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Gracious Luang Prabang

The riverside town of Luang Prabang offers a tranquil Buddhist atmosphere, elegant traditional Lao architecture and some of the best –preserved colonial buildings in Indochina

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

My flight arrived to in Luang Prabang, the former capital of Laos, in the early evening. Greeting me was a red sun setting over the mighty Mekong river. The Mekong and the Nam Khan embrace the town and steep mountains encircle it, as if to protect Luang Prabang from the outside world.

For 500 years Luang Prabang was the capital of Laos, the “Land of a Million Elephants”. This legacy has left dozens of pagodas, shrines and palaces, along with more than 600 wooden houses on the ancient Lao style. Laotians regard Luang Prabang as their country’s soul. Indeed, it feels as though the old kingdom’s spirit still lingers there, in the sound of the tocsins, in the saffron robes of the monks… The landscape is so dreamy that time seems to have slowed here.

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

It is said that the quintessense of Lao architecture is condensed within the pagoda of Wat Xieng Thoong. This pagoda, the name of which means “Golden city”, is neither grandiose nor imposing, yet possesses a fascinating beauty. Its subtly curving layers of roof tops, its carvings and relieves, its gold and silver decorations, and the gemstones-and-glass mosaic shining under tropical sunlight never fail to leave visistors stunned. One can not help but admire the pagoda’s sophistication and the skill of the craftsmen who made it.

A mere 29 km from the city center lie the jade-green Kuang Si Falls. The waterfalls have many levels. Surrounded by immense trees, the falls form perfect natural pools for those seeking refreshment. Another must-see in Luang Prabang is Mount Phousi, reportedly the best spot in Laos to watch the sunset. Every day a crowd of quiet visitors gathers here, surrounded by the scent of frangipani blossoms. Camera in hand, they try to capture the last rays of sunlight on the distant mountain ranges.

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang has inherited an architectural fusion of East and West. Alongside traditional wooden houses stand colonial French style villas, original or renovated to a high level of luxury and style. The town’s authentic cultural value, which is increasingly hard to find in today’s world, is drawing more and more visitors. Each year tourists outnumber locals by four to one. Downtown and in the open air night market (open 5Pm to 10pm), foreigners are the majority. Though restaurants, shops and spa abound, the quality of most services is not yet up to international standards.

Sitting in a riverside restaurant eating a local delicacy of barbecued fish, a Lao friend of mine confided: “Luang Prabang is changing fast. I don’t know if our culture will remain intact for long. And tourism facilities are not very well -planned and organized. We Laotians are too modest and content with our lives… “His words make me worry. Can this special town retain its beauty?

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

Upon bidding farewell to the “Land of a Million Elephants”, I bought an antique bronze elephant from the night market. The elephant lifts its front leg and curves its trunk in a salute, as if inviting me to return one day.

A Labor of Love

I am so grateful to Henri Oger and to the experts who have reprinted his book, 100 years after it was first published. At the tender age of 24, Mr. Oger came to Vietnam to do his military service. From 1908 to 1909, the young man studied the streets of Hanoi and outlying areas to record an inventory of the development of local industries and commerce. Aided by a Vietnamese painter and some assistants, Mr. Oger’s research produced around 4,200 drawings and sketches printed on homemade do paper. While just 60 copies of Mr. Ogers book were printed, the work’s value is finally being recognized.

Over 30 years ago I had the chance to see a small-sized copy of Mr. Oger’s work printed on low-quality paper, some pages of which were missing. At that moment, I was told that it was an illustrated encyclopedia. There was no introduction about the book’s creator. I found a brief biography that stated: Henri Oger, an old student from L’E’cole Coloniale and L’E’cole Pratique des Hautes E’tudes, collected documents in Hanoi from 1908-1909.

This summary does not begin to reflect the magnitude of Mr. Oger’s work. Despite his youth, Mr. Oger was talented, well trained and proficient in the Vietnamese language and Chinese characters. Most important of all, the young man was thirsty for knowledge and highly determined. Despite opposition, during just two years he and his assistants created more than 4,000 sketches of Vietnamese workers. Topics included working with nature (agriculture, fishing, hunting, transportation and gathering, etc.); manufacturing with natural materials (making paper, metalwork, pottery making, woodcarving, making, weapons, bamboo work, processing fruits, making textiles, leatherwork, etc.); and working with processed materials (printing, lacquer painting, making religious objects, cooking, tailoring, construction, interior decoration, equipment, etc.). He also recorded images depicting Annamite society, with topics ranging from musical instruments to traditional medicines to fortune telling, festivals, toys and folk arts.

Even with a large investment and a great deal of assistance, this task would be daunting. In just two years and working with minimal support, Mr. Oger’s achievements ethnology, I well understand the difficulties of studying, collecting and collating this material. The creation of this book required meticulous scientific methods. As an example, Mr. Oger’s account of making do paper is so detailed that one could create this handmade paper by following the steps outlined in his book.

Opening the book, I could feel the past coming alive:  a street vendor here, a craftsman there, a hired digger on his way to work, traders earning their livelihoods… Once again, I wish to express my gratitude and reverence and say, “Bonjour Monsieur Henri Oger”

One hundred years after its publication, a second edition of the book Techniques du Peuple Annmites) by Frenchman Henri Oger has been released. Containing more than 4,200 illustrations, this book gives a remarkably clear view of life in Hanoi at the turn of the 20th century.

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TRAN NGUYEN NGOC TRANG

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AsianTour expands to Vietnam

Carlsberg, one of the largest brewery groups in the world as well as in Vietnam , will title sponsor the Carlsberg Masters Vietnam, a new event which will bring together the best players from the Asian Tour.

The inaugural Carlsberg Masters Vietnam will be staged from November 4-7 at Chi Linh Star Golf and Country Club in Hanoi where Asia ‘s finest will shoot for US$200,000 in total prize money. Carlsberg has signed a three-year contract with the Asian Tour.

“We are delighted to announce Carlsberg’s title sponsorship of a new and exciting event, the Carlsberg Masters Vietnam. Golf in this country is still very much at a developing stage, but it is in a strong growth and this is why we are committed to help the game grow in Vietnam . This new event is going to be the biggest sporting event in Vietnam this year and will put Vietnam on the international golfing map,” said South East Asia Brewery Ltd. General Director Henrik J. Andersen.

“Carlsberg has been an avid supporter of international golf for years and this latest commitment is one which we are very hopeful will create a significant impact on the Asian Tour,” added Andersen.

With the inaugural event slated towards the tail-end of the season, the leading contenders for the Asian Tour Order of Merit crown are expected to converge in Vietnam to boost their chances of finishing as the Asian number one.

The Carlsberg Masters Vietnam will also be supported by the Hilton Hanoi Opera, the Official Hotel, and a number of other co-sponsors yet to be announced.

Chi Linh Star Golf and Country Club Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Doan Van An said the club is proud to be associated with the event. “The launch of a new professional tournament in Vietnam is very exciting indeed. It will further boost the popularity of golf in our country and Chi Linh Star is delighted to be a part of this tremendous development.

“It is our ambition to see the Carlsberg Masters Vietnam enjoy a successful start and grow into one of the top events in the region. We will ensure that our golf course is at its best condition for the players in November,” said Doan.

Asian Tour Chairman Kyi Hla Han welcomed the new tournament, saying it was a breakthrough development for the players and also for the game in Vietnam .

“It is a tremendous development for the Asian Tour, one which I am confident will boost the popularity of golf in Vietnam and I would like to express our appreciation to Carlsberg and Chi Linh Star Golf and Country Club for sponsoring this new tournament.

“With the launch of the Carlsberg Masters Vietnam, I’m sure we will see more players from the country taking up the game. We are all very excited about the event and our players are fully supportive of this initiative.

“It is wonderful that Carlsberg has committed to a three-year agreement to stage the Carlsberg Masters Vietnam and the Asian Tour will look at ways to help the event grow and assist in the development of local players,” said Han.

To help boost the domestic golf scene, organisers have allocated several spots for local amateur players at the Carlsberg Masters Vietnam. Andersen said this move will help players gain exposure as they could tee up alongside the likes of current Asian Tour number one Thongchai Jaidee, Zhang Liang-wei of China and India’s Jyoti Randhawa.

The first nine holes at Chi Linh Star Golf Club was opened for play in Hanoi November 2003, with the second nine scheduled to be ready in June 2004. It has already received widespread acclaim and another 18 holes are being planned at the site which lies within a beautiful valley and surrounded by rolling forest hills, and nestles beside a large lake.

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