The Sayabouly Provincial Tourism Department (PTD) has launched sayaboulytourism.com and published brochures to promote tours of the natural and cultural attractions in the "Land of the Elephants", alongside a listing of accommodation and restaurants.
Visitors to the site can book a choice from five tours: Houay Namsai Spa Center (2 days, 1 night), Ethnic Village Visits (2 days, 1 night), Cave Visiting (1 day), Nam Houng-Mekong-Nampouy Rivers Cruise (2 days, 1 night), and Caves Visiting and Cruising (3 days, 2 nights).
The site also presents a portal to the Elephant Conservation Center, where ElefantAsia has opened a hospital, and offers tourism activities, bungalows, a dormitory, and restaurant.
Many of these tours revolve around a visit to the Houay Namsai Medicinal Plant Preserve and Herbal Spa. Located in Ban Houay Kaeng, the Preserve has nearly 100 traditional medicinal plants in its garden, and visitors can experience their healing powers in herbal steam rooms.
The preserve's latest brochure details its two top tours: the one-day Spa Center Tour and Spiritual Journey and the two-day Nam Houng-Mekong-Nampouy Rivers Cruise.
Another new brochure from the Sayabouly PTD introduces the one-day activity-filled Lao Traditions Journey. The program begins with a guided tour through Sayabouly Town with stops at three temples including the province's oldest. A boat or minivan delivers participants to the Medicinal Plant Preserve for a riverside lunch and tour of the spa center.
The LNTA-ADB Sustainable Tourism Development Project has announced the pre-opening of two tour programs in Sayabouly's Nam Thang 1,000 Caves Area based at the Ban Keo Homestay Village located some 43 km south of Sayabouly Town.
The half-day Tham Lot – Tham Chia Khiu Trail starts with a 1-km easy walk that crosses the Nam Thang stream before reaching the 350-meter trail to Tham Chia Khiu cave with its natural stairway, naturally soft floor, portholes offering views of the landscape, an elephant-shaped stalagmite, and an exit into a forest surrounded by limestone mountains. The trek then turns wet, following Nam Thang stream to Tham Lot cave, and a further 500 watery meters to the end of the tunnel and a 20-minute walk back to Ban Keo.
A 1.8-km walk along a road to a 200-meter jungle trail to the entrance of Tham Loub cave kicks off the one-day Tham Loub – Mountain Circuit. The large cavern entrance runs 50 meters to a window opening to a limestone mountain forest. A climb to the mountaintop reveals an occasional monkey, birds and evidence of "serows" (mountain goats). After a noon lunch a two-hour walk heads across the ridge of rocky outcrops to Ban Keo.
Gourmand World Cookbook Awards has placed Xaixana Champanakhone's "Lao Cooking and the Essence of Life" on "Gourmand Magazine's" list of 112 new cookbooks and wine books for 2011, while "Champa Holidays" has published his sixth installment of "Lao Food – What's That?! Rice, in its various splendid incarnations."
Xaixana describes how Lao people's lives revolve around rice, and goes on to explain how to cook the nation's main staple, sticky rice.
He shows different shapes and tastes rice takes throughout Laos. From roasted khao chee ping rice patties on sticks to khao lom cooked in bamboo tubes to lao lao rice alcohol, Xaixana covers all the ground on rice.
To download "Rice, in its various splendid incarnations", click here.
Champa Holidays Features Five Savannakhet Highlights:
Ecotourism Laos' regular column in Lao Airlines in-flight magazine, Champa Holidays, is spotlighting five of Savannakhet Province's top attractions in its most recent December-January issue.
In "Five Highlights in Savannakhet Province", Bernie Rosenbloom presents "Buddha's Resting Spot" (That Ing Hang stupa), "Amble through Time" (Historic Savannakhet Town), "Hungry Monkeys and Ancient Books" (Sacred Monkey Forest and Hotay Pidok Library), "Back to Nature in Dong Natad" (Trekking and cycling through the Dong Natad Protected Area), and "The Ho Chi Minh Trail" (War remnants and nature).
Preparations for Visit Laos Year 2012 are continuing despite recent changes to the leadership and organization of its tourism arm, the Vientiane Times reported.
Deputy Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism Buangeun Xaphouvong has confirmed that the ministry's work will continue as planned even though the former Lao National Tourism Administration has merged with the Ministry of Information and Culture.
Activities for Visit Laos Year will be added to the main cultural events, such as the Hmong New Year, February's Sayabouly Elephant Festival, Lao New Year in Luang Prabang in April, the Rocket Festival in Xieng Khuang in May, and the That Luang Festival in Vientiane in November.
Tourism officials say Visit Laos Year 2012 will reflect the special culture of Laos and the multi-ethnic lifestyle of its people through stage performances, traditional dances, and music and fashion shows.
The government and private sectors are jointly promoting the activities and have introduced the event to major international markets with the aim of attracting more overseas tourists. It is hoped the extra income generated from Visit Laos Year will benefit poor Lao communities
Lai Airlines took the keys to a pair of new Airbus A320s at a ceremony in Vientiane on 8 November, and on 24 November the national carrier sent flight QV535 on its maiden voyage to Singapore, thus tapping into massive international traffic while lessening reliance on Bangkok.
The direct Vientiane – Singapore service operates three fights per week on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. Flight QV535 departs the Lao capital at 15.10, and arrives at Singapore's Changi Airport at 17.20. The return flight QV545 departs Singapore at 18.30, and arrives in Vientiane at 20.40
The airline plans to fly its new A320s, configured with 16 business class seats and 126 seats in economy class, on established routes including Vientiane – Bangkok, Vientiane – Hanoi, Vientiane – Kunming, Vientiane – Pakse – Ho Chi Minh, and Vientiane – Luang Prabang.
New Vientiane – Guanzhou and Vientiane – Seoul flights are also in the pipeline, and airline officials are considering service to Japan.
Lao Heritage Foundation Launches Cultural Exchange Program:
The Vientiane-based Lao Heritage Foundation has launched its first-ever Cultural Exchange Program in collaboration with the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the US Embassy to Lao PDR.
The seven-year-old organization is currently putting together a proposal to submit to the Lao Embassy in the USA for the Cultural Exchange Program Summer 2012, which will send professors from Laos' National School of Music and Dance to the States for two months.
To help fund the program, the Lao Heritage Foundation is in the running to receive a USD25,000 award from the Chase Community Giving project.
The Lao Heritage Foundation's mission is to preserve, promote and disseminate the nation's unique culture, traditions, and heritage through the arts to the world.
Khammouane Eyes Tourism Boom as Mekong Bridge Opens:
Khammouane provincial authorities expect tourist numbers to increase threefold following the official opening of the third Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge across the Mekong River on 11 November, according to Lao Voices.
Speaking to the Vientiane Times, the provincial Deputy Governor Somchay Phetsinuan said that around 300,000 tourists visit Khammouane each year but a huge increase is expected next year.
The bridge stretches from the Meuang District of Thailand's Nakhon Phanom Province to Laos' Veun Tai Village, 13 km south of Thakaek.
The bridge is expected to lead to the development of Khammouane's rural areas, with facilities to accommodate trade, investment, and tourism activities.
Funded by the Thai government at a cost of more than THB 1.7 billion, the bridge spans 780 meters across the Mekong River. The whole structure is 5.2-km long, including exit and entrance ramps.
Work on the bridge began in May 2009 with the aim of linking Thailand's roads through Laos to Vietnam and southern China.
Khammouane provincial authorities now plan to build a new road and upgrade Road 12 to improve land links with Vietnam.
A doctoral dissertation on Lao tourism published by Umeå University, Sweden in November 2011 shows that certain beliefs and practices excluded women from ethnic tourism, and unequal income distribution "emerged in both publicly and privately owned tourism projects, thus tourism benefits were not realized for all."
Saithong Phommavong's 94-page thesis, "International Tourism Development and Poverty Reduction in Lao PDR" examines how international tourism impacts poverty reduction in Laos, "in particular after the 'New Economic Mechanism' was launched in the late 1980s."
The report draws on national and provincial tourism strategies in Luang Namtha and Champasak and data from three empirical fieldwork studies, and concludes that tourism for poverty reduction is not a "specific approach".
Instead it works as a "social process (institutions, ethnicity, and gender) in different spatial scales (national, provincial, village, household, and personal levels)," according to the study.
"The CBT, ecotourism and pro-poor tourism follow development ideas of the Western context that hardly fit into the contexts of all countries in (Asia)," the report says.
"Private investments are still needed together with donor aid-led tourism projects for improving local people's living condition and for escaping poverty, rather than solely following CBT, ecotourism, and pro-poor tourism approaches."
Transnational Tourism Case Study Highlights Laos:
Germany's Heidelberg University recently published "Transnational Tourism after the opening of the borders: Case study of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam", in which Warangkana Thawornwiriyatrakul points to Laos' improving road network as playing a critical role in connecting tourism highlights in the four Mekong region countries.
"Transnational tourism in Laos (is now) possible with the improvement of traffic facilities, especially with the improvement of the road network. Most of the roads in Lao as well as in Cambodia were in very poor condition until the year 2000," the study says.
The study adds that Laos' old national highways have been upgraded with the help of international projects organized from Japan or international funds such as the Asian Development Bank.
It goes on to say that the better roads travel to UNESCO World Heritage sites.
"One example of Lao PDR's heritage is Luang Prabang…Another is Vat Phou in Champasak and the ancient city of Shrestrapura dating to the 5th century."
The study notes the transnational road network reaches the massive Khone Phapheng Waterfall near the Cambodian border, and adds that construction of bridges spanning the Mekong has proven to open the doors to more tourism opportunities with Thailand.
Lao visitor arrivals skyrocketed 22.17 per cent from January to September 2011 over the same period last year, according to the Lao National Tourism Administration, though the bulk of the 2,185,350 international tourists were rising numbers of Thais (1,269,804, +17.84 per cent) and Vietnamese (494,829, +64.23 per cent).
Many big-spending markets declined including the US (33,968, - 2.28 per cent). France (31,514, -1.23 per cent), United Kingdom (26,598, -7.38 per cent), and Germany (14,971, -6.55 per cent).
However, arrivals from Korea jumped 25.73 per cent to 25,830, Japan increased 15.95 per cent to 28,502, and Taiwan climbed 64.63 per cent to 4,063.
The Asian elephant has its day, actually three, 17-19 February 2012, when the nation turns its eyes to Sayabouly District and the province's 6th Annual Lao Elephant Festival.
The annual fêté draws thousands of elephant fans to the ceremonies, processions, and performances to pay tribute to the national symbol of "The Land of a Million Elephants".
Home to the country's largest pachyderm population, Sayabouly Province is the natural choice to host this growing event that also aims to raise awareness about the need to protect the endangered Asian elephant, which has played such a vital role in Lao people's livelihoods, culture and heritage.
After an opening ceremony, a procession of elephants enters the host village through a bamboo arch. The elephants bathe and are blessed by monks, with participants making merit in a baci ceremony, before with the election of the "Elephant of the Year". Then the entertainment begins: pachyderm performances, musical concerts, outdoor films, dance shows, and fireworks displays in a carnival atmosphere that includes elephant rides and a "Fun Fair".
After the second day's procession and religious ceremony, mahouts round up their massive mammals for a day of elephant entertainment and visitor education capped with the crowning of the Elephant of the Year. For an even more authentic experience, visitors can book a village home stay.
Asia Pacific hospitality expert, Shyn Yee Ho-Strangas, compared Vientiane's hotel market performance to that of other major Southeast Asian destinations, and moderated a plenary session exploring Vientiane's hotel and tourism situation during the 5th Lanith Quarterly Symposium at Vientiane's Settha Palace on Friday, 9 December.
Mrs Ho-Strangas opened the symposium with a keynote address, "The ASEAN Hotel Sector: Key Market Trends", which provided a performance analysis of Southeast Asia's hotel industry. She also explained why due diligence and conducting hotel market and feasibility studies are core elements of the hotel development process.
Mrs Ho-Strangas, Horwath HTL's Assistant Director, Marketing and Special Projects for Asia Pacific, then moderated a plenary session, "Hotel and Tourism in Vientiane – Where do we stand now and where are we heading?", after delivering an overview of Vientiane's hotel market based on a Horwath HTL report published in June 2011.
During the plenary session, a panel of local tourism and hospitality experts offered insight into the city's inbound tourism situation – from both a leisure and corporate perspective – and addressed key issues including the need for hotels to cooperate, how the market can improve service and product standards to lift the entire hotel and tourism industry, and the importance of private entrepreneurship.
UNDP's Deputy Representative of Operations Javier Barrantes, Exotissimo Travel's Duangmala Phommavong, Hotel Khamvongsa's Souriyo Arounsavath, and Kirsten Focken from the Lao Tourism Marketing Board participated on the panel.
Mrs Ho-Strangas joined Singapore-based Horwath HTL, the world's leading hospitality consulting firm, in 2008, for which she conducts market and financial feasibility studies for hotel and resort development, hotel asset valuations, and market research across the Asia Pacific. She also consults clients on sales and marketing operations and strategic development.