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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)

Bokeo celebrates the blooming of dok ngiew

The annual Dok Ngiew (kapok flower) Festival in Tonpheung district, Bokeo province, attracted thousands of people last week, to celebrate the blooming of the flower in the area.
Miss Dok Ngiew 2008 contestants on stage during the Kapok Flower Festival in Tonpheung district, Bokeo province, held from January 30 to February 3. --Photo Ratsamy
The 8 th annual festival took place from January 30 to February 3 to promote tourism in the province.
“The festival is important to preserve local traditions and culture, as well as promoting tourism and enhancing unity among ethnic groups in the district,” said the Governor of Tonpheung district, Mr Chomsy Lattanaban.
The festival included various activities, such as a trade fair, sports competitions and the Miss Dok Ngiew 2008 beauty contest.
“Festivals like this one help to promote tourism in the ‘Golden Triangle' of Laos , Myanmar and Thailand ,” said the Head of the Bokeo Tourism Office, Mr Vanthong Chittakoun.
The event takes place each year to coincide with the blooming of the kapok flowers which grow naturally on 70 hectares in the district, according to Mr Vanthong.
Bokeo province is an entry point for many tourists arriving from Thailand before they make their way to other parts of Laos .
The festival attracted more than 60,000 people, both locals and foreigners, generating about 1.8 billion kip, according to Mr Chomsy.
Next year's festival is expected to be even bigger, because the district authority plans to invite tourism representatives from other Mekong countries, according to Mr Chomsy.
Bokeo province is in northern Laos , with its capital extending along the bank of the Mekong, at an intersection with Thailand and Myanmar .
The province lies on Road R3A, part of the major highway running from Kunming in China through the northern Lao provinces of Luang Namtha and Bokeo to Thailand . Parts of this route are still under construction but it is expected to be open to traffic soon.
It is envisaged that the 228-highway will contribute to economic development in northern Laos and facilitate commercial and tourism exchange with the neighbouring countries of China and Thailand .
The number of visitor arrivals to the province reached 68,487 last year, up 2.16 percent from 2006, according to the provincial tourism office.
There are about 85 tourist sites throughout the province. Sixty of these are places of natural interest, 18 are of cultural interest and seven have historical associations, according to the office.
By MK. Vongsam-ang (Latest Update February 06, 2008)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Old styled houses in Pak Khayoung

This small but quite old village is located on the bank of Nam Ngum river. Houses you can see here are likely more than 50 years old.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Beginning of trip to Vientiane province

Vientiane province is located in the north of Vientiane capital city. You can go there by North 13th road which leads to Luang Prabang. My trip was planned to participate in the wedding ceremony and we used another route through Nam Ngum bridge in Thagnone heading to Pak khayoung to see old styled houses, and from there using ferry to cross Nam Ngum again to wedding party in Phonemi. After that to see Nam Ngum lake and back to Vientiane.