Phongsaly's charms attracting more visitors
The number of visitors to Phongsaly province is rising steadily, with a significant jump from the more than 82,000 people recorded in 2015 to 103,583 visitors in 2016.
The province's tourism section is confident this trend will continue and is predicting at least 110,000 visitors in 2017, more than 118,000 in 2018, and a further jump to more than 126,000 tourists in 2019.
In 2008, tourist arrivals numbered just 41,000 and fell to about 37,000 the following year. An upsurge has occurred in the past seven years, with figures reaching about 46,800 in 2010, 47,000 in 2011, and 48,000 in 2012.
Visitor numbers picked up significantly over the past four years, climbing to about 57,000 in 2013, around 70,000 in 2014, and more than 82,000 people in 2015.
Tourism officials said the figures were collected from two international border crossings, the Lantui-Meuangkham entry point for people coming from China, and the Pang Hok-Tay Trang crossing for people entering Phongsaly from Vietnam, as well as from the province's airport.
Phongsaly is one of the remotest provinces in Laos and is dominated by rugged, mountainous terrain, and an abundance of rich forests and fast-flowing rivers. Most of the land is between 500 and 1,500 metres above sea level.
The province's capital, also named Phongsaly, is the highest town in Laos at 1,400 metres above sea level. Up there the climate is pleasant and refreshing and provides a view of endless mountains down to the canyon of the Nam Ou River.
The population is made up of 28 different ethnic groups, with the majority being Khmu, Phounoy, several different Akha groups, Tai Lue, and Hor.
Mr Khamphanh Soudaphone, from the tourism section, said the province was not a popular transit route but was attractive to visitors, especially people from Europe, who wanted to experience the beauty of nature, and the diverse ethnic groups.
“The majority of foreigners visiting Phongsaly come from Europe and are interested in observing the lifestyle of people here, especially in Phongsaly, Bounneua, Bountai, and Khua districts,” Mr Khamphanh said.
“Young Europeans like trekking and visiting ethnic groups, while older people made boat trips from the mountains along the Nam Ou River down to Luang Prabang,” he added.
Other visitors to the province are Chinese, according to Mr Khamphanh, who often arrive in large convoys to see the spectacular views along the road from Oudomxay to Luang Prabang.
Older Vietnamese make up another segment of tourist arrivals. Mr Khamphanh said they were interested in tracing the trail of history along the road from Vietnam's Dien Bien Phu province to Oudomxay province.
Thais riding big motorbikes also pass through the province. They typically ride through Laos' northern provinces starting in Bokeo and finish up in Dien Bien Phu.
The increase in tourist arrivals is partially attributed to improved roads.
Mr Khamphanh said the road between Bounneua and Bantui at the Chinese border had yet to be upgraded but was the main crossing point for visitors from China, while the road between Khua district and the Vietnamese border carried tourists through the Pang Hok-Tay Trang crossing.
There are also flights between Vientiane and Phongsaly every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, operated by Lao Skyway.
By Somxay Sengdara
(Latest Update March 22, 2017)