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Monday, December 15, 2008

Miss Aphone Contest 2008 to hold at the end of this year

(KPL) Miss Aphone Lao contest 2008 will be held on 20 December, at the National Cultural Hall, Vientiane Capital, according to yesterday's press conference held at the Lao Journalists Association.

Ms Panita Vanhkham, Manager of K&C company, organising committee said that 18 women will attend at the Miss Aphone contest 2008 that they will participate in various activities in the society. 

The competitors are now on rehearsal activities for the upcoming contest which the activity kicked off 3 December. The 18 beautiful women will learn about the Lao Traditional, food cooking and other traditional culture of Laos. The Miss Aphone contest is aiming at promoting fine traditional culture of Laos.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Wattay to make way for new airport

(KPL) The Civil Aviation Department (CAD) said yesterday that the government is scouting for a suitable site to build an airport that would give a good image of Laos to air travellers. 
CAD said that there is an urgent need to replace the present Wattay International Airport because it is close to the centre of Vientiane, it is located in a highly urban area of the capital city and the flights of the planes to and from the airport is a source of noise pollution.
Mr Vanpheng Chanthaphone, Vice-Head of the Civil Aviation Deportment said that recently there is an increase in the number of flights to and from Wattay but as its size and available facilities are limited, the government is seriously thinking of building a new one in a more suitable location.

We studied the options and we concluded that Wattay cannot cater adequately to the long term economic growth of the Vientiane Capital and morever its location in a densely populated area of the city means that many people night die in an unforseen air crash near this airport, he added. 
Recently, the Lao government gave the green light for the Booyong Company of the Republic of Korea to conduct a feasibility study to build a new airport. A ceremony was held on 5 December to commemorate the commencement of such a study and the two signatories were Mr Sommath Polsena, Minister of Public Works and Transport and Mr Lee Joong-Keun, Chairman of Booyong Company.The new location has been decided and it will be at Kilometre 21 of Road 13 South, in Xaythany district of Vientiane Capital and near the new International Stadium, the venue of the 25th SEA Games in 2009.
The Civil Aviation Department also said that a land area of 5,000 hectares has been set aside for the new airport and the feasibility study is expected to be completed by 2010. If the Lao government approves the plan, the Booyong Company will carry out construction work in 2011 and its scheduled completion date is 2015.

Lao tourist hits by global financial and economic crisis

(KPL) The tourist circumstances of Laos this year was affected by the global financial crisis and stemmed economy worldwide and the political crisis of neighbouring country occurred recent month, Chairman of National Tourism Administration, Mr Somphong Mongkhounvilay yesterday. 

This condition considerable impacts to the tourist of Laos and made a large number of foreign tourists canceled fight headed to Laos via neighbouring country, particularly the tourists who traveled with Thai airline,  he continue. 

However the turmoil has reduced and it expects the number of tourists with destination to visit Laos will soon come back to normal in this high season. 

Mr Somphong released his key note speech to open the 4th nationwide meeting of National Tourism Administration took place yesterday, Vientiane Capital where drew line-deputy governors countrywide and officials from relevant agencies. 

Over the past 10 month this year, over 1.3 million tourist visited Laos compared to previous year it soared 3 percent. This figure compared to the expected figure was not high according to the plan Laos will receive 1.8 million people and will receive income about US$250 million.

 In the period of 2007-08, Laos' tourist has considerably expanded which indicated that the Laos welcomed 1.6 million tourists in 2007 or increased by 34 percent and draw income over US$233 million which covered 8 percent of GDP. This income considers it the second rank next to mining sector. 

This year, 134 tourist companies are running their business in Laos that increased 22 companies and 1,381 guesthouses and hotels with 22,233 bed rooms.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lao Airlines loses US$ 300,000 due to Suvarnbhumi Airport closure

(KPL) Lao Airlines admitted last Friday that it lost at least US$ 300,000 or 2.5 billion kip caused by Suvarnbhumi International Airport in Bangkok closed for a week. 
Suvarnbhumi International Airport of Thailand is one of the biggest airports in ASEAN Nations which is main gateway linking to other continents worldwide, but when Thai anti-government protestors seized the airport on 26 November. 
This leads to the closure of Suvarnbhumi airport affected domestic and foreign travelers who are going to visit Thailand and other country especially Laos, said tourism officials.
Vice Marketing Manager of the Lao Airlines, Mr Sitthideth Duangsitthi confirmed that 2,196 passengers of Lao airlines who trapped at the Suvarnbhumi Airport leading to they cancelled and changed their flight for transit in Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia. 
Out of the total passengers of the Lao airline, of whom at least 23 Lao people trapped in the Suvarnbhumi airport in this case they decided to change to use the bus and train.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Opening of Nam Heuang Friendship Bridge and International Border Building

(KPL)The handing-over ceremony of the Nam Heuang Friendship Bridge and the International Border Building in Kaenthao district, Sayaboury province was held on 2 December and Mr Phouvong Korasack, Director General of the Laosamai Construction Company and Service Limited handed this infrastructure to the Lao government.
The Vice-President, Bounnhang Vorachit, the Minister of Public Works and Transport, Sommad Pholsena, the Governor of Sayaboury Province, Lien Thikeo and guests were at this ceremony.
The Vice-President carried out the ribbon cutting ceremony and declared the opening of this bridge, the third one to span the Mekong River along the Lao-Thai border and so provide linkages between Laos and Thailand.
Mr Bounnhang presented the Pathana medal to the Laosamai Construction Company for his contribution to the development of Laos and the Governor of Xayaboury presented congratulation certificates to the outstanding officers and departments of the construction company for their contributions to the construction of this bridge.
The Nam Heuang Friendship bridge and International Border Building Construction Project costs 14,584 million kip (US$1,700,000) and the Lao government funded its construction. The construction began in December 2004 and it was completed in November 2008.
This bridge facilitates the transportation of goods between Laos and Thailand.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Lao Airlines cancels flights to Bangkok

Lao Airlines yesterday cancelled four flights bound for Bangkok International Airport (Suvarnabhumi) after the airport was partially closed when anti-government protestors disrupted airport services.

Lao Airlines Marketing Director, Mr Rada Sounthone, told Vientiane Times the airline had cancelled two flights out of Vientiane and one each from Savannakhet and Luang Prabang airports until further notice.

He was unable to say when flights would resume as this depended on when services at Suvarnabhumi Airport could be restored to normal.

“We also have more than 300 inbound passengers waiting to board flights to Laos at Suvarnabhumi Airport ,” he said.

He said Lao Airlines would refund passengers' money if they decided to travel overland to Thailand instead. Alternatively they could fly from Vientiane to Luang Prabang and from there to Chiang Mai , Thailand .

If the flight on an alternative route costs more than a ticket on the Vientiane-Bangkok sector, passengers must pay the difference. But if the alternative route is cheaper, Lao Airlines will refund the difference.

“All of our flights are fully booked right now because it is peak tourist season,” Mr Rada said.

According to Thailand 's The Nation newspaper, Airports of Thailand (AOT) decided to close Suvarnabhumi Airport after People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protesters blocked an entrance, entered passenger terminals and scuffled with airport officials.

The closure, ordered about 9pm on Tuesday, involved stopping outbound flights. Inbound planes were still being allowed to land on Tuesday night, but could be diverted to key provincial airports if the situation deteriorated.

“The PAD members are now scattered around. I don't know who's who, or who's PAD and who's not,” a senior AOT official, Mr Serirat Prasutanont, told The Nation about 10:30pm on Tuesday.

It is not known how long the closure will last. According to Mr Serirat, the airport had scheduled 44 inbound flights and 40 departures between 11:30pm on Tuesday and 7am on Wednesday.

Thai Airways International (THAI) reported more than 21 flights - to Japan, India, Iran and Europe and other destinations - were cancelled on Tuesday night, affecting up to 6,000 travellers. Up to 10,000 travellers could have been affected on Tuesday night alone, according to airline sources.

The PAD threatened earlier on Tuesday night to close down Suvanabhumi Airport completely after several thousand PAD protesters blocked an entrance earlier in the day and caused turmoil for numerous passengers.

By Panyasith Thammavongsa
(Latest Update November 27, 2008)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Laos to request UNESCO recognition of Khammuan site

Laos plans to ask the United Nations' Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to designate a national protected area in Khammuan province as a world heritage site.

The area is known as Phou Hin Nam Nor ( Stone Pillar Mountain ) and covers an area of 82,000 hectares.

Phou Hin Nam Nor Head, Mr Sysomphone Southijack, this week said Laos made the request because the area was naturally beautiful and full of wildlife.

He said Phou Hin Nam Nor was added to the list of national protected areas in 1993, and is one of 21 such protected areas in Laos . The mountain is believed to have formed due to a volcanic eruption several centuries ago.

The government has listed Phou Hin Nam Nor and the Plain of Jars in Xieng Khuang province for submission to UNESCO for recognition as world heritage sites, Mr Sysomphone said.

“We believe the designation of Phou Hin Nam Nor as a world heritage site would help to attract more tourists to the province,” he said.

The protected area borders the Phong Nga-Kebang National Park in Vietnam , which was named a world heritage site by UNESCO in 2003.

Mr Sysomphone said it would be appropriate for UNESCO to include Phou Hin Nam Nor as an extension of this area of natural beauty.

The first place in Laos to be named a world heritage site was the picturesque and historic town of Luang Prabang , which was added to UNESCO's list in 1995.

In 2001 the Vat Phou temple in Champassak province was also added to the list. This temple is a fine example of early and classic Khmer architecture, dating from the 7th to 12th centuries A.D.

At the foot of Vat Phou lies the remains of the ancient city of Shestupura , first settled in the 5th century A.D and believed to be the oldest urban settlement in Southeast Asia .

By Meuangkham Noradeth
(Latest Update November 26, 2008)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ceremony to mark 40th anniversary of cave tragedy

Laos will hold a ceremony to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Tham Piew cave tragedy in Xieng Khuang province on November 24, an official in the province said yesterday.

The provincial admini-stration office's Deputy Head of Office, Mr Bounhome Thedthany, said Party and State leaders, officials and people from around the country would travel to the province for the occasion

The cave has been developed as a tourist site.

“This year a special mourning ceremony will be held to remember the people who died in the cave during the American offensive in Laos ,” he said.

“Thousands of people are expected to come to pay their respects to the 374 people killed when a US fighter aircraft attacked the cave with missiles 40 years ago.”

American attacks began in Xieng Khuang province in 1964 during the Indochina War. It was in the late afternoon of November 24, 1968, that Tham Piew cave was hit. Children and elderly people were sheltering in the cave while other villagers were working in the fields.

The US aircraft launched four missiles at the cave. The first and the second missed the target, while the third and the fourth entered the cave killing all 374 people inside.

All of those who died in the attack are buried in front of the cave, Mr Bounhome said.

Most people abandoned their houses when the Americans arrived in the area because the bombing switched from military to civilian targets, including homes, schools and hospitals. Some people made their home in the jungle, while others sought shelter in caves.

“Inside the cave fragments of Buddha images, cooking utensils, medical equipment and human remains were found,” Mr Bounhome said.

“The cave was also used as a makeshift hospital at the time.”

Traditional Lao Buddhist rit uals will be held on the morning of the ceremony, including a tak baat (alms giving) to the dead. The Central Lao Artists' Troupe and the Central Acrobatic Troupe will perform on the main esplanade outside the cave site the day before the anniversary.

The Ministry of Information and Culture is currently constructing a pavilion for the event at a cost of almost 200 million kip.

Tham Piew cave is located in Boumlong village, about 60km east of Phonsavanh town and is a popular tourist site. The Tham Piew museum contains items collected from the cave.

Laos is the most heavily bombed nation on earth. More than two million tonnes of ordnance was dropped on the country by American warplanes during the Indochina War.

By Khonesavanh Latsaphao
(Latest Update November 5, 2008)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Lao Airlines opens new route Luang Prabang-Udonthani

(KPL) The Lao Airlines has opened a new direct route between northern Laos' Luang Prabang and Udonthani, northeastern Thailand, to promote the tourism between the two provinces.
The opening ceremony for the new route was held last Friday at the Udonthani International Airport, Thailand, with the participation of Vice-Governor of Luang Prabang, Mr Khamphaeng Saysomphaeng, and Governor Of Udonthani, Mr Umnard Ponrattana, as well as Director General of Lao Airlines, Dr Somphone Douangdara. Relevant officials from both sides witnessed last week's event.
The Head of the Trading and Marketing Division, Lao Airlines, Lada Sounthone, said: the opening of the Luang Prabang-Udonthani air route is to promote the airborne communication and tourism between the two sister towns of world heritage of Laos and Thailand.
The flights between Luang Prabang and Udonthani will be available twice a week (Fridays and Sundays). The airfare in the first three months after the inauguration will cost US$ 70-80 (one way) and US$ 150 (return ticket).
Up to now, the Lao Airlines have opened direct flights between Luang Prabang and five international destinations in the region, including Kunming (southwestern China's Yunnan province), Hanoi (Vietnam), Siem Reap (Cambodia), and Chiang Mai and Udonthani, Thailand

Grassland of Xiengkhouang

In Laos you can see grassland only in Xiengkhouang. I showed these photos to friends they said that it's not in Laos.

I traveled to friend who works in this area. He brings electricity to the villages.

I like this place. It's beautiful.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

That Luang festival will be more meaningful

(KPL) Vice Vientiane Mayor said last Friday the annual event That Luang Festival falling on 7-12 November had been set to be more meaningful.

Mr. Somvandy Nathavong, whose post was mentioned above, said the Vientiane intended to make the event more meaningful because the event was to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Lao People's Army, the 25th SEA Games in 2009 and the 450th founding anniversary of Vientiane Capital in 2010.
Around 900 government organizations, foreign embassies, private companies and international organizations and non-governmental organizations as well as over 200 booths representing both domestic and foreign businesses are expected to take part at the event.
As the last few years, the administration of Vientiane has allocated the Lao International Trade Exhibition and Convention Centre (ITECC) for holding the eight-day trade fair (8-16 November.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Vientiane boat racing 2008

October 15, 2008. In the early morning Lao national TV started live broadcasting Vientiane Boat Racing Festival. I usually stayed home at this day each year watching the racing from TV rather than sitting on the bank of the Mekong river under hot sun.

This year I planned to visit one of our friends whose house is located near the river bank. We (2 sons 1 wife and me) left home at about 3 p.m heading North to Wat Oubmoung along Luang Prabang road. The traffic was terrible especially at downtown. Along the both sides of the road the footpath was changed to the bike parkings with 10,000 kip per one bike (the normal price is 2000)

We arrived at the destination, the house still has a fact of a recent flood and sand bags used to fight flood still remained. I could see some of my coleagues sitting around big table. This picture is typical as every houses located near the festival must receive guests the same way, food and drinks.

We stayed with the party not for so long before we moved to another house and start eating and drinking again not even know which boat is the winner. That happens to many people each year.

We arrived home after dark as it was raining a bit. At night the festival still continued without us. In the next morning we heard from TV that this year people could see more Nāga's Fireballs than last year

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The end of budhidst-lent day

Here come again Orkphansa day (ອອກພັນສາ). On October 14, my family prepared land fire boat (ເຮືອໄຟໂຄກ) made of banana tree and decorated with candle light in the evening as usual.

About 8 p.m we all went to nearby Wat to join the candle-carrying circle walk (ວຽນທຽນ). In the Wat there were more young girls with candles and flowers in their hands more than boys. About 8:30 p.m the monks hit the drum and gong and the walk around the temple started.

On the streets you could here the firecrackers and see firework. The famous Vientiane's boat racing festival (ບຸນຊ່ວງເຮືອ) will be in the next morning.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Vientiane prepares for 'Boun Ork Phansa'

(KPL) Vientiane Administration discussed the preparation for 'Boun Ork Phansa', the celebration of the end of the three-month Buddhist Lent, and the annual boat racing festival of Vientiane Capital.

Boun Ork Phansa will fall on 15 October, while the boat racing festival will be held on the following day to in preservation of the local tradition and culture.

The participants approved the appointment of different committees in charge of the preparation.
The meeting was chaired by Chief of Chanthaboury district Mr. Saithong Keoduangdy.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Tourists to Vat Phu increased by 5 per cent

(KPL) In the last 11 months this fiscal year around 30,000 visitors fro Europe, America and Asia have visited Vat Phu the second World Herritage of Champassak province.
The tourists from such origins is increased by five per cent compared to the same period last year.
A local tourism official said last week tourists from Europe, America and Asia shared the majority of Vat Phu's visitors.
Mr Khankham Kanbouta, the Head of Vat Phu Management Office said since last October around 53,800 tourists had visited the second World Herritage in the province. These included 19,257 domestic tourists and 34,627 foriegn tourists.
Champassak with the assistance from the government of France has improved the tourist site of Vat Phu and set up a project to preserve traditional handicrapt production of local people to attract greater number of tourists to the southernmost province.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Shops along the Mekong riverside to be removed by October

(KPL) The Mekong Riverside Development and Embankment project in Vientiane capital will require 146 families to remove their shops along the Mekong riverside from Vat Chanh to Kaoliao before October.
The removal is to support the implementation of the project including the construction of a dike, embankment and a 12-ha park for Vientiane residents, which will be carried out with a loan from the government of the Republic of Korea.
Relevant authorities have allocated some areas in Nong Niao area in Sikhottabong district for resettling the people who will have removed their shops.
A plan on constructing the park has been drafted and discussed at this week's meeting which was attended by Vice Mayor of Vientiane Bounchanh Sinthavong and relevant officials.
  • The park is to attract both domestic and foreign tourists and to benefit directly and indirectly income generation of Vientiane residents and contribute to the economic development of Vientiane, said Mr. Bounchanh Keosithamma, director of the Mekong Embankment and Development Project.
  • The park stretches from the junction at Sithanneua village to Don Chan Palace Hotel.
After completing the draft plan of the park we will continue accomplish the plan for the construction of the dike and embankment, said Mr. Bounchanh.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

UXO of Xiengkhouang

Xiengkhouang was heavily bombed during war time. Today people here use bomb shells to decorate houses.

If you see this, that means it safe from UXO

Monday, June 30, 2008

Luang Prabang world heritage certifies as smoke-free town

(KPL) The World Health Organisation (WHO) has handed over a prestigious award to
Luang Prabang world heritage town of UNESCO to certify Luang Prabang province succeeded in the implementation of non-smoking area.
Luang Prabang is the first world heritage town has been successful in establishment of non-smoking area and promulgated as smoke-free area which has been approved by Luang Prabang Administrative Board considering as national historical event.
The award was handed over by a country representative of WHO to Laos to Luang Prabang Deputy Governor Khampheng Saysompheng in presence of Deputy Minister of Public Health Bounkhuang Phitchit and other high-ranking official concerned, on 26 June, Luang Prabang province.
The main of objective is to build Luang Prabang heritage town as smoking-free town and reduce breathing smoking caused by other severe disease.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Vat Phou to have new access road

Champassak province plans to build a road to improve access to Vat Phou and to link the neighbouring districts of Phonthong and Champassak.

The provincial Public Works and Transport Department has plans in place for the 25km road but is waiting for funding, department head Dr Khong Soukaloun said on Monday.

“We are waiting for a loan from the Bank of the Lao PDR before we can embark on the project,” he said.

He said once the road was built it would make it easier for motorists to get to Vat Phou Champassak, which is the country's second World Heritage Site.

The road will enable visitors to reach Vat Phou directly without having to take a ferry across the Mekong River . It will also facilitate the transport of goods to neighbouring districts.

By making it easier for local villagers to take their produce to markets, the government will come closer to achieving its goal to eradicate poverty nationwide by 2020, said Dr Khong.

The proposed road will cost more than 100 billion kip (about US$12 million), said project head Salongxay Douangboupha.

Mr Salongxay said he was confident the road would go ahead and sufficient funding would be obtained to allow it to open for public use by 2010.

The project is in line with the province's aim to provide more convenience in travel and goods transport and boost production.

(Latest Update June 25, 2008)

Donesao Island to magnetize over 120,000 tourists

(KPL) A well-known tourism site 'Donesao' island in Tonpheung district, Bokeo province is estimated to welcome more than 120,000 visitors, said an official.
Director General of Donsao Tourism Site, Mr Pan Thipphavanh, continued that the number of tourists is increasing constantly, especially Thai tourists representing almost 90 per cent of the total tourists.
The entrance fee is not expansive, just only 2,700 kip or 10 baht per person.
Donesao tourism site has opened since 1996 and attracted only 1,000 visitors, however in 2000 the number of visitors increased to 70,000 people.
Last year, Donsao tourism site has been able to attract over 110,000 arrivals, where 20 ferries and 60 speedboats are available to serve visitors, and generated considerably to the district with around 400 million kip.
In addition, Donsao also earns incomes from selling postcards and stamps calculated for 30 million kip annually.
Chief of Tonphueng district, Mr Chomsy Lattanapan said that over 60,000 arrivals have visited Tonphueng district during the festival of Doke Ngiew Ban held last February.
He continued that the district had 600 million kip income, of which 400 million kip was income from Donsao Island.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Visas available at Attapeu checkpoint

Visas are now available on arrival at the Phoukeua international border checkpoint, which is located in Attapeu province at the border of Laos and Vietnam.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Consulate Department technical official, Mr Daophet Chanthalasin, yesterday said promoting the tourism industry was one reason for the change.

He said many tourists visiting southern Vietnam wanted to visit Laos by entering the country at the Phoukeua checkpoint, but were turned away because they could not obtain visas there.

Phoukeua became an international border checkpoint in January this year and is located close to where Laos , Vietnam and Cambodia meet. Mr Daophet said the three countries were developing an economic triangle, and the visa changes could help promote trade cooperation.

Visas on arrival in Laos for the citizens of certain countries were first available in 1990 at Wattay International Airport and then in 1994 at the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge between Vientiane and Nong Khai.

“Making visas available on arrival was initially aimed at facilitating visits of delegations between Laos and its neighbours, but now it also aims to boost tourism,” Mr Daophet said. There are now 19 international border checkpoints in Laos , but visas on arrival are only available at 16 of them, according to the Consulate Department. You can not obtain visas on arrival at checkpoints in Oudomxay, Saravan and Xekong provinces.

Oudomxay authorities have asked the government to allow visas on arrival in their province.

But Mr Daophet said facilities in that location were below required standards, because there was not a suitable supply of water or electricity, and there were no offices for officials.

“Before we arrange to provide visas on arrival, we have to ensure there is enough demand and there are between 100 and 200 people getting the visas each month,” he said.

“Otherwise, it will waste time and money.”

Mr Daophet said Saravan and Xekong provinces also wanted to offer visas on arrival, but they did not meet the required standards either.

More than 100,000 visas on arrival are issued to tourists in Laos every year.

The majority of these are issued at Wattay International Airport , the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge between Vientiane and Nong Khai, and the Vangtao border checkpoint, located in Champassak province on the border of Laos and Thailand .

The government recognises three types of border checkpoint in Laos .

An international checkpoint can be used by Lao citizens and citizens of all other countries.

A local checkpoint can be used only by the citizens of two neighbouring countries.

A customary checkpoint is used by people living in the neighbouring provinces of two countries.

Laos has more than 100 customary checkpoints. As more people start to use these checkpoints, they will be developed into local and then international checkpoints.

By Somsack Pongkhao
(Latest Update June 11, 2008)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

At Phonsavanh's airport

I took holidays. I and my family wanted to fly to Xiengkhouang, North Estern part of Laos. I travelled further to Luang Prabang. I invite you to follow my trip about which I will post from now on.

It was on Sunday, even I tried to book air tickets but I could not do so. So we went straight to the Wattay airport with risk. Luckily there were places for us, 2 adult and 2 children.

We flew on MA60 of Lao Aviation to Phonsavanh's airport which is also called Thong Hai (plain of Jars) Airport. It is located next to the plain of Jars.

Phonsavanh is the capital town of Xiengkhouang Province. It is located among many hills that have no trees growing on them.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Phousalauw mountain offers ancient treasures

A wonderful view surrounds Phousalauw Mountain in Champassak province, where visitors can enjoy historic sites and temples.

There are many interesting historic sites on Phousalauw Mountain in Champassak province.

Looking east from the mountain one can view Pakxe district and to the west Phonthong district. The two areas are linked by a range of hills including the sacred Phousalauw mountain, which is said to be the location of a legendary love triangle between Mr Bachieng, Ms Malong and Mr Champassak.

Phousalauw mountain is one of a group of hills known as the Maikhanmark (missed engagement) hills.

The area was first surveyed in 2007 by provincial officials, the Lao Buddhist Fellowship Organisation and various sectors in the district. Provincial tourism officials hope the site will soon open as a tourist attraction.

Phousalao Mountain has many sites of significance. Towards the bottom of the hill, visitors can view the stonewall ruins of the ancient Silakhamphaengphet temple. A kilometre away is a historic cave, where Champasilalam temple was once located.

Another point of interest is Salauw cave, where large sacred Buddha images have been placed. The cave also contains images and carvings of nagas and flowers. Ancient ceremonial stones, brought from the sacred Dinchiphoumalong pond, are also inside the cave.

Phousalao mountain consists of four tiered levels. Visitors walking up to the first level, which is known as Khammuang and is around 80 to130 metres from the bottom of the hill, experience beautiful natural scenery and are surrounded by thick shady forest.

The fourth level is known as the deunnnhon (airport) level and is about 350 metres from the base of the hill. This area has been used by past armies to establish fortifications and protect the surrounding region.

Surveying of the hillside is now complete and officials are developing the historic and sacred sites, including the construction of the Velavanchomphet-Phousalauw temple on the hilltop, in an effort to attract local and foreign visitors.

Apart from experiencing beautiful natural scenery and fascinating historic sites, visitors can also view the 80 metre high Khoinang cliff known as “The cliff where Mr Bachieng waited for Malong”.

Doksaletedannao is a reporter for Champamai Weekly Magazine in Champassak province.

Champamai is a collaborator with Vientiane Times.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Increasing tourism stimulates Oudomxay

Increasing numbers of tourists in Oudomxay province have prompted local and foreign businesses to compete to invest in hospitality, according to the provincial tourism department.

“Most of the businesses invest in constructing hotels and guesthouses to service the influx of tourists coming to the province,” the Oudomxay Tourism Department Director, Mr Sivanh Bounsavath, exp lained yesterday.

He said most hotels were three-star hotels, including one currently under construction by a Malaysian developer. Various styles of guesthouses are being built in Pakbaeng and Meuang Xay districts.

The tourism department reported that 60,000 tourists visited Pakbaeng district between October 2007 and March 2008.

“It was an almost 100 percent increase on the same six-month period last year. January to March each year is the high season for tourism here,” Mr Sivanh said.

Mr Sivanh said most tourists wanted to experience the natural features of the area, including various caves and waterfalls. Equally popular is trekking to visit ethnic villages and observe their culture. There is also a graveyard with graves as old as 1,000 years.

“Most of these tourists are from European countries, including France , Germany and England ,” said the Pakbaeng district Head of Office, Mr Inpaeng Panyathong. The district boasts the largest amount of tourist attractions in the province, he added.

He said tourists usually spent at least two days in the district, generating more than US$4 million in tourist revenue over the six-month period.

Mr Inpaeng said local people had discovered the two biggest chilli trees in the Mokpho were an extra attraction for many tourists. In addition, the tea grown in the area is the best in the province and has attracted investment from foreign businesses.

Mr Sivanh said many people in the province had given up traditional shifting cultivation.

“The arduous slash and burn agriculture has given way to new employment opportunities in the tourist industry,” he said.

Both Mr Sivanh and Mr Inpaeng urged local and foreign visitors to travel to Oudomxay province to see the lifestyles of the different ethnic groups, their handicrafts and the natural beauty of the region.

“Oudomxay holds its own fascination for tourists,” Mr Sivanh said.

By Souknilundon Southivongnorath
(Latest Update April 24, 2008)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Burmese art in Vientiane

In the neigbourhood of my house in Vientiane there is a wat with Burmese art. Wat Si Am Phone is located near the burmese embassy. The embassy paid for contruction a hall in Wat Si Am Phone. So this wat is the only place in Vientiane which has a hall with burmese art.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

PI MAI celebration in Luang Prabang

(KPL) This year’s celebration of PI MAI ( Lao New Year) in Luang Prabang was held with the more attractive events and bigger than ever.
On the first day of the celebration, falling on April 13, local residents headed to the traditional bazaar ( fair) held in the heart of the town with a total distance of nearly two kilometres.
In the afternoon, the focus of the celebration switched to the island of Done Sai Moung Khoun, on the opposite side of the town across the Mekong River, where thousands of people gathered to build sand stupas and release fish and birds to let bad things/omens go with the old year. The local people also organised a baci ceremony, dance performance, traditional sports, fire rocket and visited some natural and cultural tourism sites in the district.
On this occasion, the high-ranking officials from central and provincial level also attended at the event to celebrate with the local people.
In the morning of following day, people went to temples to water Buddha images brought down for public watering. In the afternoon, local people and visitors lined along the Sri Savangvong Road to watch the traditional procession of Hair Vor starting at Wat That Noi to Wat Xiengthong.
Early morning of the last day which is considered to be the first day of the Lao traditional new year, called Mue Sang Khane Khuen, people climbed up Phou Si Mountain, where the renowned Phou Si is stuated, to mark merit by offering steamed rice to spirits, called Yai Khao Phra, along the stairs up the mountain. The Phou Si Mountain stands abruptly in the heart of the town. In the afternoon the procession returned from Wat Xiengthong to Wat That Noi.
Nang Sankane 2551 was Miss Pavenaphone Boupha from Visoun village. 10 year ago, her mother and mother’s sister used to be Miss Sangkan.

Monday, April 7, 2008

More buses for Pi Mai Lao

(KPL) Bus Station will add more bus route on schedule service for the upcoming Pi Mai Lao or lunar New Year which falls mid-April.
“The bus ticket would remain the same price to cope with the increase of passengers who plan to visit their families in northern and southern provinces,” confirmed a senior official of Northern Bus Station.
The plan was discussed at the meeting on 3 April, was organised by the Public Work and Transport Department in collaboration with the Northern Bus Station and private-run bus service for north and south parts.
The meeting aimed at discussing a preparatory plan to cope with an increased number of passengers and a measure on checking the status of bus to ensure passengers’ safety and help them reaching their destinations during Pi Mai Lao cerebration.
“Each year, local people will visit their hometown and travel another parts of the country but the most important issue we are scared the inadequate buses during Pi Mai Lao.” said officials northern bus station, “The passengers saw a rise every years,”
This year, the Pimai cerebration will fall on 13-15 April. So we have scheduled about 24 routes per day on the northern part including 10 trips to Luang Prabang province.
This year, Luang Prabang was just awarded an international golden medal as the most popular tourism city. While Xieng Khuang province would have six extra routes and four extra buses to Oudomxay per day, said Mr Thongphanh Phommasit, Manager of Northern Bus Station.
Mr Ouennuea Sinlavong, Director of Public Work and Transport Office of Vientiane capital advised that all buses should have two drivers and the status of buses should be clearly checked to ensure the passengers’ safety along the roads.
On the occasion, Ms Chitprasong Luangdethmesay, Director of Northern Bus Station called for passengers with destination to northern part during Pi Mai Lao have to book the ticket first.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Tea from Baimone leaves of Keokoo

Last year I happened to visit my friend in Vientiane province. He lives in Keokoo village. Here they produce local product. That is tea. Tea is produced from Baimon leaves. They say this tea is good for health. However I cannot see tea of Keokoo being sold in Vientiane capital.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Rooms scarce in Luang Prabang for Pi Mai Lao

Although there are now many more guesthouses and hotels in the town of Luang Prabang than last year, almost all accommodation is booked out leading up to Pi Mai Lao , said the President of the provincial Hotel and Guesthouse Association on Monday.

“This year, we can accommodate around 5,000 visitors, almost 2,000 more than last year, but we still cannot meet demand during this peak time,” said Mr Kounchanthaboupha Vongsaravanh.

Luang Prabang was declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation as a World Heritage Site in 1995, the first in Laos .

According to a staff member at the Manolak Hotel, Ms Phone Chanthapanya, all of the hotel's rooms have been full for the last month, with most of the guests booked in by their tour groups. It is the same at the Phousy Hotel, according to the receptionist, Mr Phan Chanthavong.

However, the reservation manager at the Phouvao Hotel, Mr Phonxay Keuthbounmany, said 10 percent of the rooms are still available, perhaps because of the higher cost.

Pi Mai Lao takes place from April 13-15, but people usually celebrate for longer and visitors to Luang Prabang commonly stay there for around eight days, from April 11 until 18, said Mr Kounchanthaboupha.

Visitors had begun making reservations in January, both through tourist agencies and by individual e-mails, so that around 178 guesthouses and 35 hotels were fully booked.

Lao and Thai people account for around 50 percent of visitors to the World Heritage town on this occasion.

Mr Kounchanthaboupha assured Vientiane Times that room prices will remain the same even though there is a high demand.

The province is expected to cope better next year, when five five-star hotels, currently under construction, will be completed in time for the 25 th South-East Asian Games, to be held in Laos in December next year, said Mr Kounchanthaboupha.

According to a report given by Luang Prabang Governor Bounheuang Douangphachanh to President Choummaly during his recent visit to the province, tourism has the potential to play a leading role in the local socio-economic development process.

Mr Bounheuang said tourism is a top priority and the provincial authorities should ensure that all sectors worked with the tourist sector. Many tourist attractions have been developed in rural areas, distributing more income to local people, he added.

“We have cooperative tourist links with many countries. This is proving to be very effective because the number of tourists has been increasing yearly,” he said.

Some 15 flights land at the Luang Prabang airport every day. Income earned from the issuing of visas on arrival at the airport during the first five months of this fiscal year reached 5,661 million kip, a 96 percent increase compared to the same period last year.

Mr Bounheuang observed that the average annual income of the residents of Pakharm village, where the night market is located in the town centre, had reached US$2,000 per person, almost four times higher than the national average.

By Souksakhone Vaenkeo
(Latest Update March 26, 2008)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Konglor Cave road opens to public in May

The renovation of the 36km-long road leading to Konglor Cave in Hinboun district, Khammuan province, will allow the passage of all vehicles to the cave from May, said a senior official yesterday.

At present the road is still under construction, and larger vehicles have been unable to navigate the detour road for the past two months.

Visitors to the cave are recommended to take a small vehicle if they want to experience this amazing cave.

The Director of the road-building project, Mr Somchay Khanthasane, told Vientiane Times yesterday that workers are asphalting the road so it is closed to traffic. Road users must temporarily use a detour road instead.

Mr Somchay said that although the road will open in May, it might be necessary to close it in the rainy season this year if the construction of two new bridges is not complete.

“We are now putting down the first layer of asphalt. We will continue the work after the rainy season and the road will be in perfect condition by the end of this year,” he said.

At the moment it takes three hours to get to the cave after leaving main road No A8, as the path passes through rice fields and is very bumpy. In the wet season it's almost impossible to get there.

Once the renovated road is finished, it should take just under one hour, said Mr Somchay.

The new road is costing about US$4.5 million to build. The Asian Development Bank has lent the Lao government more than 80 percent of the required funds, according to the Head of the Khammuan provincial Tourism Administration, Mr Thayaphone Singthong .

He said the road upgrade is part of tourism development in the province.

“Tourism development is very important for people living near the cave and will help to contribute to poverty reduction,” he said.

The 7.5km-long cavern that has been earmarked as a tourist attraction was discovered in the 16th century under the leadership of the governor of Nalae district, now Nakai district.

In 1997, the government invited French experts to survey the area before declaring it an official tourist site in 2002.

Mr Thayaphone recalled that in 2002 only eight foreign visitors came to the cave, but this number had increased rapidly since then.

The cave is 30 metres wide and between 20 and 100 metres high and is located in the National Protected Forest Area of Hinboun Mountain.

More than 100 foreign visitors make the journey to the cave each month on average, he said.

Mr Thayaphone said that in the past the cave was not seen as a source of income for local people, but had now become an important money-earner for many in the area.

“Unspoiled natural destinations have the potential to attract more tourists to the province,” he said.

Community-based ecotourism services, including village home-stays and boat trips through the cave, are provided by local people who proudly keep local customs alive.

By Souksakhone Vaenkeo
(Latest Update March 11, 2008)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Vat Phou festival marks growing attraction

The country's second World Heritage Site is celebrating its annual traditional festival with a range of colourful activities.

A view of some of the ancient structures in the Vat Phou area.

The UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) added Vat Phou to its list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2001. The first such site in Laos is the ancient city of Luang Prabang , added to the list of world cultural attractions in 1995.

Last year provincial authorities celebrated the 5 th anniversary of Vat Phou's addition to the UNESCO list. More than 1,000 senior officials, local residents and foreign visitors attended the event.

This year's programme activities include religious rituals and locally organised activities, according to the Head of the Ancient Research Unit in Champassak province, Mr Bounlap Keokanya, and the Governor of Champassak district, Mr Sipaseuth Sengsavath.

The festival runs from February 16-21.

Mr Sipaseuth said a trade fair was being held to display and sell products from various villages, districts and companies.

Visitors would be able to explore the Vat Phou temple complex, built at the end of the 5 th century. The final day of the festival will see an alms offering ceremony, held in the early morning at Vat Phou, where hundred of monks will bestow blessings on merit-makers.

Mr Bounlap said Vat Phou was an important and meaningful place for the province. Its special place in history is based on various cultural sites, leading UNESCO to approve its addition to the World Heritage list in 2001.

According to UNESCO, Vat Phou is an outstanding example of the integration of a symbolic landscape of great spiritual significance with its natural surroundings.

The layout of the site is contrived to express a Hindu vision of the relationship between nature and humanity. Vat Phou exhibits a remarkable complex of monuments from different periods of time and different religions that made use of the site, spread over an extensive area between the river and a hill. The hill itself was selected for religious reasons, because of the phallic shape of its rocky peak, and the location of a natural spring at the top.

Mr Bounlap explained that Vat Phou has outstanding architecture, with many great works of art carved into its walls. Sculptures and inscriptions from the site are now displayed in the museum that lies at its base.

“The Vat Phou temple complex and the landscaping to be found in surrounding areas of Champassak are remarkably well preserved, reflecting a plan more than 1,000 years old,” he said.

He said the Hindu vision of the relationship between nature and humanity was based around an axis drawn from the mountain top to the riverbank, laying out a geometric pattern of temples, shrines and pools extending over some 10 km.

Two planned cities on the banks of the Mekong River are also part of the site, as well as Phou Kao Mountain .

This magical landscape covers about 390 square kilometres, on the right bank of the Mekong River . It includes the remains of an ancient city, the remains of the foundations of tall structure with pillars, a nang sida hall, a thao tao hall and a group of stone temples on Vat Phou itself.

The ancient city covers 400 hectares of Champassak district, according to Mr Bounlap.

Vat Phou is an excellent example of classic Khmer and Cham decorative architecture. At the foot of Vat Phou is the ancient city of Shestupura , first settled in the 5 th century AD, one of the oldest urban settlements in Southeast Asia .

Mr Bounlap said the group of stone temples on Vat Phou was an important reference point in the two periods of Khmer architecture in the 7 th and 12 th centuries. They were built on a hillside, which was very rare in Khmer architecture and ran along an east-west axis over 1,400 metres.

The provincial authorities, in conjunction with local residents, organise the festival in February each year, when people come from around the world to pay respect to a place that is highly revered in the south of Laos .

By phon thekeo
(Latest Update Febuary 18, 2008)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sikhottabong stupa gets facelift for festival

Visitors to the Sikhottabong Stupa Festival this year will be amazed at the new attractions on show from February 19-21 in Thakhek district, Khammuan province.

The Sikhottabong Stupa, where there will be a festival this week.

The district is busy preparing exhibits, including models of typical local housing, flower decorations and traditional clothing, and has improved road access.

“This year we are creating new activities to create public interest in the stupa and explain its history,” said the Chairman of the Sitkhottabong Festival Committee and chief of office of Thakhek district, Mr Phetsamay Phetlamphanh, last week.

“We are developing the stupa as a cultural park. We are also setting up a tourism information centre for visitors and will build a monument of Phaya Sikhottabong and models of the houses traditionally used by various ethnic groups. We are working on this project this year and the next,” Mr Phetsamay said.

Visitors to the festival are requested to abide by rules for entry to the stupa and the sim (the main sanctuary). The organisers are asking women to wear Lao skirts, or to rent one at the event if they are not already wearing one. Men are asked not to wear caps or earrings and should not be intoxicated.

The festival will also include an exhibition of handicrafts made in the nine districts of Khammuan province, as well as products manufactured in local villages, factories and companies.

There will also be football and petanque matches, as well as a drumming contest. Other activities will include a Phasatpheung procession, a taak baat (alms offering) and an evening candlelight procession.

Locals are busy with preparations and are ready to give visitors a warm welcome. They are delighted with the ‘new look' festival and are proud of the improvements made to the stupa's surroundings, making it a more attractive area.

More than 120 police and security officials will be on hand to give information and ensure visitors' safety around the clock.

Mr Phetsamay said “We want to keep the festival grounds clean, so we have arranged for people to sweep up the rubbis h every day. We'll encourage young people and students to pick up litter and try to teach youngsters that it's important to be aware of their environment and do something constructive towards solving problems in this area.”

“We hope to inspire interest and curiosity among children and young people in the history of Sikhottabong stupa; we also want them to focus on traditions rather than just the entertainment aspect of the festival.”

By Somsack Duangpanya in Khammuan province

(Latest Update February 19, 2008)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Elephant festival draws jumbo crowd

Several thousand local and overseas visitors travelled on long and winding roads from various parts of Laos to Paklai district in Xayaboury province over the weekend, to view the impressive sight of dozens of assembled pachyderms.

Xayaboury provincial authorities organised the festival in conjunction with the Lao National Tourism

Administration (LNTA) and French organisation ElefantAsia in the home of most of the country's domestic elephants, with a programme of activities taking place from February 15 to 17.

This was the second such festival, and built on the success of the first, staged last year in Hongsa district in the same province.

On Friday morning, the main streets of the small mountainous district were jammed and police had to stop vehicles entering the town, where the official ceremonies were taking place. About 10,000 people turned up to take part in the festival.

The opening ceremony was held in the district's Sports Stadium, where several processions gathered, including schoolchildren waving national flags and flags symbolising the LNTA and the festival.

There was also a procession of 59 elephants, a parade of young women dressed in ethnic costume, rocket-launching, and boat racing. Several people appeared in the guise of Pheekhol , a familiar ghost.

Standing Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad, Governor of Xayaboury province Dr Lien Thikeo, LNTA President Somphong Mongkhonvilay and a number of ministers and high ranking officials attended the event.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Dr Lien said the festival was part of efforts to incorporate elephants into the tourist industry, generating income for elephant owners and helping them to continue raising the giant animals.

He also said the festival served to create awareness among the younger generation about the virtues of these enormous beasts.

Dr Lien said Laos had a long connection with elephants and that Laos had once been named “The Land of a Million Elephants”, reflecting the fact that Laos had been home to large numbers of the animal; now, however, the population was in decline.

He said Xayaboury province had only 488 domestic elephants and few of them regularly produced young as they spent all their time working and had little opportunity for reproduction. The authorities were trying to reduce the workload of these elephants in hopes that their numbers would increase.

Mr Somphong said the LNTA would continue to cooperate with ElefantAsia and the Xayaboury authorities to organise another festival next year as part of efforts to promote tourism in the northern provinces of Laos .

He said these provinces had considerable tourism potential due to the area's untamed nature, cultural diversity and long history. He pointed out that Paklai district was a transit point on the road to the World Heritage town of Luang Prabang for tourists coming from Vientiane and Thailand .

After listening to the opening address, visitors stood and admired the slow procession of elephants, some of which were painted and decorated with the Lao flag.

The elephants performed for the visitors, charming onlookers with their size and grace, perhaps already in the initial stages of training for a greater role in tourism.

Dr Lien led leaders and visiting guests in a tour of the 87 exhibition booths, displaying both local and overseas products and services.

Tourists were offered the chance to ride the elephants and were also able to see them hauling logs and bathing in the river. At night, fireworks exploded skywards in celebration of the festival.

Visitors also enjoyed performances of traditional music and dance and circus acts from Vientiane .

By Ekaphone Phouthonesy
(Latest Update February 18, 2008

Guesthouses fully booked for Vat Phou festival

Guesthouses and hotels are now booked out in Champassak district of Champassak province, as crowds of people prepare to descend on the town to celebrate the Vat Phou festival from February 19 to 21.

Gov ernor of Champassak district Sipaseuth Sengsavath said yesterday that visitors without reservations may have to stay overnight in nearby Pakxe to be able to enjoy the festivities.

Provincial tourism office head Mr Sivone Vongkonevilay confirmed that there were still rooms available at hotels and guesthouses in Pakxe, but said he could not confirm whether this would be the case during the event itself.

In the meantime, Champassak district authorities have announced they will deploy forces to ensure traffic flows smoothly and to minimise congestion and road accidents.

“We have improved the road to Vat Phou and enlarged ferry landings on the Mekong to facilitate the transport of vehicles across the river,” Mr Sipaseuth said.

Authorities estimate that at least 30,000 people a day will visit Vat Phou during the three-day festival, and that people will begin to arrive as early as February 16.

A trade fair will be held during the event to display and sell products from villages, districts and companies, as part of efforts to encourage local production; so far, more than 100 booths have been booked.

Last year, Champassak provincial authorities held the Vat Phou festival to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the declaration of the temple as the country's second World Heritage-listed site.

District authorities generated 200 million kip from traders and visitors during the trade fair, and villagers were also able to profit.

“We hope the number of tourists will not be less than last year,” Mr Sipaseuth said.


February 19

District governor Sipaseuth Sengsavath will deliver a speech to officially open the festival in the morning and will talk about the aim of the festival - to encourage unity among villagers.

In the evening, a sports competition will be held at the Vat Phou esplanade, which will be an important event to select district athletes for the National Games at the end of this year.

There will also be a cultural performance, bringing together artists from Champassak district and province, alongside the popular Japanese band Gypsy Queen.

February 20

Visitors will be able to explore the Vat Phou temple complex, built at the end of the 5 th century, and learn more about the history of this intriguing site at the nearby museum.

The sports contests and performances will continue, showcasing artists from India and Japan .

February 21

An alms offering ( taak baat ) ceremony will be held early in the morning at Vat Phou, where hundreds of monks will chant blessings to merit-makers.

The continuing sports contest will include traditional games; there will also be a candlelight procession and more cultural performances.

(Latest Update February 13, 2008)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Jumbo festival hopes to save elephants

Elephant owners in Xayaboury province have been relying on the timber industry for many decades; they earn a living by taking their elephants to carry timber out of forests in areas that trucks cannot access.

The festival's elephant parade.

But since the government announced a ban on logging activities throughout the country, hundreds of elephants and their owners have had to give up their jobs. Many have had to accept that they will have to sell their giant animals to neighbouring countries and change occupations.

The government has recognised this problem and is looking for ways to help; the annual Elephant Festival is one such way.

This year, the Elephant Festival will be held in Paklai district, a mountainous town located along the Mekong . The district is home to many elephants due to the booming logging business that made use of the animals for several decades.

The first Elephant Festival was initiated and organised by the French-run ElefantAsia in 2007, and took place in Hongsa district in Xayaboury province.

Speaking at a press conference last week, governor of Xayaboury province Dr Lien Thikeo said the elephant festival had become an annual tradition, and that this year's event would be bigger and better.

It will take place from February 15 to 17; according to the official schedule from the Lao National Tourism Administration (LNTA), there will be several activities including competitions between people and elephants, an elephant “beauty contest”, boat racing and a rocket-making competition.

In 2002, the National Tourism Administration in cooperation with ElefantAsia organised a long elephant caravan from southern province of Champassak to Luang Prabang province. The 1,300 km caravan began in February to coincide with the Vat Phou Festival and ended at Lao New Year. Several hundred elephants took part in the event.

The main objective was to encourage Lao people to protect the endangered giant animals as well as to promote Lao tourism.

Dr Lien said elephants were animals with an important connection to the livelihoods of local people. During the war for national liberation, elephants were used to transport weapons and military supplies for the revolutionary armed forces. They also helped local people to carry timber from forests to villages to build houses.

“Elephants are animals with great virtue, but unfortunately we have had to witness a decrease in their numbers,” he said.

According to the LNTA, there are only 560 domestic elephants left in Laos , mostly in Xayaboury province. It is possible that this decline could lead to the eventual disappearance of these giant animals in this country, once known as the “land of a million elephants”.

According to ElefantAsia, there are more than 2,000 wild and domestic elephants in Laos , only 200 remaining in Vietnam and 150 in Cambodia . In Asia , there are thought to be about 15,000 domestic and 35,000 wild elephants.

The decline in the elephant population is due to several factors, the main one being that their natural habit has been destroyed by logging activities and, as haulers of logs, domestic elephants have to work hard, which gives them little chance to breed, according to the LNTA.

The LNTA also points out that the disappearance of the elephants would lead to the disappearance of some traditional customs and lifestyles; for example, Xayaboury people like to hold baci ceremonies for their elephants each year in recognition of their virtues.

This ceremony is unique to certain parts of Laos , and the fact that locals keep elephants is good for the tourist industry, as visitors are fascinated by traditional practices that no longer exist in developed countries.

Dr Lien maintained that the elephant festival would not only boost tourism, but would also serve to integrate elephants into the industry itself, possibly the only way to sustain a population now that they are “out of work”.

He added that by protecting the elephants, long-standing traditional values would also be preserved and could be incorporated into to urist activities.

Dr Lien called on local and international tourists to attend the elephant festival, saying he was certain it would not disappoint.

How to get Paklai

There are basically four ways.

The second way is to travel to Hinheub district in Vientiane province, turn left to Feuang district and continue on a long dirt road to Sanakham and cross the Mekong on a ferry to Paklai.

The first is to travel by boat from Kaoliew in Vientiane , taking either a slow boat or a speedboat.

The third way is to travel to Luang P rabang province, then to Xayaboury district, the provincial town of Xayaboury , and then on to Paklai district.

The fourth way is to cross the Vientiane-Nong Khai Friendship Bridge to Thailand , and then go to Thalee district in Loei province and cross into Khaenthao district, Xayaboury province, before arriving in Paklai.

Where to stay

There are 14 guesthouses in Paklai, with accommodation for only 300 visitors. Howev er, district authorities have arranged home-stay services – ask about these at the Information Centre. Camping places are also available.

By Ekaphone Phouthonesy

(Latest Update Febuary 11, 2008)

Friday, February 8, 2008

Paklai readies for elephant festival

Xayaboury province is getting ready to welcome local and international tourists to the second Elephant Festival, which is scheduled to begin next week in Paklai district.
“I would like to take this opportunity to invite business people, traders, locals and international tourists to join us for the festival,” Governor Lien Thikeo said yesterday at a press conference held at the Lao National Tourism Administration in Vientiane .
“You will see exhibitions of local products and many activities involving elephants, which will not disappoint.”
The festival will take place from February 15 to 17, according to the official schedule from the Lao National Tourism Administration.
Dr Lien said the provincial authorities and the French-run ElefantAsia had been preparing the event for months, and confirmed the festival would be bigger than last year's, with more elephants and parades.
Competitions between people and elephants, an elephant beauty contest, boat racing and rocket firing would all be part of the festival, organised to create an atmosphere of fun, he added.
About 70 elephants and hundreds of artists and performers will take part in the festival, according to tourism officials.
The Director of the Xayaboury Tourism Administration, Mr Sangviane Sengkannaly, said that the administration had prepared a number of places for accommodation.
The district has 14 guesthouses that can sleep only 300 people so the authorities are arranging for local families to provide a home-stay service for visitors.
He said about 400 families in the town of Paklai had agreed to open their homes to visitors, providing sleeping arrangements for more than 3,000 people.
He expected that more people would offer their homes in the days to come.
Mr Sangviane said that the price of a room in a guesthouse would be from 50,000 to 100,000 kip per night and for a home-stay it would be 25,000 kip to 30,000 kip per person per night.
“We have agreed on a suitable price for accommodation and all householders have promised not to charge more tha n this sum,” he said.
He added that guesthouse owners, host families and service providers had been trained in the provision of good service to visitors, and believed they would be impressed with the local hospitality as the people of Paklai were traditionally kind and welcoming. He also stated that people would have enough to eat, because there were plenty of restaurants in the district.
Mr Sangviane estimated that at least 15,000 people would attend the festival, and the authorities had arranged extra accommodation, if needed, in the neighbouring districts of Kaenthao and Sanakham, about 70km from the festival venue, less than two hours' drive away.
The first elephant festival was held in Hongsa district, Xayaboury province by the provincial authorities and the French-run ElefantAsia. There were only 49 elephants joined in the event last year.

By Ekaphone Phouthonesy (Latest Update February 07, 2008)