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Keep areas of natural beauty unspoiled, DPM advises

Ensuring that Laos’ natural environment remains unspoiled is key to attracting visitors, Deputy Prime Minister  Sonexay Siphandone said when visiting Tham Namlod Xebangfay and Konglor caves in Khammuan province earlier this week.
Dr Sonexay went to Savannakhet and Khammuan provinces to monitor infrastructure construction. He visited the area from January 20 to 23 to inspect places with links to the ministries of Information, Culture and Tourism; Planning and Investment; Agriculture and Forestry; and Industry and Commerce.
Representatives of these ministries accompanied the deputy prime minister.

In Khammuan province, the group visited two caves. Dr Sonexay told authorities they should ensure that the caves and their environs were protected. The group was welcomed by local authorities and villagers at the caves before taking a boat trip into the interior.
The road to Tham Namlod Xebangfay Cave in Bualapha district is very bumpy and dusty and it took more than two hours to cover 50 kilometres. Supervisor of the Hin Nam No National Protected Area in Khammuan province, Mr Sisomphone Soudthichack, said “We really need the road to the cave to be paved because in its current state it discourages people from travelling here. Buses cannot get to the cave, even though we often get requests from tour groups.”
“One group of 300 to 400 people contacted us about coming to the cave but we had to turn them down because there’s no way a 45-seater bus can travel on this road. But if people do turn up we can serve them with fish, pork, chicken, vegetables and sticky rice,” he added.
It’s possible to go for short walks around the cave and explore the interior fairly deeply. These special activities are arranged by Green Discovery and other tour operators using their own guides, Mr Sisomphone said.
“Inside the cave you need a torch while taking a boat trip. The most direct route through the cave is 6.4 km long but our villagers mostly arrange boat trips over a distance of just one kilometre. But another section of the cave is 14.7 km long,” he added.
The cave officially opened to the public in 2013. At first there were very few visitors, but last year more than 1,000 people came to the site. They were mostly foreigners and arrived on motorbikes and 4-wheel drive vehicles.
Nongping village, where the cave is located, currently has three families who offer homestays (four visitors per family). There is also a larger village homestay that can accommodate at least 10 people. Bualapha district also has three guesthouses with over 60 rooms. Visitors can also camp near the cave.
At the cave, 21 guides and 21 boats are available for use by visitors. Each boat can carry three people and costs 60,000 kip. Entrance to the cave costs 30,000 kip for foreign visitors and 10,000 kip for Lao.
At Konglor Cave, the President of the Konglor-Natan Eco-tourism Association, Mr Saly Thongsavanh, said “Our urgent need is for officials to help us repair the Namhai bridge in Nakham village after it was hit by heavy rainfall and flooding during the rainy season last year. Public buses and tour buses with 45 seats can’t cross the bridge to get to the cave.”
“This year, we hope to draw more tourists by improving homestay facilities, adding more trekking activities and providing kayaks for rent. We also plan to install batteries in the boats we use in place of engines so they are more environmentally friendly,” he added. There are 66 boats available for use by tourists and this year they are expecting a lot of visitors because tour companies are already making bookings. So far this high season, over 2,000 people have visited Konglor Cave.
In the whole of 2018, at least 18,000 people visited the cave. This was fewer than in 2017 when the number hit 19,000 people, of whom 70 percent came from France and other European countries. Now, more tourists from Korea, China and Thailand are coming to the cave. Visitor numbers are expected to surge after Laos and China officially launch Visit Laos-China Year 2019 today.

ByTimes Reporters
(Latest Update January 25, 2019)


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