Bolaven Plateau, the coffee capital of Laos and a perfect getaway

Date 14 March 2018

Caption: Tourists enjoy zip-lining at Tad Khameud waterfall, a popular visitor attraction on the Bolaven Plateau.--Photo Phoonsab
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.

Coffee plantations and waterfalls set in lush green surroundings are among the key attractions of the famed Bolaven Plateau in southern Laos. The region is located at an altitude of 1,300 metres, about 50 km from Pakxe district, the capital of Champassak province. With support from the Ratch-Lao Service Company Limited, a small group of media representatives experienced the beauty of the plateau in the middle of November, the coldest month of the year in the region. We spent a night at the Phu Thevada Hotel at the top of the plateau when the temperature outside was below 10 degrees Celsius, and even colder in the early mornings. I had passed this area while travelling to the southernmost provinces twice many years ago, but never stopped to take in its charms. At that time, I had seen people burning trees to clear land so they could grow crops. This time round, I saw the region being improved through the construction of roads. Gardens, restaurants, resorts and coffee shops have come up on both sides of the roads. In the past, I saw only some small coffee plantations. Now, there is the Pakxong Highland coffee plantation along the main road with numerous coffee shops. The rich volcanic soil and abundant water resources have helped attract investors. Some of them have launched tourism services, and others are interested in electricity generation. A new 410 MW hydropower dam, the Xe Pian-Xe Namnoy, is being built on the plateau and is close to completion. Its reservoir will be beneficial to nearby rainforests. The Ratchburi Electric Generating Holding Public Company Limited (RATCH) is a co-developer of the project. The Managing Director of Ratch-Lao Services Company, Mr Sahachthorn Putthong, said that although the main objective of the project is the generation of electricity, it will also benefit fishery and agricultural activities. Pakxong district has 107 investment projects worth more than 150 billion kip, including 65 run by foreign investors, which are being developed on the plateau along National Road No. 16, or the East-West Corridor in the country’s south. The Bolaven Plateau is home to Pakxong district, one of the most popular destinations in Champassak province. While showing respect to the ancestors who protected this land in ancient times, the Lao people refer to Pakxong using the word “Bolaven”. During his visit to the district last month, Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith told officials and local residents they should be proud of what they have achieved and what they have today, and to treasure Pakxong as though it is a land of gold. The district was destined to become an important tourist destination because of its natural beauty, coffee plantations, and fruit, vegetable and flower farms. Tad Khameud, Tad Yeuang and Tad Fane waterfalls are among the highlights of this scenic area. Tourists can also visit a volcanic crater and a 3,000-hectare coffee plantation and taste amazingly fresh coffee. Pakxong, the coffee capital of Laos on the Bolaven Plateau, is located an hour’s drive from Pakxe, three hours from Si Phan Don, and four hours from Ubon Ratchathani province in Thailand.
By Somxay Sengdara

Ang Nam Tin, one of Huayxai’s hidden gems

Date 12 March 2018

Caption: The wooden huts on the bridge at Ang Nam Tin.
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.

Huayxai, the small capital of Bokeo province, is full of natural beauty. You can see most of what the town has to offer in two or three hours, but there are many other places of interest that make it worth spending a few days here. Start by taking a trip to Ang Nam Tin (Nam Tin dike), a mix of manmade ingenuity combined with peaceful natural surroundings. This place is well known by the locals but hasn’t been discovered by overseas tourists yet. It’s just the right place for people who want some peace and quiet and who have the time to enjoy the tranquility of the lake. I’ve been to Bokeo province many times but never knew about Ang Nam Tin until my last visit there a couple of weeks ago. I found it by accident after driving around for a while and running across it. The lake is the size of a small reservoir and we decided to stop there for an hour or so because it was lunch time and there was a lovely small restaurant that was clearly going to meet our needs. The restaurant had several wooden huts along a wooden bridge where we could sit down to have something to eat and drink. It took a long time for the food to arrive but it didn’t matter because we were content to enjoy our surroundings, which made us feel relaxed and realise that for once there was no need to rush. At the hut a boatman wrote down his phone number so we could call him to ask for a trip around the lake after we had finished our meal. This is definitely worth waiting around for as it’s not at all expensive. The restaurant was well organised but it was old and like so many other places in Laos the music was turned up way too loud. So it’s a great idea to contact a boatman for a ride out on the lake to enjoy the stillness of the water and to be at one with nature. The lake contains a lot of fish because every year officials release fish here as part of the Lao National Fish Releasing project, so you’ll often see them jumping out or splashing in the water and sometimes we saw them in large groups. Fishing is allowed using nets and the locals take full advantage of the good catch to be had here. All of the fish on the menu at the restaurant come from this lake. You can ask the boat driver to turn off the engine when you get to the middle of the lake where you can breathe in the fresh air and enjoy the silence. We decided to stay there for a while and found it hard to stop taking photos of the picturesque scenery all around us. We could see a hill on the opposite side from the restaurant which looked really attractive because of all the crops growing on its slopes. We wanted to get back to the restaurant before nightfall so we could watch the sun set over the hill and watch the locals jumping off the bridge into the water. You will love your time here and want to take a pile of photos and some videos but always take care while walking on the bridge because it’s old and some of the wooden planks are missing. Ang Nam Tin is located in Phouvan village, about 35km from the town of Huayxai. You can get there by renting a motorbike or car in Huayxai but always check the state of the tyres because half of the journey is on a dirt road. To get to Huayxai Coming from Thailand: Take a plane or train from Bangkok to Chiang Rai or Chiang Mai. From here there are buses to the border town of Chiang Khong in Thailand where you can enter Laos across the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge and then take a tuk-tuk to Huayxai town centre. Coming from northern Laos: Take the slowboat from Luang Prabang along the Mekong for a two-day journey to Huayxai, which allows you to relax, contemplate and watch people and the landscape pass by. You will spend one night ashore in Pakbaeng district, Oudomxay province. Or take the overnight sleeper bus from Luang Prabang, starting in the evening and arriving in the morning. It’s faster, but you won’t see much of the countryside. The bus passes through Oudomxay and Luang Namtha provinces on its way to Huayxai. Coming from central or southern Laos or Siem Reap: From Vientiane take a Lao Skyway plane, which fly every day at 8:30am and on Wednesdays and Sundays also at 12 noon. Book on: (international credit cards accepted). The flight takes one hour. Or, take a bus from Vientiane for a journey lasting a day and a night.
By Patithin Phetmeuangphuan

Temple at beating heart of community life

Date 24 Febuary 2018

Caption: Chomkhao Minirat Temple.
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.

A hilltop is always the best place to watch a sunset or sunrise and if you happen to be in Huayxai district, Bokeo province, the Chomkhao Manirat Temple is the ideal site from which to watch the sun as it sinks over the Mekong River. Everyone knows Chomkhao Manirat Temple if you mention Huayxai district because it’s the biggest temple in the area and is dramatically situated at the top of a hill, with entrance free to anyone who is prepared to climb the steep stairway. The temple is home to about 70 monks and novices and has its own secondary and primary schools in the grounds. You can learn about the origins of the temple and how it relates to the settlement of Huayxai in years gone by. At the entrance of the temple building there’s a fascinating painting depicting the folktale about Sithon and Manola. The adjoining wall is also covered with a series of murals portraying the tale of Phavetsandone. The temple is a popular visitor attraction and also a holy place where local people go to worship. It’s a busy place with plenty going on, and in the evening a bell is rung to herald the start of devotional chanting. Visitors can sit in quiet contemplation and pray to the Buddha images if they wish. The monks gather to chant the scriptures at 5:30am and just before 7am the wooden bell rings out to let people know that the almsgiving procession will soon begin. This is the signal for people, mostly older women, to sit by the roadside, wearing traditional dress with a sash over their left shoulder. Each of them has a bowl containing sweets, snacks and a basket of rice in front of them, with they will hand to the monks as they pass. If you wish to take part in this ritual, head to the main entrance to the temple on the Mekong Road where the saffron-robed monks and novices will pass. The temple was originally built in 1880 when it was just a house standing on a pile of stones, but it burnt down in a fire 10 years ago. Now the temple has five entrances and all of them have naga statues on both sides with main gateway having more than 170 steps leading to the front door. Local people mostly visit the temple in the morning and before noon when they prepare meals for the monks, but tourists tend to go there in the afternoon to walk around and take photos of the buildings and Buddha images. There are 500 hundreds of small sitting Buddha images on the right hand side of the temple, which is a popular spot for photos. But 5pm is perhaps the best time to be there to look down over the town and watch the sun gradually sink over the horizon. Men can go up to the drum tower to get a better view but women aren’t allowed access to this place. Some of the novices and monks can speak English and are happy to chat with foreign visitors to improve their language skills, while for visitors it’s an opportunity to ask them about their lives as monks or about Buddhist customs. The evening is when the temple is most colourful after the lights are turned on, but visitors must always remember not to make too much noise so as not to disturb the peace of this timeless and holy place.
By Patithin Phetmeuangphuan