Category Archives: Eco-Tourism

Lumberings & Longings: Trials, Tales As Domesticated Elephants, Handlers Adjust to A New Era in Laos

Laos Mahout

Like wildlife in biological hotspots worldwide, Laos’ wild and domesticated elephants alike are facing a time of rapid and significant change, amid increased man-made developments and a fast-changing natural and socio-economic environment, Laotian Times writes.

The Bolaven Plateau: a Coffee Lover’s Paradise

Pakse is often the starting point for journeys south, because there is easy access to rental cars and organized tours. Pakse is a melting pot of tourists with several cafes and restaurants, while local tour operators in Pakse can arrange trips to the Bolaven Plateau or other attractions in the South.

We decided to stay one night near Paksong, before being picked up by our tour guide the next day to drive into the unknown reaches of the Plateau. In the morning, we were picked up by our guide, Mr. Khamsone Souvannakhily of Mystic Mountain Coffee.

Khamsone arrived in a 1945-era army Jeep, a vehicle which adds a sense of adventure to the experience of the tour. Khamsone’s enthusiasm is infectious, fuelled by his passion for his advocacy and knowledge about the region, and coffee (of course), and the uniqueness of the Bolaven Plateau; his tour gave us great insights on the history of the Plateau and the start of coffee production 100 years ago.

Born and raised in the Bolaven Plateau, Khamsone’s family has been working with coffee for more than forty years. His plantation is located at the heart of the Plateau, a two-hour and a half drive away, due to the poor road condition. It was an exciting ride while being greeted by smiles from children playing by the riverside. From a distance, the beautiful traditional Lao house stands in the middle of rows and rows of coffee plants and recently planted avocado trees all situated on a small hill. There is a large garden outside, with a coop for chickens and a pond for catfish. His house is immaculately kept, and the guest room provides much-needed comfort after the journey.

Meals are included in the tour and guests are treated to huge servings of scrumptious Lao food prepared by Khamsone’s wife. During dinner Khamsone regaled us with stories about the secret American base on the Plateau during the Vietnam War, and that farmers are still in danger from unexploded ordnance (UXO) that has yet to be cleared.

Khamsone started his career doing odd jobs and aided his education by learning and practicing English as a bellboy at a hotel. Little by little he was able to purchase land and fulfil his dream of having a coffee plantation. His plantation is now 16 hectares in size due to hard work and perseverance; but like any success story, it started with a failure. He is a farmer by heart; and after purchasing his farm, he started making profit for himself and his community by growing and selling coffee. Then, in January 2014, half of his coffee field was destroyed by frost. Afraid of telling his wife what happened, he was urgently thinking of other ways to earn money. This was the starting point of Mystic Mountain Coffee Tours. 4 years later, supported by his good grasp of the English language, he’s at the top of his game.

After a contented sleep, we woke to the sound of roosters, while a hearty breakfast awaited. We toured the nearby village, and Khamsone made his rounds to his workers’ houses. The women of the village do the sorting of the coffee beans. While the job might seem monotonous, it gives women the opportunity of working while taking care of the household. Through Khamsone, women are provided with a steady flow of additional income for their families. Additionally, if there are more guests joining the tour, then he will hire additional guides and jeeps.

It was quite overwhelming to witness how much work goes into a cup of coffee, with most families in the villages of the Bolaven Plateau supporting themselves through the coffee industry. Seeing how the people of Khamsone’s village wake up before sunrise to plough the fields and pick the fruit, and how the women dry and sort the beans, it is a good reminder of the importance of knowing how ethically sourced your coffee is.

Mystic Mountain Coffee Tours offers a deep understanding of the coffee process; from cherry to cup. The tours have expanded over the years to include trekking, jeep tours, coffee production lessons and cooking classes for guests.

Tad Hang Waterfall

 

Getting there:

Mystic Mountain Homestay is located several hours outside of Pakse.

Lao Airlines flies there daily from Luang Prabang and Vientiane,

and four times per week from Bangkok. http://mysticmountain.coffee

 

Originally Published in: Champa Meuanglao

Text by BENJAMIN BARUTZKI

Photo by SWISS CONTACT & MYSTIC MOUNTAIN COFFEE

Plastic-free, Climate-friendly: Mekong Boat Race Crew, UN Hit the H20 in Laos

Thapha village boat racing team

 

“The recent floods around the country have made it clear; Water is both a life resource and a threatening factor. The Thapha village team, in Vientiane province’s Hadxayfong district, takes a leap towards climate action, in urging us all to stop using single-use plastic bags, cups and bottles, to keep the beautiful Mekong river clean.

– United Nations in Lao PDR,
October 24, 2018
#UNDay2018

With the full moon finale to Buddhist Lent Wednesday and annual boat racing events Thursday, Laos and its capital’s downtown riverside are alive with festive fever once again.

In a certain corollary with traditional New Year celebrations in April, water will once again be at the heart of the celebration in the Lao capital.

This time, the precious element will provide centre stage as crews of 20 odd battle for supremacy on the Mekong River in front of cheering multitudes once again.

Sadly, another similarity between this and other festivals will bin the tonnes of waste generated in the form of single-use plastics, some of which will end up in the famed waterway.

Reducing this is toll is a goal shared by policymakers and urban authorities in the capital with support from civil society groups and from the UN and its relevant agencies.

Of course, the boat racing celebrations are a popular release after three lunar months of Lenten “rains retreat” observed in various forms by the ordained monks and novices and a great many lay devotees among the majority Buddhist nation.

Amid celebrations sacred and civil, there is also a time to reflect upon the power of water to give and take.

The flash flooding disaster in Sanamxay district, Attapeu province as a result of a saddle dam collapse was the most damaging and high profile of several weather-related or exacerbated disasters in Laos this year.

Water was a major factor in the disasters that exerted costs on peoples lives. At the same time, water also makes life possible.

At the same time, single-use plastic is choking rivers and oceans, posing the water that we drink. Water-related disasters such as flash floods and tsunami lead not only to human losses but also the release of vasts amounts of plastic and other pollution.

Putting people at the heart of the solutions has seen the UN in Lao PDR put its shoulder behind a crew of rowers from a rural part of the rapidly urbanizing capital to help spread the message of individual and collective climate action and the reduction of single-use plastic, as captured in this video:

UN in Lao PDR supports Thapha village boat racing team

[Scroll down for English] ໄພນໍ້າຖ້ວມໃນທົ່ວປະເທດເມື່ອບໍ່ດົນມານີ້ ເຫັນໄດ້ຊັດເຈນວ່າ ນໍ້າເປັນທັງແຫຼ່ງຊັບພະຍາກອນສຳລັບການດຳລົງຊີວິດ ແລະ ເປັນທັງໄພຄຸກຄາມຕໍ່ການດຳລົງຊີວິດ. ການປ່ຽນແປງຂອງສະພາບດິນຟ້າອາກາດ ໄດ້ກໍ່ໃຫ້ເກີດເຫດການໄພພິບັດທາງທຳມະຊາດທີ່ຮ້າຍແຮງ ແລະ ພວກເຮົາທັງໝົດຕ້ອງມີສ່ວນຮ່ວມໃນການຮັບມືກັບການປ່ຽນແປງຂອງສະພາບດິນຟ້າອາກາດ.ປີນີ້, ອົງການສະຫະປະຊາຊາດ ໄດ້ໃຫ້ການສະໜັບສະໜຸນເຮືອຊ່ວງໜຶ່ງລໍາ ຕິດພັນກັບຂໍ້ຄວາມສຳຄັນທີ່ວ່າ: ທີມບ້ານທ່າພະ, ເມືອງຫາດຊາຍຟອງ, ນະຄອນຫຼວງວຽງຈັນ, ຮ່ວມສົ່ງເສີມການຮັບມືກັບການປ່ຽນແປງຂອງສະພາບດິນຟ້າອາກາດ ໂດຍຮຽກຮ້ອງໃຫ້ພວກເຮົາຢຸດຕິການໃຊ້ຖົງຢາງ, ຈອກຢາງ ແລະ ກະຕຸກຢາງທີ່ໃຊ້ໄດ້ພຽງຄັ້ງດຽວ ເພື່ອຮັກສາຄວາມສະອາດຂອງແມ່ນໍ້າຂອງທີ່ສວຍງາມ. ຂໍເຊີນທ່ານມາທີ່ທ່າວັດຈັນ, ນະຄອນຫຼວງວຽງຈັນມື້ອື່ນ ເພື່ອໃຫ້ກຳລັງໃຈທີມບ້ານທ່າພະ ແລະ ສະໜັບສະໜຸນໃຫ້ແມ່ນໍ້າຂອງກາຍເປັນແມ່ນໍ້າທີ່ປອດພລາສຕິກ! ແລ້ວພົບກັນເດີ້!The recent floods around the country have made it clear: Water is both a life resource and a threatening factor. Climate change exacerbates extreme weather events, and we all have our own stake in climate action. This year, the United Nations is supporting a boat racing team with a special message: The Thapha village team, in Vientiane province’s Hadxayfong district takes a leap towards climate action, in urging us all to stop using single-use plastic bags, cups and bottles, to keep the beautiful Mekong river clean. Come to the river bank in Vientiane tomorrow to root for the Thapha team and a river free of plastic! See you there!#MyChoiceOurFuture#BeatPlasticPollution#UNDay2018UN Environment Asia Pacific UNDP in Asia and the Pacific UNFCCC Global Environment Facility European Union in Laos U.S. Embassy Vientiane Ambassade de France au Laos / ສະຖານທູດຝຣັ່ງ ປະຈຳ ສປປ ລາວ UNV Regional Office: Asia & the Pacific UN Volunteers Programme in Lao PDR @Unicef Laos @World Bank Laos – ທະນາຄານໂລກ JICA Laos -ອົງການຮ່ວມມືສາກົນຢີ່ປຸ່ນ- KOICA 라오스 사무소 KOICA Office in Lao PDR YOUTH Development Center, Vientiane Capital STELLA – ສະເຕ່ວລ້າ Lao Youth Radio FM 90.0 Mhz Lao Youth Union GIZ Laos IUCN IUCN Water Programme Break Free From Plastic Greenpeace Southeast Asia Global Water Forum World Water Council – Conseil Mondial de l'Eau WWF-Laos Vientiane Times ໂທລະໂຄ່ງ TholaKhong Mahason Magazine Laos Briefly

Posted by United Nations in Lao PDR on ວັນອັງຄານ ທີ 23 ຕຸລາ 2018

The UN in Lao PDR on Facebook writes:

 

The recent floods around the country have made it clear; Water is both a life resource and a threatening factor.

Climate change exacerbates extreme weather events, and we all have our own stake in climate action. 
This year, the United Nations is supporting a boat racing team.

The Thapha village team, in Vientiane province’s Hadxayfong district, takes a leap towards climate action, in urging us all to stop using single-use plastic bags, cups and bottles, to keep the beautiful Mekong river clean.

Come to the river bank in Vientiane tomorrow to root for the Thapha team and a river free of plastic! See you there!”

#MyChoiceOurFuture #BeatPlasticPollution #UNDay2018 

Simple, Natural, Innovative As BambooLao Straws Slurp Up Tourism Award

Luang Prabang’s very own BambooLao has captured the top prize and a US$10,000 Innovation Grant in the 2018 Mekong Innovative Startups in Tourism (MIST) challenge, which is described as “an elite travel startup competition, supported by the Australian Government and Asian Development Bank, (including) Asia’s most prominent travel-specialized venture capitalists among its advisors.

“BambooLao is on a mission to eliminate single-use plastics from hotels and resorts across Asia. They have produced more than 80,000 reusable bamboo straws and other bamboo utensils, using indigenous bamboo varieties and a proprietary natural treatment process.

“Their straws are used by Aman Group, Pullman, Rosewood Group, and Sofitel properties, as well as EXO Travel tours. BambooLao estimates their environmentally-friendly products have displaced the use of 5 million single-use plastic straws.”

MIST’s top prize comes with a USD10,000 innovation grant.

 

BambooLao

Winner of MIST’s 2018 Startup Accelerator, Laos’ Luang Prabang’s BambooLao.

“The MIST innovation grant will help us scale–up production from one to three villages. We must invest in capacity to meet growing international demand,” said BambooLao founder Arounothay Khoungkhakoune was reported as saying.

Bamboo Straws Production
Bamboo straw production a community process.

Vietnamese startup Ecohost reportedly captured MIST’s second prize and received a USD5,000 grant. Ecohost facilitates quality tourism experiences in the Vietnamese countryside, working with rural communities to develop tours and activities while improving the capacity of local homestays to serve international guests.

“BambooLao, Ecohost, and other MIST finalists demonstrate how the Mekong region’s bright, innovative entrepreneurs are finding practical solutions to solve industry problems while striving to make tourism more inclusive and sustainable,” said Jens Thraenhart, co-organizer of MIST and executive director of the Mekong Tourism Coordinating Office.

According to the organisation, “MIST supports high-growth-potential emerging market startups in travel and hospitality, particularly startups that generate positive impacts for communities, culture, and the environment. The program’s five 2018 finalists refined their business acumen and pitching skills during MIST’s weeklong business fundamentals boot camp, five months of customized coaching by industry experts, and MIST pitch competitions in Ho Chi Minh City, Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, and ITB-Asia’s Mekong Travel Startup Forum in Singapore.”

 

Si Phan Don – The Original River Life Experience

River Life Experience Tour Southern Laos

When I first visited Si Phan Don, which literally translates to Four Thousand Islands, I had the feeling that the pace of life in the rest of Laos might be a little fast. Here is where I came to understand the true meaning of ‘sabai-sabai’ or ‘taking it easy’.

Laos, Mekong habitat hotspot aid helps communities, climate, conservation

Human lives and habitats intertwine

With a habitat range boasting more biodiversity per square metre than the mighty Amazon basin, the arc where mountains meet the plains via the Mekong and other major river valleys form the Indo-Burma hotspot that includes Laos is well known as an area of immense natural and ecological value that is nevertheless under increased threat from degradation as populations and demands grow and the climate changes.

Efforts to protect, preserve and nurture wildlife habitat and the landscapes as well as the communities that live nearby have been given a boost via a 4-year project to support conservation activities centered on six high biodiversity landscapes in Lao PDR, Myanmar and Cambodia.

Encompassing some 14 protected areas in total regionwide, the Financing Agreement for the conservation of biodiversity and green growth in the Indo-Burma hotspot is co-financed by the Agence Française de Développement (AFD), the French Global Environment Facility (FFEM) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

The hotspots in Laos subject to the agreement include Phou Sithone (Bolihamxay), Nam Gnouang (Bolikhamxay) and Nam et Phou Louey (Houapanh LPB and Xieng Khuang). 

The three parties inked an agreement in Vientiane Wednesday for joint implementation by local authorities of each country, the private sector and WCS teams on the ground.

The project will focus on 5 key components and follows a first 4-year phase (2014-2018) and aims at strengthening the achievements, extending geographical coverage and developing integrated management models for landscapes.

Components include (i) an integrated landscape management approach, (ii) development of community-led enterprises that value the conservation of biodiversity, (iii) Improvement of commercial practices for green growth, (iv) promotion of the application of environmental, social and governance safeguard standards, and (v) communication and experience-sharing.

‘Climate and Biodiversity are global common goods. Tackling climate change and preserving biodiversity are top priorities for France,’ Her Excellency Ms Florence Jeanblanc-Risler, Ambassador of France to the Lao PDR told the gathering for the signing of the agreement in Vientiane attended by Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Mr Khambounnath Xayanone and Director-General of Department of Forestry, Mr Susath Xayakhoummaane and representatives of the embassies of Myanmar and Cambodia to Laos.

“This project will directly address the strategies identified in Laos’ National Biodiversity and Action Plan that aims to enhance the role of biodiversity as a national heritage and as a substantial contributor to poverty alleviation, as well as sustainable and resilient economic growth,’ Dr Santi Saypanya, WCS Lao PDR Deputy Director said.

He said WCS has been present in the countries of Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia for over 20 years.

This project ‘fits very well within the National Biodiversity Strategies of each country, and setting up public-private partnerships to finance the protection of biodiversity is a sustainable mechanism to be modeled for ensuring inclusive local economic development’, Mr. Matthieu Bommier, Head of AFD Vientiane Office, told the gathering.

‘Lessons emerging from WCS’s regional program show that responding to large-scale drivers of deforestation in high biodiversity landscapes requires solutions that integrate action across multiple scales with engagement of local communities, government, business sector developers, and financial investors.

“These drivers of deforestation, which are local, national and international in scope and scale, continue to exert severe and growing pressure on protected areas and local livelihoods in these high biodiversity landscapes, and demand sustained and coordinated action at multiple scales to address them,’ he said.

This presence forms the backbone of the WCS Greater Mekong priority region, providing the most advanced WCS regional program in terms of addressing major cross-cutting threats to biodiversity conservation and human welfare.

WCS has multi-year MoUs with the governments of Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia enabling a smooth and collaborative continuation of activities from the previous phase.

A video highlighting ongoing efforts including the popular tourist-friendly Nam Nern Night Safari at Nam Et Phou Louey Protected Area in Huaphan province was also screened at the signing.