Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ongoing dispute, but Ta Muen Thom temple is open again

Ta Muen Thom temple in Surin is open again for visitors. Although the border and temple dispute between Thailand and Cambodia is still ongoing, it has been calm for almost two months and there has been no violence. The temple can be visited between 9am and 3pm daily.

The border dispute between the two neighboring countries is now staged at the International Court of Justice and the UNESCO. Thailand wants to solve the dispute by diplomatic efforts.

The first group of domestic visitors has return to the temple ruins. Visitors intending to visit the temple area have to inform the Thai military in advance of their visit in their own interest.

The Thai army removed earlier erected fences who blocked access to the temple form the Cambodian side - an act which will certainly help to relieve tensions along the border.

An earlier article about the border dispute can be read here.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A weekend retreat at the Nam Ngum – Nature, River, Jacuzzi and Peruvian Red wine

No one would assume that only a few kilometers outside of Laos’ capital Vientiane, a beautiful countryside with forests, rivers and rich in agriculture could be enjoyed.

The Ngum River flows from the Plain of Jars in Xieng Khouang province southwards.

In Vientiane province the River streams into the Nam Ngum Dam. Nam Ngum Reservoir was the Lao PDR's first hydro power dam. The dam was financed with the assistance from ten countries, under the auspices of the United Nations. It was constructed and completed in 1971 by a Japanese firm. The dam generates most of the power used in the capital, Vientiane. The government of Lao PDR looks to hydro power development as the primary source of income for the country in the future.

Nam Ngum River continues its way to the Laotian capital and finally releases its waters into the Mekong River.

Following the high way number 10 out of Vientiane towards north, near Ban Tha Ngon a bridge crosses the Nam Ngum River. Several floating restaurants reside at the river banks below the bridge and offer their fresh fish and other Laotian specialties. One can dine and enjoy a boat ride on the same time. Some of these swimming tables are even equipped with a Karaoke sound machine much to the pleasure of its customers. Fish is just excellent here and it is a must to try one.

The area offers lots of activities. Boat rides on the Nam Ngum, small village temples can be observed, and fish farming and other agricultural activities can be seen. There is a small museum with an exhibit about Laotian dresses and costumes. The nearby Dansavanh Nam Ngum Resort, Golf & Casino offers an 18-hole course in a picturesque landscape. The casino attracts with its 60 table games - the largest amount in all of Southeast Asia - , and 150 gaming machines. The casino floor is open 24 hours a day.

Until recently there were only a few options to stay overnight and none to stay in style.
But with the new River View resort, that has now changed. The River View Resort resides only a few minutes’ drive from Tha Ngon Bridge and directly on the river banks of the picturesque Nam Num River. The resort offers two categories of room, 7 Garden rooms and 7 Riverside rooms. All rooms are fully equipped with wide screen plasma televisions, Internet, luxury bath rooms and comfortable living rooms.

The Riverside rooms allow the guests to enjoy overlooking the serene landscape of the Nam Ngum River from a private balcony. It is a true relaxation to enjoy a glass of red wine on the balcony after a bath and a relaxing treatment in the Jacuzzi. I was surprised by the quality of the wine, a Peruvian Tabernero Gran Tinto, a Merlot.

The River View Resort offers its clients a yacht, speed boats and Jet Ski rental. They also have some bicycles and ATV’s in their car park to explore the surrounding area.

By coincidence the last weekend was also Boun Ok Phansa (end of the three-month fast and retreat' of the monks), where the Lao people set their krathongs (small floating devices made from banana trunks and leaves, skillfully decorated with flowers, and equipped with candles and incense sticks) adrift in all Rivers to pay respect to the ancient (Naga) river spirits… I got a very charming and touching experience of the Nam Ngum – a great weekend retreat from the bustle of Vientiane.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Oudomxay - the heart of Northern Laos

The Oudomxay province was founded in 1976, as a split off of the much larger Luang Prabang province. In 1987 Muang Xay became the capital of the province.

The first documented settlers of the province where "Khom" or people nowadays known as Khmu. In 1260, Lao Ly arrived from the Sipsongpanna "12 thousand rice fields" area in Southern China and build Ban Luang Cheng in the area of Muang Xay. Ly culture marked by a fusion of Buddhism and the old animist beliefs of the Khom grew and became influential in the region of Oudomxay. The Khmu are the largest minority in Laos (+500'000 members) and in Oudomxay they form the majority of the population with a 60-80% share.

Around 1828, Hmong tribes coming from Southern China moved into Laos and built their hamlets and settlements in Oudomxay. Hmong people count for a 15% of the total population of the province.

Other ethnic groups living in Oudomxay province are the Akha, the Phouthai (Thai Dam & Thai Khao), the Phou Noy (Phou Xang, Phou Kongsat, Phou Nhot), the Lao Houy (also „Lenten“), the Phouan, the Lue, the Yang, the Ikho and the Ho. Oudomxay is one of the most ethnic diverse provinces of Laos...

Oudomxay is very mountainous and altitudes vary between 300 and 1'800 meters above sea level. Due to these particular difficult topographic conditions in the province of Oudomxay, infrastructure projects and improvements are progressing slowely and maintenance costs are high. Road conditions are poor to bad, and sometimes in the rainy season roads are impassable.

There are still villages and small settlements in the province who do not have any access to roads, hospitals and higher education facilities.

Oudomxay province shares borders with the following Laotian provinces: Phongsali, Luang Prabang, Xayaboury, Bokeo and Luang Namtha. In the northwest is a border with Xishuangbanna, People's Republic of China.

However, Oudomxay province offers a large range of attractions. The provinces' key characteristics are its nature, its people and its diverse culture. An overview of possible tours in the area can be found on the web sites of Samlaan Cycling and the Provincial Tourism Department.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Khmu culture and lifestyle

Shortly after breakfast we meet Ken of Samlaan Cycling and started with our visit of one of the oldest and largest communities and original inhabitants of Laos - the Khmu. The Khmu are an agricultural society, but also gathering, hunting, trapping and fishing are important parts of their lifestyle. Their language is also called Khmu and belongs to the Austro-Asiatic group of languages.

We departed from Muang La resort in the morning and enjoyed a pleasant transfer along the scenic Nam Pak.

Along the way we encountered rice terraces, small settlements and houses of the Khmu minority. In Ban Mai, a small Khmu hamlet, we walked through the village and interact with locals. After observing their daily life we then continued to Ban Phavie.

We trekked on a small green path along a little creek. We had the opportunity to meet farmers working in rice paddies and found some bird and fish traps.

After 1 hour and a half walk through the green forest, we arrived at the Khmu village of Ban Phavie, beautifully nestled in the end of a green valley situated at a small creek.

The local villagers prepared a traditional lunch for us: Laap Gai, some freshly collected mushrooms and vegetables and yes, of course also sticky rice. During the preparation of the meal we learned about the Khmu tradition of trapping and hunting. We observed and tested small little traps while they have been shown and explained to us.
After lunch we continued to a small clear waterfall just a little outside the village. We relaxed for a while at the cascades of the waterfall.

Then we returned to Muang La.