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Phonsavan: Everything You Need to Know

Phonsavan is the capital of the province of Xieng Khuang in Laos. It has a population of 37,507 and the name Phonsavan roughly translates as ‘Hills of paradise’.  Built during the 1970s, Phonsavan has a picturesque countryside full of green hillsides and forests of pine trees. It replaced Muang Khoun which was ravaged during the Second War of Indochina.

The colourful houses in the villages here are made from wood. The raising of cattle provides livelihoods for many locals in this region. One can often see Hmong cowboys dressed in violet-and-brown attire complete with hats. New Year’s Day here is celebrated with bullfighting.

Phonsavan Attractions

UNESCO has designated the Plain of Jars in Phonsavan a heritage site. It is a popular tourist attraction and receives many visitors every year. The Indochinese war sites such as the Plain of Jars became the “Plain of Scars” during the Indochinese war since it was directly in the middle of the conflict. The site experienced extensive bombing and was also used as the drop-off point for unused artillery after the war.

Xieng Khoung and Huaphan became the most heavily bombed places in the world on per capita basis. The condition was worsened by the intense amounts of herbicides and defoliants dropped here.  These violent events have left indelible scars on the area in the form of craters, empty shells and tanks.  Locals have managed to recycle and remake some of the war shrapnel into products for daily use such as vegetable planting tools, spoons, fencing material, barbeques and pumps.

Many locals used the caves in the surrounding areas as shelters during the days of the war. Some of them were even made into care facilities that looked after war victims and injured soldiers. Others were used to store weapons as well as medicine.

Tham Piu Cave is one of the caves where visitors are allowed to look around and inspect the remains from the war days. It is one of witnesses to unfortunate events that occurred during the ‘Secret War’ as it was called. Around 374 people died due to a bomb that landed at this spot in November 1969. The victims were refugees in this cave. Sadly, their bones still remain inside the cave.

As the second of the two caves which are now open for tourists, the Tham Xang Caves still houses remains of the arsenal, medicines and traces of refugees that lived here during the war. Other than that, this cave is also worth a visit because of its sheer beauty. Ban Ta’s Hmong community maintains the cave and offers guided tours to visitors.

Phonsavan Restaurants
You will find a wide variety of cuisine offered in Phonsavan.  Lao, Chinese and Vietnamese are some of the cuisines found here. Although the size of the town is not too impressive, there are 32 restaurants and plenty of noodle shops also known as Pho-shops.

Craters Bar and Restaurant sells fast food as well as Western dishes such as pizza and burgers. The interior has been designed subtly and with plenty of taste, especially when compared with some of the other joints in Phonsavan.

Nirvana is a restaurant built with bamboo and is located on a street just off the main road. The spot used to be an ancient air strip. Along with the Maly Hotel, it is famous for its Lao and western cuisine.

The local Vietnamese restaurant Simmaly is a popular local restaurant serving Vietnamese food in large quantities and offering excellent customer service.

If you want Indian cuisine served alongside Lao food try Nisha, with its vegetarian and meat dishes at reasonable prices.

Auberge de la Plain des Jarres at the Phoupadeng Hotel is good for French food. The food here has a strong Alsace influence to it. Although the prices are quite high, the food is worth trying.

Phonsavan Nightlife

 

Most locals and tourists drink at restaurants which have bars attached to them however there are a few independent bars such as the one facing Maly Hotel, situated on the banks of a lake.  Tiger beer here is very popular among customers. Fresh fish served here is a common side dish. The disco at Chittavanh Hotel is also frequented by tourists and locals. It serves authentic Cambodian cuisine and if you want something slightly different the Highway Karaoke is an example of Western bars in the city.

Phonsavan Shopping

 

Products that are primarily catered towards tourists include those made by local artisans and textile workers. These items are made from indigenous wood and silk obtained from mulberry worms, using natural colours and local designs. Baskets and paper umbrellas made from mulberry silk can be found at Ban Mixay. Ban Napia has a lot of embroidered work of Hmong origin.

Mastake whiskey is a locally brewed alcohol derived from hed wai, which is a wild mushroom found in the pine forests of Xieng Khuang. It is quite popular among locals and many tourists also take the opportunity to try it. The Chinese Market is located to the west of the main strip of Phonsavan. It is popular for souvenirs along with silver and gold items as well.

Phonsavan Activities


You can visit the SOS Orphanage between 08:00 – 16:00 on weekdays. Established in 1998, this orphanage takes in children who have lost their parents due to some mishap caused by UXO (unexploded ordinance). About 150 children are housed in 12 homes here. There is a pre-school along with a primary school where these kids receive basic education. Feel free to drop in sometime when you are in Xieng Khuang to spend time with them.

If you want a taste of local food go to the fresh food markets to experience products that are indigenous to the forests such as exotic mushrooms, pheasant meat and bamboo rats, and fruits such as plums, passion fruit and peaches.

The Navang Craft Centre is family run and is known for its wooden products mainly made from the rare Long Leng Wood procured from the Fujian Cypress tree. It is excellent for gifts and souvenirs. There are a number of scenic war memorials for soldiers who died in the war of Indochina as well as that of Vietnam.

The Mulberry Silk Farm is a fair trade company that is trying to uphold the ancient tradition of sericulture and is keeping it alive amidst other more commercially viable fabrics in the present world market. The complete process of breeding silk worms and procuring the silk fibre from them is elaborated on at the farm for visitors with a free guide to explain things. Workers use bark, leaves, berries, flowers, vines and seeds to make the colours used to dye the fabric. They try to promote the products as well as meet financial needs by selling souvenirs to tourists.

The interesting thing about the old cemetery up a hilltop located a kilometre away from the city of Phonsavan is the Tai Dam which is right in the middle of the tombstones. These graves are a mix of Chinese, Catholic and Lao Buddhist origin.

How to get to Phonsavan

Flights travel to and from Vientiane four days a week and travel to the Xieng Khuang Airport in Phonsavan. During the holiday season there are six flights via Lao Airlines which can be taken from Hanoi or Vinh in Vietnam. This is reduced to four flights during off season. One can acquire visas on arrival to Phonsavan at the Nam Ka border. If you prefer taking the bus from Vinh it will take you 12 hours to reach Phonsavan. There are VIP and local buses running once a week from Vinh.

 

Source: KPL

Urban Water, Environment Need Improvement

The (Project for Urban Water Environment Improvement) has raised the awareness of the capital’s residents since the release of its master plan to promote better water and drainage solutions.

However, despite Vientiane having improved its drainage network, the water quality in the drainage canals and marshes is still getting worse if compared with other ASEAN neighbouring cities.

The matter was discussed by senior officials from line ministries involved and a JICA expert team at the joint coordinating committee meeting on the Project for Urban Water Environment Improvement, held on Friday in Vientiane. The meeting was attended by Vientiane Deputy Mayor, Mr Keophilavanh Aphaylath, representatives from JICA and other invited guests.

The urban water situation remains bad because of the increasing discharge of domestic wastewater from residential areas as a result of improved lifestyles, as well as rapid economic and population growth, according to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.

The project has developed facilitators and resource persons for environmental education and implemented campaigns for load reduction from wastewater and regular cleaning activities of canals by communities and the Vientiane Urban Development Administration Authority.

Speaking at the meeting, Mr Keophilavanh stressed that the drainage channel system is being developed to help the natural function of the marsh; however the system will work better if waste water can be managed more efficiently to ease the load on the marsh.

“If it is better managed the marsh could become a great energy and water resource for Vientiane,” he said.

Most of the floodwater and grey water waste originating from households flows into the canals and marshes, which actslike a natural filter before the water eventually makes its way into the Mekong River.

However, it seems the marsh can no longer contain the amount of chemicals and industrial pollutants that are now draining into it.

“With the development of Vientiane, many roads, factories and houses have been built nearby, which are putting more strain onthemarsh,”hesaid.

Another problem is that of illegal dumping, with many residents living near canals and marshes dumping plastic and household garbage around the shores of the lake, instead of disposing of it in a more responsible way. The Urban Water Environment Improvement Project aims to strengthen the institutional framework and organisation for wastewater treatment in Vientiane capital through a participatory approach.

In Laos, less attention has been paid to the sanitation sector than others. Therefore, this project can be treated as a milestone, both for the urban sanitation sector in the country and for raising issues on urban sanitation. The National Strategy on Environment up to the year 2020 of the Lao PDR stipulates to implement measures for sustainable development as one of its main objectives, where water environment management is included.

 

Source: Vientiane Times

Foreign Affairs Stresses Need for Personnel Development

Despite the country having made good achievements in foreign affairs, the lack of skills among young civil servants remains a challenge for the sector.

This finding was revealed at the annual meeting of the sector, which continues in Vientiane this week, with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Saleumxay Kommasith presiding over the gathering.

This year has been noted as a year of success for Laos in foreign affairs, with the country serving as ASEAN chair and hosting several important regional events, especially the 28th and 29th ASEAN Summits, which have also highlighted the country’s success in its diplomacy.

Despite the successes, Laos still needs to improve the skills and talents of the personnel in the sector to meet with the requirements of regional and international integration.

Speaking at the meeting yesterday, a representative from Vientiane’s Department of International Relations noted the participation of all residents in the capital in hosting the big events, which he said contributed to their success.

Meanwhile, he said his department still faced difficulties in terms of the capabilities of its personnel, especially their knowledge of the English language .

The majority of personnel in my department graduated from the National University of Laos but their work performance was poor, the official said, adding that the capable ones are those who graduated from institutes in Vietnam and China.

According to him, the young civil servants performed satisfactorily but they did not have skills in terms of compiling reports.

The ministry has around 1,000 personnel in total, of whom 250 people are implementing their mandates in overseas locations.

A representative from the ministry’s Department of International Organisations gave his assessment that the country is fifty percent prepared for international integration, noting that preparedness in human resources is a crucial component in this respect.

He called for a greater focus on enhancing the enthusiasm of civil servants and government employees to be active in their work and also continuously studying and learning.

Regarding foreign affairs personnel in the army, an official from the Ministry of National Defence’s Foreign Relations Department, Colonel Khamsene Mahavong told the meeting about concerns in regards to the development of successors in this section of the army.

He said even though they have worked for the ministry for two or three years, the newly recruited generation could not manage to write proposals to other departments and organisations within.

He proposed that leaders and commanders enhance their attention in relation to addressing the challenges.

In his view, many people received their bachelor’s and master’s degrees only on paper, and they will gain real knowledge and skills only after three to five-years of work experience.

Training accompanied by practice in their places of work is a necessary channel for the skills development of personnel, according to Col Khamsene.

He also agreed with the need for knowledge and skills in foreign languages, especially English language, which was taken as a very important component of knowledge for public servants in the era of international integration.

He told the audience that the Ministry of National Defence had achieved success in hosting an ASEAN meeting on the defence sector without using translators from outside the ministry.

Source: Vientiane Times

Women Need Greater Empowerment in Agriculture

Women play important roles in the agriculture and forestry sector but women’s empowerment and the promotion of gender roles is still limited, particularly in rural areas.

Different sections within the agriculture and forestry sector, especially some departments, divisions and some projects implementing policy in the field, still lack understanding of women’s empowerment and the meaning of gender roles.

Head of the Women’s Empowerment and the Mother and Child Division under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Ms Sisomphet Souvanthalisith, highlighted the issue at a meeting in Vientiane last week.

The coordination of women’s empowerment and gender role activities at each level is not yet adequate, especially amongst staff and some coordinators in the field, Ms Sisomphet said.

Some staff don’t understand the role of the Women’s Union or comprehend women’s empowerment activities, she added. Gender policy implementation through to planning and inspection has not progressed while the use of gender role information and statistics in each activity is not being effectively promoted and the number of women participating in decision making is still limited, she added.

However, through women’s empowerment and gender role implementation in previous years, the Women’s Empowerment and Mother and Child Division has enjoyed some success in including more women in decision making.

Women in the sector have also received training on various topics and techniques to assist in their empowerment.

The ministry’s five year Gender Equality Strategy Plan from 2011-2015 advised that the number of women staff and farmers participating in the formation and discussion of documents should reach 60 percent of total participants.

The number of female staff and farmers participating in training was targeted at 35 percent, while the actual number hit 35.90 percent last year.

The division also planned that the number of women farmers participating in technical and occupational training for skill development should be at least 45 percent, with the actual figure coming in at 45.2 percent.

The strategy also planned to increase the percentage of female staff in each entry level role that go on to attain a decision-making position to 15 percent, while the figure attained exceeded the target at 19.6 percent.

The division now aims to create opportunities for at least 30 percent of female staff at every level to develop their education in the years ahead.

At the meeting, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Mr Khambounnat Xayanon, stressed that each sector under the ministry should pay more attention to promoting women’s empowerment and gender roles in order to increase women’s participation. He noted that this could be achieved through closer cooperation and coordination.

Some 115 people participated in the meeting, of which 69 were women from different divisions of the agriculture and forestry sector around the country.

Source: Vientiane Times

Flood Victims still in Need of Assistance

Although the floods receded more than a month ago, those affected by the downpours in the northern provinces are still struggling to survive.

Authorities Need to Turn on Flooding Assistance Taps

Provincial disaster management committees need to continue financial assistance to people affected by natural disasters with vital funding often too slow at the local level, an official said.

Lao Mills Need to Improve Rice Quality For Exports to China

VIENTIANE — Lao officials said the country’s mills need to improve rice quality as to meet the needs for exports to China, Lao daily Vientiane Times reported Monday.

PM Stresses Need for Mutual Trust in UN Speech

It is imperative for Laos to be resolute in translating political commitment into concrete actions, while enhancing mutual trust, cooperation and assistance in order to collectively address challenges.