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Botanical garden preserves plants, teaches visitors about ecology

Welcoming Visit Laos Year 2018, Vientiane Times is publishing a series of feature articles and images
inviting you to experience the authentic nature, culture, history and hospitality of Laos, Jewel of the Mekong.

Luang Prabang is full of attractions both old and new but a large part of its fascination for visitors is the surrounding countryside and the area’s natural beauty.
This World Heritage Site always makes a great impression on visitors and one place that should be on their itinerary is the Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden.
This is the country’s first botanical garden and has been created in a woodland area so that it is admirably placed to preserve plant life.
Pha Tad Ke is on the other side of the Mekong River from the main town and boats go there every hour from the garden’s riverside office between 9am and 4pm.

 

The garden covers about 40 hectares in total but only10.5 hectares are open to the public.
Many visitors go there just for the day but I was there for three days and felt that was still too short because the garden had so much to offer. The staff were very helpful in providing information and I felt that I was not so much a visitor as a student.
It’s very hard to find a place like this in Laos where so much information is provided.
The 15 minute boat ride from the office in Vat That village was included in the ticket price to enter the garden.
When we arrived, we sat down by a beautiful wooden house while a guide explained the background of the garden and then gave us a map with suggestions as to where we should start and end.
If you plan to visit for just one day you should just follow the map and everything will be quite clear but as I knew I had three days there I didn’t hurry.
The grounds include a cave which used to be known as Pha Leu Si (Hermit) Cave (which features in the Twelve Daughters folktale) but is now called Pha Tad Ke Cave.
You’ll need a whole hour to explore the interior and you should wear good shoes and take a bottle of water.
When walking around the garden, do so slowly and read the signs. You will find yourself immersed in Lao history and will learn why forests and trees are so important in Lao lifestyle and culture. Plants are used as both medicines and poison and some are believed to offer protection against malevolent spirits.
Some plants have all but disappeared in Laos but one can find them in this splendid garden.
At noon you can go to the restaurant where you will be served a refreshing cup of tea. Choose from three flavours - rosella, lemongrass or bael fruit.
Rosella is said to be good for high blood pressure and weight loss, has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, and helps to treat coughs and colds as it’s high in vitamin C.
Lemongrass contains vitamin A, which is good for those who want bright eyes and clear skin, and also has high levels of potassium to help regulate blood pressure. Cholesterol levels are also controlled by regular consumption of this tea. Lemongrass has many other beneficial properties and is thought to be analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-pyretic.
Bael fruit is beneficial for the digestive system, with its high level of anti-oxidants acting to prevent gastric ulcers. It has anti-fungal and anti-viral properties.
After drinking the tea you can have a nice lunch of local food.
Some visitors spend just half a day at the garden and some wait until the last boat leaves.
During your visit, staff will teach you how to form the shapes of a bird, frog, fish, dragon and basket using strips of bamboo. This activity shows overseas tourists how important bamboo is in daily life in Laos.
In days gone by the garden area was the hunting ground of the royal family. There is a small old hut where some visitors like to make bamboo dragons or bamboo baskets to pay their respects and ask for good luck.
General Manager Mr Sith Nitaphone said the garden opened in November last year after 10 years was spent creating it. It has already attracted more than 6,000 visitors, with most coming from overseas.
Lao people aren’t familiar with the concept of botanical gardens and aren’t very interested in what they have to offer. But in fact they contain a fascinating collection of plants that are protected and preserved. Each plant also has a number that identifies it as part of the global collection.
Mr Sith said most Lao visitors come on organised school trips. But he hopes that in the future more Lao people will come independently because he feels it’s important that people get to know more about plants and their habitat.
During my time there I saw many groups of visitors, including schoolchildren, who were learning about forests and trees.
This garden provides a fine educational experience where children can learn about the importance of forests and trees and how to be a friend to wildlife.
But it’s quite a challenge to persuade people to care for wild animals because they would rather hunt and eat them. Today there are not nearly so many birds around because so many have been killed. However, the botanical garden is setting a good example by imposing regulations that make it illegal for people to hunt in the grounds.
I don’t know much about plants and this was only the second botanical garden I have visited. It’s very different to the one I went to in Singapore where they had a huge collection of plants including some from other countries. Many people go there every day, including local residents.
However, it’s great that we now have a botanic garden in Laos which can protect our plants and teach people about the importance of conservation and the need to respect and preserve plant life.

By Patithin Phetmeuangphuan
(Latest Update December 30, 2017)

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