a figurehead; the French colonial authorities exercised the real power in Vientiane.7 This meant that, while the French substantially reconfigured Vientiane to suit their purposes as the administrative capital, Luang Prabang

4. 5. 6. 7.

Boccardi and Logan 2007. Ibid. Barnett 1996, 4. Stuart-Fox 1993, 226; Stuart-Fox 1997, 2930.
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Fig. 2. Colonial-era French maison situated near the center of the Luang Prabang world heritage precinct near the Hueanchan Centre. (Credit: K. Reeves)

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underwent more nuanced, less morphologically dramatic transformation. The underlying structure of the cityconditioned by the location of the Buddhist wats, the prominence of the sacred Mount Phousi, and the interaction between the river and the built form (Lao houses were traditionally built so that the ridge line of the roof ran parallel to any nearby river)remains substantially intact. Nevertheless, much of the city, including the Royal Palace, dates from the French period, and the streetscapes that are recognized in the world heritage inscription and valued by tourists are French-Lao amalgams.

Tensions between Heritage Tourism and Cultural Preservation


A key objective of preserving the intangible heritage of Luang Prabang is to ensure that the built fabric of the city is connected to living cultural practices in a way that ensures that the heritage significance of the city is maintained in a meaningful, integrated way. Far too often in heritage preservation practice concentration on the tangible built form has led to the neglect of the intangible elementsthe uses of places, the everyday practices, celebrations, ceremonies, social interactions, and cultural manifestationswith the result that many heritage places become little more than quaint, attractive, and historically tinged film sets stripped of the social and cultural practices that originally provided their meaning. Good contemporary heritage practice understands that tangible and intangible heritage are often inextricably linked, that when the uses of places change the places change too, that cultural and social practices are usually place-conditioned, and that places stripped of their social and cultural meaning are little more than simulacra. Despite the rapid rise of themed tourist precincts,9 there is increasing evidence that touristsparticularly cultural touristsvalue authenticity in their tourism experience.10 One of the great attractions of Luang Prabang is the apparent authenticity of the citys tangible and intangible heritage. Of particular importance in this regard is the citys Buddhist and royal heritage. The former

8. Askew, Logan, and Long 2007. 9. McKercher and Du Cros 2002, 131. 10. Ibid. 76.
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remains dynamic, thoroughly embedded in Lao social and cultural life and etched into the physical fabric of Luang Prabang, most obviously in the form of the many wats throughout the city. The royal heritage is, however, more problematic, given that the royal family was deposed by the communist regime in 1975. Its presence has to a large extent now been museumified11 or adapted to 12 suit the commemorative needs of the present government. Most tourists to Luang Prabang are from overseas. Laos does not have a substantial domestic tourism industry, as most Lao simply do not earn enough to travel on vacation. Tourism has provided many benefits to Laos, representing a major source of the countrys foreign income, and Luang Prabang is one of the most important attractions. This, of course, does not come without its problems. The continued development of Luang Prabang as a tourism destination, with the construction of new hotels and other tourist accommodation, will put further demands on finite space and potentially disrupt the connection between built heritage and the intangible uses and cultural practices that animate it. The tension between the economic imperatives of tourism and cultural heritage conservation is not unique to Laos. It is a problem in much of the region, if not the world. This has recently been investigated in a Vietnamese context by William Logan, in a Cambodian context by Tim Winter, and more specifically in a Luang Prabang context by Colin Long and Jonathan Sweet.13 This increase in heritage tourism in Luang Prabang, while having some positive outcomes, poses various serious threats. The chief concern is the impact of tourism development on living cultural heritage and the economic capacity of locals to live in the city.14 This tension was apparent in one cultural heritage practitioners observation that investing for guesthouses and hotels rises up as if there is no ceiling. On the other hand locals continue to sell their property and leave the town.15 In all probability this trend will continue and increasing numbers of those who cannot afford to live in the city will be driven to the periphery. While Luang Prabang offers substantial financial rewards to investors, it is geographically and demographically small and as a consequence unable to expand to cope with these new pressures without compromising the cultural fabric of the site. The pressures on Luang Prabang are most dramatically revealed in recent proposals for major developments in or near the city. Growth in accommodation establishments has been dramatic: from 45 in 1998 to 120 in 2004.16 While hotels have until now been kept to a small size and are few in number (2004 figures show that only 15 of the 120 accommodation establishments in the city were hotels17), pressure is now growing for the construction of large hotels, such as the five-star Kunming, a 200-room hotel on a thirty-hectare (ha) plot of

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11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17.

Long and Sweet 2006. Evans 1999. Logan 2005; Winter 2007 (Post-conflict); Long and Sweet 2005. Starin 2008. Yamaguchi and Vaggione 2008. Askew, Logan, and Long 2007, 189. Ibid.
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land located five kilometers (km) from the historic core. Smaller hotels are not necessarily less problematic. Aman Resorts, an Indonesian company, has been given permission to redevelop the citys old hospital site into a luxury twentyroom hotel. Developers have their eyes on other public infrastructure, including a large primary school site on Sakkarine Road, Ban Vat Non, and the nearby Fine Arts School, formerly the Queen Mothers house, both subject to proposals to convert them into tourist complexes. As the Unesco mission noted, the conversion of these public buildings and associated open spaces into tourist facilities would impact negatively on the traditional social context of Luang Prabang.19 Potentially more destructive again is a bridge, proposed as an important link in the GMS (Greater Mekong Subregion) Flagship Road Project: National Road 4, linking the LaoThai Bridge at Nam Heuang, via Kenthao Paklay and Sayaboury to Luang Prabang.20 While the Unesco mission did not challenge the proposed location of the bridge, it commented that it will almost inevitably lead to the build-up of urban settlement on the north-eastern outskirts of the inscribed site.21 In the heart of the world heritage site the increasing pressures of tourism are leading to the displacement of residents as land values rise and tourism facilities like guesthouses and restaurants dominate land uses. This has implications for the street-level sociability, community spirit, and intangible heritage of Luang Prabang. An example is the best-known event in old Luang Prabangthe daily procession, at the crack of dawn, of saffron-robed monks holding their brass begging bowls.22 Buddhism remains a vital element of Lao culture; a powerful symbiosis exists between temples, their monks, and local communities. Traditionally one of the ways in which this has been expressed is through the giving of alms by villagers to monks as they process through the street, as occurs in Luang Prabang. In recent years, however, the increasing tourist presence complete with clicking camerasand a decline in the local population within the world heritage site have interrupted this intimate symbol of spiritual and community reciprocity, with the result that the monks are not getting enough food and the essence of the cultural practice is under severe strain. Most worrying of all is the proposal to construct a new town on the opposite side of the Mekong River from the world heritage site, using US$2 billion of Korean project funding.23 The proposal is in the very early stages of planning and, given the present-day global economic crisis, there can be no guarantee that it will proceed in the near future. But the Lao government, ruling over an impoverished, small country surrounded by much larger states, is particularly susceptible to big promises of investment, a susceptibility not reduced by the absence of democratic accountability or a free press.

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18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23.

Boccardi and Logan 2007, 17. Ibid., 19. GMS 2005, 19. Boccardi and Logan 2007, 18. Balfour 2003. MCOT 2008.

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The proposal, which illustrates the substantial effect that world heritage listing and tourism development can have, is clearly driven by the attractiveness of 24 Luang Prabang as a tourism destination and has in mind the increase in wealth that tourism development in the area can be expected to bring. The Luang Prabang new town is intended to feature golf courses and other tourist infrastructure; it seems to be designed to provide not only an area for population growth in the Luang Prabang region, but also to enhance the tourist offerings associated with the city. Indeed, the project is geared toward the incorporation of Luang Prabang into the Asian mass tourism market. This is a rapidly evolving phenomenon with enormous implications for tourism and heritage sites in much of Southeast Asia, if not the world. As Tim Winter has observed, the normative use of expressions like package tour, mass tourism and the seaside now 25 hides their cultural and historical roots. Where once Asian mass-market tourism was largely confined to Japanese tourists, the rise of South Korea in the latter decades of the twentieth century and the spectacular growth of the Chinese economy and its burgeoning middle class, combined with the incorporation of China into global processes of production and exchangeincluding tourism and tourism serviceshas produced an enormous supply of tourists wanting to see the world. Where once countries like Vietnam and Cambodia were the domains of intrepid Western tourists seeking authentic experiences off the mass-market trail, the two countries are now thoroughly engaged in the mass-market sector, especially for tourists from elsewhere in Asia (and increasingly from the West).26 Indeed, it appears that the market segmentation that has long characterized the mature Western tourism sectorranging from backpackers, through small tour groups, independent travelers, organized bus tours, up to high-end cultural tourism, with many variations in between is to a considerable extent lacking in the contemporary Asian tourist market. The reasons for this have not only to do with cost. It is likely that the concept of tourism as a form of self-discovery and engagement with the other that runs deep in Western tourism understandings and motivations is much less important in cultures like China and the Mekong region countries. It is clear, too, that the heavy emphasis on individuality in contemporary Western societies, which is reflected in tourism practices, is not replicated in societies like China and Korea, where social solidarity is a much more thoroughly ingrained concept. It is also the case that Western tourism companies have much longer experience than, say, Chinese ones, in developing and refining tourism products. Cambodias experience with the rapid transformation of a niche-market tourism destinationAngkorinto a mass-market tourism destination is instructive. In this case the number of tourists, particularly Asian tourists, has soared so rapidly that serious problems are now emerging. Wear and tear on in-

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24. In 2008 the New York Times declared Luang Prabang, along with Vientiane, the next potential hotspots for globe-trotting tourists (Billard 2007). 25. Winter 2008, 313. 26. Winter 2007 (Rethinking); 2010; Henderson 2009.

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dividual sites within the Angkor complex have been exacerbated by the sheer numbers of touristsover a million tourists visit the area each yearand by the practices of tourism companies, which utilize similar, limited itineraries that tend to concentrate tourists at particular sites at specific times.27 Mass tourism also places a strain on Siem Reapthe location of the hotels for visitors to Angkorparticularly its water and power supply and sewerage infrastructure.28 Cambodian authorities also complain about the social problems that accompany mass tourismprostitution, commercialization of local culture, distortion of local economies and labor markets, and so on. On a broader scale, the popularity of Angkor and the fact that Siem Reap is an international airport hub are distorting national development patterns, with Siem Reap receiving a disproportionate amount of the nations investment and foreign exchange earnings. Luang Prabang airport also receives international flights from Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and regional Laos. For many overseas tourists it is the only place in Laos that they visit, just as Angkor is the sole destination for many tourists to Cambodia. The Luang Prabang new town project is at least partially driven by a desire to expand the citys capacity as a tourism sitenot only its capacity to accommodate more people but also its capacity to attract a wider range of people and to get them to stay longer. Providing resort-style facilities on the west bank of the river will entice tourists who are attracted to the world heritage ambience of Luang Prabang but who are not satisfied by its cultural and heritage offerings alone. World heritage sites in other countries have similar experiences. In Havana, Cuba, for instance, many tourists spend almost their entire holiday at resorts, perhaps venturing out for a daylong organized tour into the Old Havana world heritage site.29 It is possible that Luang Prabang new town will relieve some of the development pressure that exists in the world heritage site. Hotels and other tourist facilities can be diverted to the new town. This is not an uncommon strategy. Many European cities have implemented such approaches: at a large scale the preservation of Pariss wonderful streetscapes has largely been facilitated by the construction of La Dfense as the center for new high-rise construction. Even in Laos, some have argued, the Lao government has made a conscious decision to develop Vientiane as a modern capital city and to keep Luang Prabang as the proverbial jewel in the nations heritage crown.30 Yet, such an approach is still fraught with problems. For a start, access from one side of the river to the other, currently facilitated by boat, is to be enabled by construction of a bridge built right into the world heritage site. Besides the problems of increased traffic through the old towns streets, such an intervention would do major damage to its visual setting and severely compromise its cultural landscape integrity. But above all, what the new town proposal demon-

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27. 28. 29. 30.

Winter 2007 (Post-conflict). Sharp 2008. Long 2008. Logan, Long, and Hanson 2002.

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strateswith the bridge being a very clear indication of thisis a failure to recognize Luang Prabang as part of a much broader cultural landscape that takes in the western side of the river, the Mekong itself, and the surrounding mountain landscape. The western bank of the river was closely connected to Luang Prabangindeed parts of it are included in the world heritage designation. The settlement there, Chompeth, provided agricultural produce for the city, as it still does, while a temple, Wat Long Khun, was a vital element in royal coronation ceremonies. In fact, the coronation ceremony was crucial in integrating the river into the broader cultural landscape that constituted the royal meuang of Luang Prabang: the kings slow, ceremonial procession up river by boat to the Tam Ting Caves was an integral element of the citys symbolic practices. It can already be argued that, if the royal heritage has largely been museumified in the world heritage site, the royal heritage associated with the western bank of the river and with the river more generally has been completely elided in popularparticularly touristunderstanding of the citys significance. This can only be exacerbated if the new town proposal goes ahead.

Luang Prabang: A Cultural Landscape


The term cultural landscape has been defined by the U.S. National Parks Service as a geographic area, including both cultural and natural resources and the wildlife and domestic animals therein associated with a historic event, activity, or person, or that exhibits other cultural or aesthetic values.31 More broadly, cultural landscape analysis also provides an important conceptual tool for investigating how human activity has shaped the built environment. Only by considering people and place together can a deeper historical understanding of key heritage sites be realized. Cultural landscapes reflect the way different people have valued land over time, and demonstrate how differently land has been and continues to be used by groups and individuals. As Peter Fowler notes, cultural landscapes record the interaction of natural and cultural processes.32 Cultural landscapes also offer the opportunity to look at the way people have interacted with one other by recording which culture or cultures used any one site at any one time; this, in turn, reflects the way different cultures have valued and used land throughout history. Cultural landscapes are a record of the way land is valued: for its religious or spiritual connotations; its economic value; its aesthetic, social, or recreational value; and for its historical value. Cultural landscapes include architectural features, such as shrines, shops, or houses, that reflect the social or everyday history of the people who built, inhabited, or used them.33 Luang Prabang is a layered cultural landscape containing elements of a number of eras of human activity. In using the term cultural landscape we refer to the elements of the built and natural environments that constitute the key sites in

31. National Parks Service 1994. 32. Fowler 2004, 172. 33. The Cultural Landscape Foundation 2006.

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Fig. 3. Buddhist monks soliciting alms on the streets of Luang Prabang, a daily ritual. With the influx of camera-wielding tourists into the Unesco-designated world heritage site, critics worry that Luang Prabang could become a sophisticated cultural heritage theme park with saffron-robed monks playing their assigned roles. (Credit: Tim Winter)

Luang Prabang, together with the visual, oral, and documentary material that give them meaning and assist in their interpretation. Today, cultural landscapes cannot be understood without reference to the cultural heritage of the region and the key historical themes that explain this heritage. Further, this broader sense of heritage cannot be divorced from the wider political, economic, and social context. In a sense we have no choice: the Luang Prabang new town and other contested development projects close to or in the city force us to confront this wider context. Increasingly heritage development projects are caught up in regional, even global, processes of tourism, economic development, and political interaction. This is nowhere more obvious than in Southeast Asia, a region of dynamic change in the shadow of the greatest source of dynamism and change, China. Projects like the Luang Prabang new town, and the contentious (but increasingly unlikely) construction of a new Chinatown in Vientiane, the Lao capital, as well as proposed new town developments in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, are classic manifestations of uneven development and a geographical solution to the crisis of over-production in the economies of Northeast Asia. The construction and massive reconstruction of Chinese cities has many complex origins and ramifications. While much emphasis has been placed on the urbanization and industrialization of China, we cannot neglect the role that investment in the built environment plays directly in the process of capital accumulation.34 In this sense, real estate development plays several roles: it provides
34. Harvey 1989; Harvey 1990.
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large numbers of jobs for laborers and trades workersthis is vital for China, with its huge population; it has substantial multiplier effects on the broader economy; and it absorbs surplus capital created in the industrial sector. The enormous growth in the industrial capacity and export earnings of South Korea in earlier decades and China in particular today has led to enormous over-accumulation of capital in the industrial sector, some of which is in turn invested in what David Harvey35 calls the secondary and tertiary circuits of capital, in particular the built environment. And this includes the built environments of Southeast Asian cities like Luang Prabang. The degree of change and the economic and political pressures in the region provide dramatic illustrations of the difficulty of managing popular heritage tourism sites with traditional heritage preservation instruments that focus on architectural conservation. The Luang Prabang case demonstrates the disparity between the control provided to managers of heritage sites by world heritage listing and traditional planning controls, on the one hand, and the economic, social, and political changes that are the main threat to heritage values, on the other. There is no simple solution to this problem: it is unreasonable to expect that broad political, economic, and social pressures can be managed entirely through the agency of heritage controls. Nonetheless, heritage site managers and policy-makers need to be aware of the broader context in which they must practice and in which sites exist. Our contention here is that heritage management systems should be strategically tailored to meet the challenges posed by the broader context. We are not necessarily arguing that there is an orchestrated resistance to improved heritage planning controls. Our point is that the factors impinging on the management of world heritage sites are various and complex, and that traditional heritage planning techniquescontrols on new construction, conservation regulations focused on the preservation of architectural forms and features, and urban design and planning regulations that are necessarily place-specificare sometimes insufficiently powerful to cope. This is a problem that is not confined to developing countries like Laos or, indeed, to the management of world heritage sites alone. The world heritage site in the German city of Dresden was recently removed from the world heritage list as a result of the construction of a bridge that city authorities deemed necessary, but which Unesco declared would destroy the integrity of the world heritage property. 36 In many countriescertainly in our home, Australiaheritage preservation agencies often struggle to preserve heritage sites in the face of development pressures, especially when more powerful government agencies such as road construction agenciesare involved. While heritage controls may not be adequate to deal with large-scale development pressures, it is widely acknowledged that heritage controls themselves can sometimes have deleterious effects. The problem is that heritage controls

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35. Harvey 1989. 36. Unesco 2009.

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rarely involve controls on the use of places, as distinct from preservation of material fabric, and that they almost inevitably lead to an increase in property values through the revitalization of decaying areas. This leads to the common problemoften unintended, but sometimes deliberateof gentrification in historic preservation areas. It is clear that in market-based systems (and in terms of capital flows, investment, and the tourism industry, Luang Prabang exists in a market system, despite Laos being one of the last states run by a Communist Party), rather than helping to control the macro-level development pressures on sites like Luang Prabang, heritage controls interact with these pressures in ways that direct benefits toward the owners of capital (causing gentrification) and, in the absence of state intervention to ensure the preservation of cultural traditions, militate against non-commodifiable aspects such as intangible cultural heritage, everyday practices, and the spirit of place. But it is also true that heritage controls are often seen by governments again, not only governments in developing countriesas potentially too restrictive of needed development. Unfortunately, in recent years heritage cultural, natural, and intangiblehas been the victim of pro-development decisions by the Lao government. For instance, the remnants of the old city wall of Vientiane were destroyed in 1996 for road widening, along with a number of mature trees planted during the French period. The former French treasury building in the capital was allowed to decay and was then demolished. The Nong Chan wetlands were redeveloped to construct a water park. The National Museum, housed in the former hotel du commissariat, which also functioned as the offices of the prime minister of the Royal Lao Government, is threatened with demolition, and the museum is to be relocated to the citys fringe. Major dam projects, such as Nam Theun II, have led to forced relocation of thousands of people.37 There is nothing necessarily sinister about governments in developing countries seeking development. Laos is a poor country with restricted potential for domestic capital formation and a very real need to improve the standard of living of its citizens. However, in countries like Laos, with authoritarian political systems that have limited responsiveness to pressure from ordinary citizens, where investment approval decisions are often obscure, and where corruption is a common problem, perceptions of what is useful development may vary between political elites and ordinary people. Foreign investment in a big hotel on the banks of the Mekong may appear to be good development to the Lao political elite, which tallies up the dollar figures of the bricks and mortar erected and the number of tourists attracted, but to the farmers who used to grow their crops on what was once one of the best areas of urban recession flood plain agriculture in the region, it is just another example of destructive dispossession. The most important source of development pressure in heritage sites is, of course, tourism. In the case of Luang Prabang tourist numbers have increased

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37. For analysis of the various dam projects and their potential impacts in Laos and its region, see Osborne 2004.
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Fig. 4. Aerial view of present-day Luang Prabang taken from Mount Phousi, overlooking the Royal Palace enclosure, the commercial and cultural buildings precinct of the city, and the Mekong River.
(Credit: K. Reeves)

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dramatically since world heritage listing, facilitated by the growing number of international flights to the city (it is even possible to buy airline tickets to Luang Prabang from 7Eleven stores in Bangkok!). World heritage listing functions as a kind of tourism branding, which is precisely why many governments seek to have sites listed. But tourism, especially international tourism, is notoriously difficult to control. The tourism systemincluding travel companies, hotel and guesthouse operators, restaurant owners, tour operators, government agencies, tourism site managers, and so onis complex, involves small and large businesses, government and private organizations. It is subject to the exigencies of local, provincial, and national tourism, economic and infrastructure planning policies. It is vulnerable to factors over which governmentsespecially local and provincial governmentshave little control, such as exchange rate fluctuations, pandemic disease, and terrorist threats, or even the attentions of the international media. It should be obvious that the heritage planning controls implemented in particular heritage sites can have little influence over many of these factors, even when governments are committed to them, and that is not always the case. In the end world heritage listing is only as effective as the protective mechanisms implemented and enforced by the host country. Unesco has no ability to directly intervene in the making or implementation of national heritage laws, although it requires that they be in existence before a site can be listed on the world heritage list. It can threaten a World Heritage in Danger designation, or even remove sites from the list altogether, but such actions are uncommon and rarely done without the consent of States Parties. We do not argue here that the Lao government is not committed to the preservation of Luang Prabang. Our point is that in order to cope with the many and substantial pressures on the heritage of Luang Prabang a more expansive understanding of what heritage means and an accordingly altered approach to its protection is required. In the Luang Prabang case, this means as a first step an expansion of its identified significance, or Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), to fully incorporate the lessons of the cultural landscapes approach. When Luang Prabang was in16
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scribed on the World Heritage List in 1995 there was no requirement for a full statement of OUV Accordingly, the nomination documents did not provide one, . although an assessment by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos) outlined the key significance values. These focused on architectural significance, although there was some cursory reference to gardens and riverbank cultivation. The need for a more comprehensive statement of the citys significance is now acknowledged. The Lao governments 2003 Periodic Report (a regular monitoring and reporting exercise required under the World Heritage Convention) provided a new statement of significance, identifying a number of aspects besides the architectural features, including riverbanks, green space, a large number of ponds and several landmarks such [as] Phousi Mount, Pu Thao and Phu Nang Mountains as well as living cultures [that are] rich, diversified and still vibrant.38 The 2007 Unesco mission correctly recommended that there would be considerable scope for the drafting of a new, comprehensive Statement of Outstanding Universal Value which would integrate consideration for all the elements of the historic urban landscape of Luang Prabang, and not only focus on the architectural aspects. These should include green areas within and adjacent to the city, which are an integral component of the traditional settlement system, but also the wider natural context which provided the raison dtre of the town (paddy fields and water networks) and were associated to spiritual practices and beliefs of the Lao culture (e.g., main mountain peaks, linked to mythological figures). Moreover, consideration should be given to the living heritage, and the related social aspects, which form an integral part of its cultural significance and are essential to ensure the material sustainability of the world 39 heritage property. The Luang Prabang case provides an important lesson about world heritage site designation processes and how designation can shape the way these sites are managed and evolve. As already mentioned, the original designation of Luang Prabang focused on its architecture and tangible urban form. The significance identified in the Icomos assessment report reads: Luang Prabang represents to an exceptional extent the successful fusion of the traditional architectural and urban structures and those of the European colonial rulers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Its unique townscape is remarkably well preserved, illustrating a key stage in the 40 blending of two distinct cultural traditions. Further, the world heritage inscription bound the city in fairly constrained boundaries, excising it from its broader cultural landscape and ignoring other key cultural practices. The original world heritage designation did not include a buffer zone, an absence that is not permitted in more recent listings. The 2007 Icomos mission recommended that a buffer zone be implemented and this pro-

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38. Cited in Boccardi and Logan 2007, 8. 39. Boccardi and Logan 2007, 8. 40. Icomos 1995.
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vides an opportunity to remedy some of the current exclusions. It will be interesting to see, though, how the various proposed developments, including the new town and bridges, affect the delineation of any buffer zone: will the Lao authorities risk development opportunities to impose strict heritage protection measures? To a considerable extent the answer to this question is likely to be determined by the authorities conceptions of the citys heritage. A limited, traditional view of heritage as largely architectural can, to a considerable extent, be accommodated within a broader pro-development approach. But such an approach is likely to have long-term deleterious effects. We suggest that a more sophisticated approach that incorporates the tangible and intangible heritage will produce a better result for the preservation of Luang Prabangs heritage in its broadest sense, for the people that give that heritage its meaning, and for the long-term social and economic viability of the city. We have argued that in the preservation and management of heritage tourism sites in developing countries the political, economic, and social context cannot be ignored. In the case of Luang Prabang, heritage preservation and tourism for broader social policy goals must be integrated concerns. In any heritage strategy in Luang Prabang it is important that a balance be found between preserving the traditional cultural heritage values (particularly the intangible heritage) of the old city and poverty alleviation. We suggest again that the traditional approach to heritage place management, which emphasizes architectural and built form controls, is of only limited value for such a task and should be replaced with a cultural landscapes approach, which clearly connects built and natural landscapes with human agency and seeks to better recognize intangible cultural expressions. Such a framework is particularly useful as it allows emphasis to be placed on a multiplicity of cultural heritage themes. This, in turn, strengthens communities and enables local inhabitants to better identify with and understand their region, providing them in the process with a sense of place within their community. The framework is also effective as a public policy concept as it enables a diverse range of stakeholder views to be expressed and can form part of a consensus-building process. It is important to recognize here that we do not advocate neglect of the architectural and tangible heritage. Considerable evidence demonstrates that world heritage listing has led to a renewed emphasis on the preservation or renewal of interest in intangible heritage in Luang Prabang. In 1999, Frances Engelmann commented that key cultural festivals such as the procession of the Phra Bang, the paladin of the former Kingdom of Lan Xang, have recovered their former spirit.41 Engelmann, a member of the Unesco missions that prepared the listing of the Luang Prabang World Heritage Site, recognized that the cultural renaissance goes on hand in hand with the longer term job of preserving the citys architectural standards, which has been a concern for the last decade.42 However, almost a decade later, in early 2008, the emphasis on maintenance of

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41. Engelmann 1999, 44. 42. Ibid., 4445.

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Fig. 5. Novice monks bathing on the Nam Khan River. Note the traditional farming terraces in the banks behind the bathers. (Credit: A. Dillon)

architectural standards continues while the status of the intangible heritage of Luang Prabang remains problematic. Notwithstanding the efforts of cultural heritage practitioners, the unprecedented boom in tourism has impacted upon the maintenance and preservation of traditional life and practices in the city. One initiative that addresses the need to interpret built and living heritage is the Heuanchan, situated in Luang Prabang. Heuanchan, a Lao word that literally translates as moon house, was a result of an initiative by Unesco, Maison du Patrimoine, and the Tokyo Institute of Technology entitled Application of Information Technology to World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang. The aim of the initiative was to facilitate better heritage management.43 Despite these lofty intentions Heuanchans focus was on architectural drawings of the Luang Prabang streetscapes in the almost complete absence of consideration of the local community and its associated intangible cultural heritage. While the Heuanchan emphasizes the role of information technology in preserving world heritage, it is also one of the few places in Luang Prabang to actively promote awareness that intangible and living heritage need the same sort of resources as the historical built environment. At the Heuanchan there is an exhibition where visitors can view the historic, cultural, and social features as well as search a heritage database. Although there is something of a tension between the twin emphases on architectural heritage and intangible heritage as the Heuanchan attempts to promote Luang Prabang as a community and tourist destination with a strong commitment to conservation and sustainable development,44 nonetheless in acknowledging the various historical layers of Luang Prabang

43. Heuanchan 2006, 56. 44. Ibid.


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heritage (in a manner similar to reading a cultural landscape), the Heuanchan highlights the complexity of identifying and interpreting the cultural heritage in the present day.

Conclusion
The cultural landscape model, in enabling a polysemic understanding of Luang Prabangs historical layers, would move interpretation of the site beyond a narrowly defined inscription on largely architectural grounds to one that also places emphasis on understanding and interpreting the intangible, particularly living, heritage.45 While acknowledging that there is no comprehensive system to document and preserve entire historical landscapes, the cultural landscape model provides a method of historical analysis that enables a multiplicity of historical voices to be appreciated and heritage themes about Luang Prabang to be considered.46 Its chief importance, though, lies in the way that it allows heritage site managers and policy-makers to position the places for which they have responsibility in a broader context; to fully identify and explain heritage site significance; to protect all the values of heritage sites, tangible and intangible; and to engage local communities in the identification and management of the heritage values of importance to them. While the pressures from development remain difficult to resist, a deeper understanding of heritage significance based on the cultural landscapes approach is more likely to ensure that the protection of Luang Prabang is not confined to an architectural approach that renders the city a prettified backdrop for tropical sojourns for the well-to-do. Seeing Luang Prabang as a cultural landscape should provide those committed to the protection of its cultural integrity with stronger arguments to resist poorly thoughtout schemes such as the new town on the west bank of the Mekong. In the end, however, a cultural landscapes approach will be successful only if its insights are manifested not just in the ideas of heritage practitioners but in statutory measures that provide real, enforceable means of heritage protection and that elevate heritages status relative to large-scale, culturally and environmentally destructive development projects.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: This article is an output of the Cultural Heritage Centre for Asia and the Pacific, Deakin Universityled Australian Research Council project Remembering Places of Pain and Shame. Financial and research support was provided by the Australian Academy of Humanities Traveling Fellowship, the University of Melbourne ECR scheme, the University of Melbourne Faculty of Arts seeding grant, and the Monash Research Fellowship Scheme. The authors thank SNV Laos, Mary Menis, and Vanessa Kredler for their assistance at Unesco, and Claire Merlo and Antoinette Dillon for their in-country research support. Thanks to Tim Winter for permission to reproduce his image for this article: p. 13.

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