In contrast to the situation in neighboring Vietnam and Cambodia, the French colonial government in Laos had little money for infrastructural development and was therefore unable to fund the construction of large French-style buildings on the same scale as neighboring countries. However, French colonial architecture still made a modest impact in most major towns and cities.
Prior to the arrival of the French, Vientiane comprised ramshackle collections of mainly wooden or bamboo stilted houses with thatched roofs, grouped around the overgrown ruins of former temples and palaces. The first major French building to be constructed in the city was the residence superior (1900), strategically sited within the former royal palace compound.
The colonial government buildings were also constructed throughout this period in other urban centers such as Luang Prabang,l Thakhaek, Savannakhet and Pakse.
In addition to government buildings, the French also built two-storey brick and stucco villas with pitched tile roofs and wooden shuttered windows in every major centre of population to accommodate the colonial administrators and their families. However, as elsewhere in the Indochinese colonies, provincial French design was modified to suit the hot and humid tropical climate through the addition of balconies, verandahs and internal corridors. Construction was entrusted mainly to migrant Vietnamese laborers, who also built their own two-storey shop houses in designated areas. Today, in modern Laos, the remnants of the French colonial era remains right across the country although the buildings have received the maintenance needed because of the high costs. However, such French architectural brilliance is still very interesting, especially for history buffs and culture vultures.
Pakse: Located at the confluence of the Mekong and Se Don rivers, Pakse derives its name from the Lao for “mouth of the Se”. Pakse is the capital of the southern province of Champasack, with a population of about 80 thousand making it the third most populous city in Laos. The city was founded by the French in 1905. Pakse offers some fine examples of colonial era architecture . The pink Franco-Chinese style Chinese society building is a good example. Once serving as a French administrative outpost, Pakse is till characterized by a good variety of colonial building, some of which now function as guesthouses and shops.
Champasak Town: This used to be the seat of the Champasack Kingdom, until about 35 years ago. But it seems it was a lot longer ago than that now. Now the town is peacefully quiet, and the only reminders of a splendor long gone, is the fountain traffic circle in the main street, and the two remaining French colonial style royal residences of Chao Boun Oum na Champasack, and his father Chao Ratsadanai. There is little traffic on the streets these days, and the cows have it pretty much to themselves.
The town itself is dotted with simply stunning colonial buildings. Of these, the former residence of Champasack hereditary Prince Boun Oum and former leader of the right wing opposition, who field the country in 1975 after the Communist takeover, is quite possibly the most magnificent colonial building in Laos. His daughter-in-law now resides there and although it is not opend to tourist.
Si Phan Don: In colonial times, the French attempted to create a cargo route through Si Phan Don, otherwise known as 4.000 islands, by building a narrow gauge railway across two of the islands. Goods were hoisted from boats sailing up through Cambodia from Vietnam and then reloaded onto new boats above the falls on the Laos side, so it is obvious that the islands would have some French Colonial influences with their architecture.
It’s quite intriguing to observe these luscious Asian island that have French architecture such as Don Khon District Museum, built in 1898, or the now deteriorating colonial building in Don Khon.
Tourism Marketing Department, Misnistry Of information Culture and Tourism
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