Sunday, August 23, 2009

Mekong "Mae Nam Khong" - the Mother Khong

In Lao or Thai languages the Mekong River is called "Mae Nam Khong". 'Mae' means 'mother' and 'nam' translates as water' in the meaning of 'River'. While the name 'Khong' derives from the Sanskrit word 'ganga', which is the name for India's holy river Ganges. Northern and Northeastern Thais as well as the Lao refer to the Mekong Rivers as the 'Mother River Khong', which literally means "Mother Khong River".

The Mekong River is the world's 10th-longest river and discharges 475 km3/114 cu mi of water annually. The estimated length of the Mekong from the Tibetan Plateau to the Delta in Vietnam is 4,350 km.

Some of the richest and most endangered habitats on Earth can be found in the Greater Mekong area.

The whole region comprises China's Yunnan Province, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

This unique and interesting landscape of the Mekong River and its surrounding is home to an estimated 20'000 species of plant, 1'200 different kind of birds, 800 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 430 Mammals rare and endangered species, such as the Asian elephants, tigers and the critically endangered Javan rhinos.

The Mekong River houses at least 1'300 species of fish and in addition the rare Irrawaddy dolphins.

By proportion and length, the Mekong is the richest river if it comes to biodiversity on the planet. There are more species per unit and area than in the Amazon. Many of these species are endemic to the Mekong.

The biodiversity of the Greater Mekong area is of such abundance and importance, that even today new species continue to be discovered and described by science. Only between 1997 and 2007 at least 1'068 new species have been discovered in the Greater Mekong region, this adds up to two new species per week for the past decade.

However, the mighty Mekong River is under serious threat.

Cambodia's, Laos' and Thailand's government are planning eleven big hydro power dams on the Mekong River. If these dams are built along the river, they would block major fish migration ways and disrupt therefore the vitally of the Mekong River.

This however, will place the livelihood of millions of people who life along and depend upon the Mekong River for their food and income at risk.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sala Keo Ku - a step forward from Wat Xieng Khuan

Sala Keo Ku is a sculpture park near Nong Khai featuring a fantastic amount of concrete Buddha, Hindu and other statues. The park is in close proximity to the Thai-Lao border.

Sala Keo Ku as well as a similar sculpture park in Laos - Wat Xieng Khuan - have been designed and built by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat. Wat Xieng Khuan was constructed earlier than Sala Keo Ku, before the revolution through the Pathet Lao in 1975. The revered monk left Laos and built Sala Keo Ku on the Thai side in 1978.

Sala Kao Ku shares therefore the style and fantasy of Sulilat's earlier creation, but it contains even more figures and they are also more extravagant and greater in their design and proportions.

Some of the status rise as high as 25m into the sky. One of those immense sculptures is a monumental depiction Buddha, meditating and protected under a seven-headed Naga. This subject is very common in Buddhist art and can be found throughout all Buddhist countries in various forms and sizes...

The Wat of Sala Keo Ku is a mosque like three-story concrete building, sourounded by snailhouse shaped pilers. The building contains Sulitat's mummified body.

A great place to visit 5 km outside of Nong Khai city. I personally prefer Sala Keo Ku as it is better maintained and also more interesting than Wat Xieng Khuan in Laos...

Wat Xieng Khuan - Vientiane's Buddha Park

Wat Xieng Khuan - also know as Vientiane's Buddha sculpture park, is about 25 km outside of Vientiane, passing the Friendship bridge for probably 6 km. The park itself is in a small garden and located directly on the banks of the Mekong River opposite Nong Khai in Thailand.

In Lao language Xieng Khuan means Spirit City, however this place is a park and not a Buddhist temple (wat). The park contains around 200 Hindu and Buddhist sculptures.
Wat Xieng Khuan was constructed by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat in 1958. He was a shaman who was integrating Hinduism and Buddhism traditions. After the communist take over in 1975 he fled to Thailand. Where he built Sala Keo Ku in Nong Khai, a similar sculpture park, but bigger in size.

The bizarre design of the cement made sculptures is quite appealing and interesting... Somehow they give the observer the feeling, that they are century old, which they are obviously not.

There are numerous Buddha and Hindu statues, along with sculptures of humans, gods, animals, and demons. One sculpture which looks like a giant tomato has in the front a face of a daemon. Viewers can enter the sculpture through the giant and widely open mouth. At the top of the tomato shaped figure is a view point where the entire park is visible. The enormous 40 m long reclining Buddha is the other main attraction.

Wat Xieng Khuan is one of Vientiane's better know attractions.

Lao Magic Carpets

Lao Magic Carpets ( is owned and managed by Ismet from Turkmenistan.

Carpet-making is a very old craft with its roots in Central Asia. Nowadays, carpet-weaving is a big business on a huge commercial scale. Magic Lao Carpets was set up to introduce carpet-weaving in Laos, a country, which is well known for its colorful textile weaving tradition. Ancient Central Asian carpet-making traditions found their way to local Lao weavers, reviving the use of local Silk.

For the time being Lao Magic Carpets Handicrafts focuses on training the weavers, with a clear plan in mind to start village-based carpet production. When this idea will becomes a reality, carpet-making can become a source of good income for many communities and its people, especially for villagers, which most of them do have some spare time in-between their rice planting and harvesting cycles.

It was very interesting to observe the show room and the workshop. Ismet told me a lot about silk, the technique of weaving and knotting carpets, about Laos and its people - his own experience with them. He is a very interesting old man with a very unique life...

Lao Mountain Coffee in Vientiane

During my last stay in Vientiane I read an interesting article about Lao Mountain coffee and the Jhai Coffee Farmers Cooperative in Stay another day.

Lao Mountain Coffee ( is a Vientiane based coffee roasting company. They roast some specialty grade coffee from Laos famous coffee growing area in the South, the Bolaven Plateau.

In fact they are the only Fair Trade and organic coffee roasting company in Laos and one of only a few in South East Asia. They have developed a close relationship with the Fair Trade certified farmer group, the Jhai Coffee Farmers Cooperative (, which resides in Champasak province. The Cooperative runs a tiny little office in Pakse town. Day trips can be arranged to visit the small farms around Pakse town.

Steve Feldschneider (, the owner, invited me to visit Lao Mountain coffee, which is located in Ban Nongbone in Vientiane capital and only 200 meters away from the That Luang Stupa.

Upon my arrival at the Lao style Villa a nice breeze of freshly roasted and grounded coffee leaded me directly to the heart of the Lao Mountain Coffee company.

Steve welcomed me and gave me a brief overview of Laos coffee producing history. He also explained me about the roasting process and their special way to produce small amounts of coffee on order. Using small amounts of coffee at a time gives them the possibility to control the grade of roasting and the mixture of different coffee beans to a much better extend than in an ordinary coffee roasting company.

The fact that he has such well known names amongst his clients as Residence Phou Vao, Maison Souvannaphoum in Luang Prabang or the world famous Oriental hotel in Bangkok proves his roasting philosophy true.

Towards the end of my visit Steve told me about the cupping process. Cupping is the art of coffee tasting. Coffee consists of more than 800 different aromatic compounds, so coffee cupping is one of the most complex sensory experiences one can do.

Coffee beans from different growing areas, unwashed and washed, roasted and grounded are provided along with a professional instruction about coffee cupping.

Of course , there are also some cafe tables in the lush garden around the Villa, where a freshly roasted and grounded coffee can be tasted after a visit in the nearby That Luang Stupa.

The coffee cupping experience can be arranged for visitor upon prior notice. The program consists of the coffee cupping experience, the tour through the Villa’s compound, including the roasting and manufacturing areas of the company. Visitor can also get some hands on roasting and grounding experience.

Although the price of the coffee cupping program is a bit high - there is lots of fresh coffee and unique experiences involved, which one hardly can get elsewhere and for less money.

Needless to say that once Steve found out that I have a favour for Italian style coffee he offered me a special blend, which he prepared by himself. Well… Another story from Laos…

Phatoke Lauderm

I spent a beautiful evening at a place called Phaotoke Laoderm ( and enjoyed a nice Lao show (traditional dancing performances and music) together with some Lao meal (sticky rice, sea weed, chicken, keang som paa, naam pic with lots of vegs…).
The meal was great and very tasty and served around 7.30 pm on a big bamboo table like furniture called phatoke. The beerlao was served cold and with some ice cubes…

The performance consists of some classical royal dance pieces, such as the Hanuman monkey dance, and some very rural dances. They also showed some Hmong dance.

The costumes very very colorful and the performers had some great fun to show their skills to the rather small audience.

The Phatoke Lauderm is located within the Senglao hotel complex on the basement. The Hall is very nicely decorated and the staff is friendly, plentiful and very service minded. The place opened a month ago.

The price of 15 $ is for the entrance and for the meal. Drinks are extra.