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Laotian Eye: Faster Times At Pi Mai As Culture, Continuity, Change Collide at Lao New Year

Laotian Eye: Faster Times At Pi Mai As Culture, Continuity, Change Collide

Thailand knows the time of year as Songkran. Cambodia has Chol Chnam Thmey. Myanmar marks the occasion with Thingyan. In Laos, Boun Pi Mai.

Also Known as Lao New Year, the biggest festival on the Lao calendar brings three days of celebration and rejoicing across the country and beyond, taking place every year from April 14th to 16th.

Celebrating Pi Mai (Lao New Year)

While it’s said each month has a different celebration for the people of Laos, Boun Pi Mai is certainly a very special one to Laotians at home and abroad.

Please Don’t Rush, It’s Wet!

Times change and social mores are on the move, influencing lifestyles of contemporary Laos.

 

Celebrating Pi Mai AKA Lao New Year in Laos

Celebrating Pi Mai AKA Lao New Year in Laos

The celebration of Lao New Year is no different. Yet one constant throughout is water.

Whether its ceremonially offering respect to elders or playing and throwing or sprinkling it on friends, a primary activity is always to get others wet.

Many folks set up a small paddling pool in front of their house.

Others go around in a pickup with a water bucket and throw water for fun, despite it being officially frowned upon.

The roadsides of Vientiane and other cities brighten up, with shopkeepers offering bold New Year fashions to the passing public.

People dress up for the celebration, particularly in Luang Prabang where traditions hold tightest.

ເທວະດາຫລວງ ໄປບູຊາ ຄາຣະວະ ແລະຟ້ອນອວຍພອນປີໃຫມ່ລາວ ຢູ່ວັດຊຽງທອງ ໃນວັນທີ 15/04/2019

Posted by ນະຄອນຫລວງພຣະບາງ Luangprabang City on ວັນຈັນ ທີ 15 ເມສາ 2019

There is a conflict between the decorum required at places of worship and on the street beyond.

Many don’t know the history of when it’s started and why.

Celebrating Pi Mai AKA Lao New Year in Laos

Celebrating Pi Mai AKA Lao New Year in Laos

As a young and curious boy, I heard from my grandfather that it’s a Buddhist festival.

As devotees, we believe (as followers of many other religions also do) that New Year can take bad things away and bring good fortune.

Of course, the festival known as Boun Pi Mai is not only celebrated in Laos.

Celebrations in neighboring countries all derive from the same Buddhist calendar.

These might have been scheduled to coincide with time between harvest and planting seasons to provide a window of rare leisure in the year’s hectic schedule.

These days I can not remember my childhood New Year celebrations in great detail, yet I am sure we didn’t have so many activities available as recently.

Forgotten memories return when I see the children playing with water in a village in Ngoi district near the town of Luang Prabang province.

Celebrating Pi Mai AKA Lao New Year in Laos

Celebrating Pi Mai AKA Lao New Year in Laos

The village was quite rustic, but the children were having heaps of fun just as I did with my friends some 25 years ago.

They fetched water from a stream in the woods.

In my time we had to pump it out of the ground by hand.

Before throwing it over each other of course!

Growing up, our home was by the main roadside of Nontae village inXaythany district, about 25km from Vientiane.

We had a water pump in the village which was close to my house.

All of our friends would be there playing with water together.

We were delighted anytime whenever some people were passing by, so we hurried up to pump the water out and throw at them. We would never tire of it.

I also remember that at the time, many of our fellow countryfolks of the Hmong and Khmu ethnicity didn’t celebrate Boun Pi Mai so much as they might today.

@Lao Youth Radio FM 90.0 Mhz Lao Youth Union

Posted by Laos Briefly on ວັນພະຫັດ ທີ 26 ເມສາ 2018

Due to the difference in cultures, they were sometimes furious when we threw water at them, but we were not concerned enough to stop.

Whatever they said we still gave a blessing to them all the times while showering them repeatedly.

Back to the Village & Family Homes

My family is big and extended one like a tree.

As my grandparents stayed in my house, most of our family would have an appointment at the new year to visit and have a Somma ceremony.

Somma sees children seek forgiveness from parents and older adults by giving Khan-ha (a set of offerings comprising five pairs of flowers and candles) and also conduct a Baci ceremony as well.

I don’t know when I first experienced the Somma ceremony, but we did it with older family members every year for as long as I can remember.

In the past, we had a long three-day celebration but spent more of that time with family and cousins in our village.

Maybe it’s because we didn’t have a car to take us to go away anywhere.

We would do all the traditional and cultural ceremonies such as Somma, Baci, bathing Buddha statues in our local area.

Of course, the festival was primarily a family and community celebration. It was a timeless joy to experience these together.

Celebrating Pi Mai AKA Lao New Year in Laos

Celebrating Pi Mai AKA Lao New Year in Laos

Today, Lao New Year remains the biggest festival celebration and taking place everywhere nationwide.

Of course, anyone of any ethnic group or nationality can have fun together in Laos these days at Boun Pimai.

However, some things are changing. More and more cultural traditions are being left by the wayside.

Celebrating Pi Mai AKA Lao New Year in Laos

Young people have more time for loud music than culture, especially along the roadsides, house and drinking venues.

Of course, it’s enjoyable to mess around with water and have fun, but we should be aware of the meaning behind it.

Laotian youth at home and abroad should also know what Lao New Year means and continue the traditional forms of celebration for the benefit of current and future generations.

Climate Change: Taming the Waters in Laos’ Xayaboury Province

Villages work with UNDP in Xayaboury for the SDGs on Hunger and Climate Change

Helping farmers in their efforts to adjust to climate change in Laos’ Xayaboury Province alongside Lao government partners, The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was active back in 2015. Now, almost four years later, a return to one of the villages revealed how they have managed to cope with changing weather conditions.

 

The UNDP writes:

Vientiane –
The Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by the global community in 2015,  compels us at UNDP Lao PDR to take even more responsibility to ensure that our projects do not only offer a temporary sigh of relief to struggling communities in Lao PDR, but that they serve as an enduring foundation on which they can begin to build a more sustainable future for themselves.

That is why in February 2019, UNDP, along with members of the Green Climate Fund and representatives of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, took a trip to Nasom Village in Xayaboury Province to catch up with some old friends made during a project entitled “Improving the Resilience of the Agricultural Sector to Climate Change”, which was implemented between 2011-2015.

In the early 2000s, the farming population of Nasom had difficulties in adjusting to a phenomenon most of them had probably never even heard of: climate change. Although the small village nestled in a modest valley between the lush hillsides of northern Laos had occasionally suffered from floods, the usual predictability of seasons had become a thing of the past.

While the rainy seasons seemed to gradually get more intense, the dry seasons were getting hotter and drier, barely offering a shower for the rice fields of the village, which resulted in bad harvests. As rice was the primary ingredient of the rather stoic daily diet of the villagers, a bad harvest often marked a serious menace of malnutrition. Even if the farmers could feed themselves with stocks in case of a bad harvest, not being able to sell any surplus at the local market meant a significant dip in their yearly incomes.

Either too much or too little water for irrigating the paddy fields was the biggest challenge for the villagers. The project, implemented by UNDP, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, wanted to devise a way in which they could manage and utilize the dramatically varying rates of rainfall as efficiently as possible.

The project laid out a plan to dig numerous reservoirs in the village in which the rain could be stored throughout the year. Irrigation canals were built through which the villagers could regulate the flow of the standing water to their paddy fields during different seasons.

The ponds were filled with fish to give villagers an additional source of protein. As fish like to indulge in the mosquito larvae that breed particularly in standing waters, they would also protect the villagers from the deathly threat of malaria.

When the project ended in 2014, the results were fantastic. Villagers no longer went hungry and they could once again plan their harvests despite the changing weather patterns. However, it is not uncommon in development work that such achievements slowly fade away as years pass by and the community’s lack of resources or expertise for maintenance take a toll them.

In this case, the concern proved unfounded. Even after four years, the ponds were filled with water, teeming with fish. Even the devastating floods of 2018 that ravaged each province of Lao PDR had not caused the reservoirs to overflow.

“After the project, we have lived much better. Because we have enough water to irrigate the rice fields, we are producing much more food than before”, says Mr. Khamsao, one of the beneficiaries of the project as he takes us around the reservoirs.

The successful project had created further waves in the village: Some villagers had dug their own reservoirs, carved their own irrigation canals and also filled them with fish. In the spirit of true Lao solidarity, the farmers who had originally benefited from the project had allowed others to direct water from the big reservoirs to newly constructed smaller. This water could then be used to irrigate other farm areas. As with the original project, the results had been excellent.

This kind of creative and cooperative spirit is exactly what is needed to achieve the ambitious goals outlined in the 2030 Agenda. Villagers of Nasom show that innovation not only occurs in Silicon Valley or world-class universities but is something that even deprived communities engage in, as long as they are given the opportunity to do so.


United Nations Development Group

The Laotian Times reports on and supports efforts to address climate change and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in Laos and beyond.

Villages work with UNDP in Xayaboury for the SDGs on Hunger and Climate Change

Villages work with UNDP in Xayaboury for the SDGs on Hunger and Climate Change

 

Thailand May Reinstate Land Border Entry for Expats in Neighboring Countries

Thailand Visas

Could the cross-border retail and recreation-related dreams of foreign expatriates, non-diplomats and other non-Lao-non-ASEAN-passport-holding residents in Laos be about to come true across the Mekong in Thailand once again visa-free?

Laos’ near neighbour is reportedly considering removing the restrictions on land border entry affecting foreign expatriates in neighbouring countries including Laos for an initial period of two months, both The Nation and Bangkok Post reported on November 14.

Bangkok Post's List of Planned Changes includes a proposed lift on restrictions affecting expatriate residents of Laos.

Bangkok Post’s List of Planned Changes includes a proposed lift on restrictions on land border entry, potentially improving connectivity for expatriate residents of Laos.

The move would loosen restrictions that have been in place since December 31, 2016 as reported by Laotian Times.

The reported move from the country’s cabinet Tuesday comes amid efforts by Thailand’s policymakers to attract more visitor arrivals.

Other proposed measures also include double-entry visas for six months and special discounts at Thai malls under the “Amazing Thailand Grand Sale: Passport Privileges” campaign that continues from November 15 to January 15, 2019.

Since the start of 2017, limits on land border entry have affected foreign non-ASEAN passport holding expatriates (including those eligible to a visa-waiver), restricting them to just two single visa-free entries on arrival via the country’s land border points per year.

It remains to be seen whether the mooted liberalization will come in the form of carving out an exemption for foreign expatriates or result in the removal of the two-times-per-year land border entry restriction entirely.

Either way, a loosening on the restriction is likely to be welcome news, particularly to those for whom visa application processes and fees have proved onerous enough to prevent them from regularly visiting otherwise accessible destinations located on the far side of mighty Mekong.

Thai Visas

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.”

 

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.

River of wonders

Watching the sun set over the banks of the Mekong has to be one of the great draw-cards of visiting Laos.

That these banks are relatively undeveloped, in Laos at least, to some is one of its greatest assets. The Mekong may be one of the world’s great rivers, alongside, the Mississippi, the Danube, the Murray-Darling and the Nile. But unlike these, there persists a romantic notion about the “unspoiled” status of the Mekong, due to pervading poverty in most of its host countries. Connecting six countries, it’s the longest river in Southeast Asia, and among the longest and largest drainage basins in the world, home to over 65 million people (not including China), and the world’s second most bio-diverse waterway after the Amazon).

But, as Dr. Anoulak Kittikhoun, the Mekong River Commission’s chief strategy and partnership officer, observes, the Mekong is also situated in one of the world’s most geo-strategic regions. This means that development is both inevitable and unstoppable, and all the well-meaning nature-loving tourists in the world can’t beat it back.

“You have a lot of poverty in this area, but it’s changing,” he says.

“If you go down to Can Tho City in South Vietnam, in the Delta, you’ll find a big city with high-rises. Cambodia’s Phnom Penh is well on its way to catching up, and Vientiane, in perhaps 10 years, will have several high rises.”

But how to manage these changes? Countries like Laos and Cambodia may be using the Mekong to harness their growth, but it’s organisations like the Mekong River Commission – an intergovernmental body with those two countries as well as Thailand and Vietnam as members, that exist to ensure the river is protected.

Dr. Anoulak says the MRC has a fundamental tenet – meeting the needs but keeping the balance – that ensures no one loses out if the river is managed correctly. The primary and unique role of the MRC in guiding the river’s future has just been reaffirmed by the Prime Ministers meeting for their 3rd MRC Summit on 5th April 2018 in Siem Reap.

Under the slogan of One Mekong, One Spirit, ensuring a balance of development and protection has to include both people and the natural world.

“We have strategies and guidelines to make sure that what each country tries to do to develop or use the river does not compromise its use by others,” he says.

But most of all, we try to ensure that livelihoods remain intact, that development improves lives and does not make people worse off than they already are.”

This includes those using the river for subsistence living – fishing, irrigation – as well as large-scale projects like dams.

“We monitor water quality, water flows, fisheries, the ecological health of the river,” he says.

 

 “For large-scale development projects, we do a lot of consulting back and forth.” Projects have improved after MRC looked at them.

The tourism industry, one of the country’s main sources of income, is a major consideration when it comes to one of the country’s main attractions.

“For example, in Siphandon (4000 Islands) in the south, there’s a dam under construction at Don Sahong,” Dr. Anoulak says.

These nearby Khone falls are visited by thousands of people each year, and the area, just a few kilometres from the Cambodian border, is home to a tiny – and dwindling – population of rare Irrawaddy dolphins. The dam would block the Hou Sahong Channel, a key channel of the Mekong that allows for year-round fish migrations both up and down the river.

“But after our consultation, we have ensured there that there will be mitigation measures and monitoring to address impacts.”

Ultimately, while the Mekong will always be a source of wonder and admiration for tourists, a lot of work needs to be done to preserve it and, by extension, the livelihoods of millions. But, says Anoulak, gesturing to the window of his office, which overlooks the bustling downtown stretch of river, with Thailand visible on the far bank, the great waterway will always be known for its beauty.

 

Text by: SALLY PRYOR

Photohraph by: THE COURTESY OF MRC

New species Found in Greater Mekong Region: WWF Report

A rainbow-headed snake resembling David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust character, a dragon-like lizard and a newt that looks like a Klingon from the movie Star Trek are three of the 163 new species discovered recently in the Greater Mekong region, according to a report released by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The report, Species Oddity, documents the work of hundreds of scientists who discovered nine amphibians, 11 fish, 14 reptiles, 126 plants and three mammals in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

The discoveries also include a rare banana species from Thailand, a tiny frog from Cambodia and a gecko with pale blue spotted skin and piercing dark eyes that was found hiding among the remote mountains of Laos.

This brings the total new species of plants, birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and amphibians discovered in the region to 2,409 since WWF began compiling new species reports in 1997.

The Greater Mekong region is a magnet for the world’s conservation scientists because of the incredible diversity of species that continue to be discovered here, Wildlife Programme Manager for WWF-Greater Mekong Jimmy Borah said.

These scientists, the unsung heroes of conservation, know they are racing against time to ensure that these newly discovered species are protected.

Highlights of the report include a rainbow-headed snake, Parafimbrioslao, that has been likened to David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust character.

It was found among steep karst cliffs in northern Laos and while originally thought to exist in only one location, it has since been seen in a second one, increasing its chances of survival.

 

Source: Vientiane Times

Ziggy Stardust Snake Discovered in Northern Laos