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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Wan Awk Pansa in Vientiane (the end of Buddhist Lent)

Dear readers.
Every year on the night of 15th day of 11th month in the Lao lunar calendar (in 2007 it fell on October 26)is the end of Buddhist Lent which lasts for 3 months .

After ending of Buddhist Lent in my hometown - Vientiane there will be the boat racing festival, which will be organized on October 27.

The boat racing festival is the big even for people living in Vientiane and the whole country.

Usually it begins in the morning and finish in the evening. A lot of people will gather on the bank of the Mekong river to see the racing.

At night there will be illuminated boat processions - boats which are decorated with many small lamps and will be let go along river.

Also, every year on the night of 15th day of 11th month in the Lao lunar calendar at the end of Buddhist Lent (in 2007 it fell on October 26), an extraordinary phenomenon occurs in the area of the Mekong River stretching over 20 kilometres between Pak-Ngeum district, about 80 kilometres south of the Lao capital Vientiane, and Phonephisai district in Nong Khai province, Thailand. Fireballs spew up from the river. Everyone had doubts about this extraordinary occurrence, but later accepted what they knew as facts about the fireball: that it was not staged by humans, but happened naturally. So from then on, villagers on both sides of the river called this phenomenon the Nāga's Fireball. They believe that Nāga under Mekong River shoot the fireball into the air to celebrate the end of Buddhist Lent, because Nāga also meditate during this time

The fireballs have been seen for centuries and are most often reported around the night of Wan Awk Pansa - the end of the Buddhist rains retreat - in October only.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Laos wins international tourism award

The Laos Tourism Administration (LTA) has won a tourism prize out of 339 applicants from the Asia Pacific region.

The award was presented on September 28 when the Lao delegation attended the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Travel Mart 2007, held in Bali , Indonesia from September 20-29; the LTA won a Gold Award, according to a press release.

Some 27 awards were also given to another 23 applicants from organisations and individuals who achieved in tourism; 24 of the awards are Gold Awards and four are Grand Awards.

At least 800 people took part in the awards presentation ceremony, supported by the PATA and the Macao Tourism Agency.

The prize was awarded Laos because of its achievements in training tour guides at the World Heritage sites of Luang Prabang and Wat Phou, Champassak.

The LTA has trained its tour guides under the Mekong Tourism Development project, supported by the UNESCO and Macao Tourism Agency. The training courses have focused on raising awareness of the importance of protecting world heritage in the Mekong region, which is the location of ten cultural and historical world heritage sites.

This year, the LTA has received two prizes, including the Equator Prize for the ecotourism project in Namha, the National Forestry Conservation Area in Luang Namtha province.

By Somsack Pongkhao
(Latest Update October 15, 2007)

Vientiane to celebrate 450 th anniversary in 2010

On Independence Day, October 12, senior officials informed the public of plans to celebrate the 450 th anniversary of the establishment of Vientiane as the capital of Laos in 2010.

Around 1,000 people gathered at the National Culture Hall on Friday to hear a talk on the history of Vientiane and the background to Independence Day, which took place 62 years ago.

Dignitaries attending the event included Standing Deputy Prime Minister Mr Somsavat Lengsavad, the Party Secretary of Vientiane Mr Sombath Yialiher, and the Mayor of Vientiane Dr Sinlavong Khoutphaythoune.

Laos declared independence on October 12, 1945, after 158 years of foreign occupation. In 2010, this day will mark the start of the anniversary celebrations in Vientiane .

Mr Somsavat pointed out that Vientiane was one of the oldest cities in Asia . According to Lao history, Vientiane is actually more than 1,700 years old, in which time it has grown from a small village to a city.

The name Vientiane is derived from its founder, Mr Boulichan, who is thought to have first created the settlement in the year 236 in the Buddhist calendar.

In 1560 AD, Vientiane was named the capital of the Lane Xang Kingdom by King Xaysetthathirath, when he moved the capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane .

In Friday's lecture, Mr Somsavat said that the celebration in three years' time would acknowledge the capital's development and the devotion and hard work of past generations who had sacrificed their blood to protect and advance the capital.

“The celebration will give us the opportunity to understand the past correctly so that we can gain a deeper insight into the present. Our objective now is to develop Vientiane into a city that is comparable to those of our neighbours,” Mr Somsavat said.

This will be the first time the capital's birthday has been celebrated.

The Party Secretary of Vientiane Mr Sombath recalled how on October 12, 1945, more than 20,000 people gathered at the National Stadium where the Lao Issara government officially declared the country's independence.

Lao Issara leaders took the opportunity of the defeat of the Japanese in World War II to declare independence.

The Japanese forces that overthrew the French administration in Indochina in 1942 were forced to withdraw from Laos after their defeat in World War II.

Independence Day was the result of prolonged fighting by the Lao people to gain independence from foreign occupation.

Anniversary celebrations in 2010 will include an export drive to boost earnings for city residents, arts competitions, a beauty contest, and sports events.

Songs and films will also be produced, while the city pillar at Vat Simeuang will be restored along with the old city wall, the Sisaket Museum and That Luang Stupa.

Street lighting will be installed on the main roads to beautify the city ahead of the celebration.

By Somsack Pongkhao
(Latest Update October 15, 2007)

Friday, October 5, 2007

By 2010 you won't see Tuk-tuks in Vientaine

Tuk-tuks to be off the streets by 2010

A move to ban tuk-tuks and jumbos in Vientiane is scheduled to take effect in 2010, but drivers have expressed dismay at the proposal, fearing they will lose their livelihood.
Tuk-tuks and jumbos wait for passengers at the morning market.
Authorities see that these vehicles to some extent cause road accidents in the city, resulting in several deaths and injuries every month.
Director of the Vientiane Department of Communi-cation, Transport, Post and Construction, Mr Thongdam Xayphakatsa, said yesterday the department was preparing to put the idea into practice.
“We can all see that these vehicles are in poor condition. Some of them don't even have indicators, or front and back lights,” he said.
The department is trying to encourage the use of all vehicles for family purposes, and is seeking to improve the city's transport services, especially buses and taxis.
A private company in Laos has recently imported more than 30 buses from China , which will go into service in Vientiane in October as part of the capital's transport upgrade.
There are concerns that the ban will make life difficult for tourists, for whom tuk-tuks are the perfect mode of transport around Vientiane .
A British woman working here, Ms Angela Edwards, commented that the proposal to ban these vehicles was not a good idea.
“This form of transport is the most convenient and for so long I have been thankful that I could jump on a tuk-tuk, anytime, anywhere.”
“I think it is unlikely that a bus service could ever substitute for the convenience offered by tuk-tuks, and taxis are way too expensive. Tuk-tuks are the people's transport.”
“I've been told officials say they are considered sub-standard, but what is it exactly they don't like about them?” she asked.
“Tuk-tuks provide a form of service for which there is no substitute; it is one of the reasons I enjoy life in Laos ,” she said.
The ban has yet to be implemented, but it is a hot topic among tuk-tuk and jumbo drivers, who are concerned about unemployment.
One driver, who has been in the job for 16 years, said his earnings formed the family's main source of income. “I don't know what I would do if I couldn't drive a tuk-tuk anymore,” he said.
At present there are several thousand tuk-tuks and jumbos in Vientiane , of which 30 are stationed near Nam Phou fountain, and frequently used by the numerous tourists in this area.
They are mostly made from parts imported from Thailand and assembled in Laos.
By Somsack Pongkhao (Latest Update September 27, 2007)

Monday, October 1, 2007

UNESCO to review Luang Prabang's World Heritage status

UNESCO will send officials to Luang Prabang next month to see whether the town still warrants its World Heritage status, according to a senior official.

The head of the Luang Prabang Heritage Office, Ms Manivone Thoummabouth, said last week that the team of inspectors would arrive in Luang Prabang early next month, and will work there for two weeks to review all heritage sites in a routine inspection.

“They will come with a checklist to ensure all listed building and artefacts have remained intact in the 10 years since the town was listed as a World Heritage Site,” she said in a telephone interview with Vientiane Times.

She said the inspection was not unexpected, because UNESCO inspects all sites 10 years after they have been granted World Heritage status.

She added that UNESCO had proposed an inspection of the town last year. “Lao government and UNESCO officials reached an agreement on a deadline for the Luang Prabang inspection in August during a meeting in Switzerland ,” she said.

Ms Manivone said the team of inspectors had extensive knowledge of World Heritage Sites and remained independent from all state organisations.

UNESCO has removed certain sites from the World Heritage list in the past, including the city of Chiang Mai in Thailand , which was unable to maintain its sites due to rapid development.

Ms Manivone said she had a strong belief that the results of this year's inspection would be positive, because over the past 10 years local authorities have “done an excellent job in maintaining the area”.

She explained that many of the town's temples and houses were in the same condition as they were 10 years ago, and all renovations had been carried out carefully, in accordance with heritage guidelines.

She also said that while local architecture had been preserved, Luang Prabang residents had continued to maintain their traditional lifestyles; women still wear the traditional Lao skirt when offering alms to monks in the early mornings, an example of the many traditions that have largely disappeared in Asia .

Ms Manivone said the Lao government has always been intent on protecting its places of cultural heritage as they reflect the unique Lao culture, and help to boost the tourism industry.

“Many tourists come to Luang Prabang because of its World Heritage status,” she said, adding that this has led to more jobs and better incomes for local people.

(Latest Update October 02, 2007)