Before the administrative restructuring of the 1910s,
Luang Prabang province covered most of northern Laos, or almost one third of the present
country. It encompassed most of the present provinces of Sayaboury Oudomxai and Phong Saly
Only the Oun Neua district in the North and the province of Upper Mekong, which included
the present provinces of Bokeo and Luang Namtha in the West, were not part of it.
the earlyl900s, the population of this vast, sparsely populated territory was no more than
250,000 and represented all the main linguistic families of Laos. The Ai-Lao, who belong
to the Tay Kadai linguistic family, the most numerous in the province, were represented by
scattered groups composed mainly of the Lao and Lu and in lesser numbers by the Thy Dam,
lay Deng, lay Khao and Gnouan.
Austro-Asiatic from the Mon Khmer linguistic family were found in all parts of
the province - the most numerous being the Khmu. At the borders of the Khmu domain were
scattered ethnic groups, such as the Khmu Rok, the Khmu Lue, the Khouen and the Bit. The
Miao-Yao linguistic family whose presence was observed around the 1870s, includes the
Hmong, Yao and Lanten. Mainly located in the North and belonging to the Sino-Tibetan
family, the presence of the Phou Noy, the Ko, the Ho and the Lob were observed while the
Mousseu and the Khouy were found in the South.
Luang Prabang, capital and center of all activities, administrative as well as
commercial, attracted the admiration of the first explorers. Francis Gamier of the Mekong
exploratory mission, recorded in 1867 after having traveled 2,000 kilometers: It
offered us a most picturesque and animated sight. Since our departure from Cochin china,
we have not met such a conglomeration of houses.94 He also noted the harmonious
arrangement of this town with its roofs aligned in parallel rows along the river and,
above all, the sight of Vat Chomsi on the green hill of Phou Si. This panorama was matched
by the sight of the temples at the foot of the cosmic hill, while along the banks of the
Mekong the floating town stood, raised on permanent rafts.
The first visitors also noticed the wide and regular roads, crossing at right
angles and bordered by beautiful houses surrounded by fences. The whole of the upstream
section of the peninsular was reserved for the royal family and the aristocracy The
commercial quarter extended on both sides of the main market, which stretched for almost
two kilometers, and the downstream part of the town belonged to the ordinary people.
Except for the main Vats, such as Vat Xieng Thong, Vat Mai, Vat That ... that
were constructed of lasting materials, all the others were of wood, as were the main
houses in the town. The people on the whole lived in bamboo houses.
The French presence from the 1900s is recognisable from the construction of
masonry buildings. This was accompanied by the destruction of certain Vats to make place
for administrative buildings or housing. However, the restoration of the towns main Vats
began from this period. This rehabilitation work continues today; thanks to the combined
efforts of the Laotian Government and UNESCO.