By Bernie Rosenbloom
The Lao Thiao Lao Survey Team traveled to Vientiane Province on 24-27 August, to identify sustainable tourism products, meet with provincial and district tourism officials, and consult with tourism site developers to ensure sustainable tourism growth in the increasingly popular destination.
Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry Tourism Director, Inthy Deuansavanh, and Tourism Sector Specialist, Phongsith Davading, led the team that included tour operators, investors, and media specialists, as they visited sites and met with government officials.
Master Plan for Sustainable Tourism
At the first of three meetings, Director of Vientiane’s Department of Information, Culture and Tourism Ms Inkham stressed the need for a solid Tourism Master Plan, adding “Districts must follow the provincial Master Plan and regulations for a sustainable future.”
Ms Phongsith added that as tourism is expanding in the province, “Investors must follow the Master Plan to protect and sustain the environment. This is not just for nature, but culture, heritage, and religious sites.”
Mr Inthy agreed, but cautioned that challenges include maintaining long-term sustainability and (preventing) factories and plantations from moving in. “These can interrupt the experience that tourists demand, and hinder tour operator’s ability to include them in their itineraries.” Mr Inthy also owns and operates Green Discovery Laos tours.
He then shifted to promoting the Lao Thiao Lao domestic tourism campaign, noting the success of the ongoing Facebook page platform. “We have since contracted digital marketing company, Smart Technology, who produces our videos, and WeAreLao is supporting us by giving Laos exposure in the global travel trade media.” The LNCCI also launched the What’s Up Laos App on 26 August.
What’s Up Laos App
Ms Phongsith added that the Lao Thiao Lao promotion effort and survey team aim to “show the beauty of the provinces. The Lao Thiao Lao Survey Team has already inspected Khammouane, and plans to visit Luang Prabang, Oudomxay, and Champasak.”
Meuang Feuang…Simply Beautiful
For the Vientiane survey, stakeholders first focused on Meuang Feuang. According to Ms Inkham, “Meuang Feuang is gaining in popularity…It is already quite well known for its pristine nature, Nam Lik River and towering mountains. It can easily be tied to a Vientiane-Vang Vieng trip.” Meuang Feuang is about a 90-minute drive from both destinations.
Mr Inthy added, “My friends talk a lot about Meuang Feuang, and see potential for attracting the Thai market. In fact, many Lao tour operators are communicating with Thai agents, and Thai investors are showing interest in the area.” He stressed, “Tonight’s accommodation at Ban Lao Meuang Feuang has plenty of potential for the Thai market.”
Ban Lao Meuang Feuang
The Survey Team then headed to Meuang Feuang to meet with some 20 district officials and local tourism businesses, who expressed eagerness in growing the destination. They were also keen on following the provincial Tourism Master Plan, for which Ban Lao appears as a model.
Ban Lao sits off the beaten track on the clean and clear Nam Lik River, and seamlessly blends with the uninterrupted surrounding nature and massive karst. Accommodation ranges from floating bamboo bungalows – with more under construction – to Lao-style houses with up to five bedrooms.
Inside Ban Lao
The property also hosts an area of stalls selling local products and traditional salas for dining on the area’s popular dishes. Future developments include an ethnic village with 10 houses, a coffee shop, and more eco-activities to join Ban lao’s bamboo rafting, boat rides, and swimming in the Nam Lik.
A short drive up the river road led to Pha Teung with a distinct mountain view. The site is currently under construction, with a long wooden walkway crossing a broad rice paddy. A brainstorming session with the owner discussed adding camping, agro-tourism, and a restaurant.
Pha Teung Walkway
Further along, Had Don Kang, where the Nam Lik temporarily splits in two at the foot of a towering cliff, Mr Inthy said the location has potential, but needed upgrading.
Had Don Kang
“I’d suggest offering Lao massages and camping. Owners need to be creative when developing a site, and not just duplicate what others do, as each has its own character.”
The journey continued to Sin Xay Temple, a sprawling complex being developed about 45 minutes south of the district capital. An endlessly long Naga serpent winds its way through a number of Buddhist shrines and religious structures backed by a sky-high mountain, and is already attracting visitors.
Sin Xay Temple
Vang Vieng’s Sustainable Expansion
The Survey Team then travelled to Vang Vieng to meet with tourism officials and discuss the Master Plan, ongoing developments in Vang Vieng, and how it is sustainably expanding.
“How will Vang Vieng move ahead, grow, and develop…Our survey shows Nam Lik has potential,” Mr Inthy said, and reiterated the challenge of expanding while saving the natural scenery. “We need eco-friendly activities, safety regulations, and to keep the rivers and riversides clean.”
He added, “Foreign tourists accounted for 70-80% of pre-covid visitors to Vang Vieng. We need to raise service standards, especially at sites across river.”
Ms Phongsith noted that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is supporting the construction of the 26-km Western Loop road to help develop the vast area and its attractions across the Song River from Vang Vieng Town.
Click on Photo for Google Map
Before hitting the Western Loop, the Survey Team drove north about 1 km to Wonderful Tours’ natural park and Neverland restaurant on the Song River. The sprawling grounds presents the softly lit Angel Cave, and Tham Non (Lay Down Cave) through which tourists literally lay on tubes and pull on a rope to explore the river cave. The Wonderful Tours’ park also offers a zip-line course, swimming pool, and kayaking on the river.
Wonderful Tours Park
However the Survey Team would wait for their Song River adventure as they continued north to Pha Hom Clip and its pavilion restaurant known for its stream crabs. They travelled to the Organic Farm, boarded kayaks and long-tail boats, and returned to Vang Vieng Town.
The Western Loop
It’s impossible to cover the expansive Western Loop in a single day, as it opens the door to more than a dozen attractions including caves, six lagoons, viewpoints, and creative accommodation.
The Survey Team first stopped at Blue Lagoon 2, where a small mountain stream fills the ponds with clear turquoise water. For activities, visitors can fly on a zip-line, jump into the lagoon from a tower, or simply relax in a bamboo hut with food from the onsite restaurant.
Blue Lagoon 2
The Blue Lagoon 2 concession belongs to Mr Moksavan, who said Koreans and Europeans enjoy spending the day. According to local lore, people would soak in the sacred “Big Pool” to cure their ills. Mr Moksavan has divided the property into three zones to include 12 bungalows, activities, and a relaxation area with hammocks. He is also responsible for the upkeep of 50 hectares of the protected area around his site.
Next up came InterPark featuring tent camping, flower gardens, swings over the lake and loads of dinosaur statues giving the mountainside site a Jurassic Park feel.
Vang Vieng Interpark
Angsavan Resort, a new accommodation jewel, sits at the far tip of the Western Loop, and features riverside A-frame villas with balconies and outdoor tubs, glamping with campfires, restaurant, and a pool with swings.
The final stop, Ban Nathong Village, a CBT attraction, includes Blue Lagoon 1 and Pou Kham Cave (Crab Cave). The village profits from the $1.00 entry fee and restaurant, while providing life jackets, cave guides, and clean facilities.
Blue Lagoon 1
The Survey Team ran out of time, bypassing other notable sites such as Tham Lom and Tham Chang Caves, Blue Lagoons 3 and 6, and Kaeng Nyui waterfall. The drive back to the capital took about an hour during which the Lao Thiao Lao Survey Team reviewed Vientiane’s potential as a sustainable and growing destination while stressing the need for a well thought out Tourism Master Plan.
The “Survey to identify tourism products in Vientiane Province to be included in tour programs for Lao Thiao Lao” 24-27/8/2021 was supported by the GMS Tourism Infrastructure for Inclusive Growth Project, Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.