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Index

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February 3, 2007

Arts & Culture

Vientiane Times Weekend

The caravan, pursued by a horde of children, arrives in a cloud of dust.

- Photos Thierry Renavand

Living in harmony with elephants  PHONESAVANH SANGSOMEBOUN

S

triking photos of a caravan of elephants on display at the T’Shop Lai gallery in Vientiane have drawn visitors into a nostalgic atmosphere of ancient traders riding atop elephants, wishing that they could follow. These photos create quite an impression on visitors, as they show the close relationship between traditional Lao journeymen and their elephants, immersing viewers in a journey across the country, from north to south. Interesting moments along the way have been captured and framed by professional documentary photographer, Mr Thierry Renavand, who has been inspired by the charm of nature, and the Lao culture and people. Mr Renavand has lived for nearly four years in Laos and is now working as a photo journalist for a French press

agency. “Travelling with the caravan was very interesting, but quite a challenge,” he says. Fortunately, during his trip he didn’t confront any difficulty that the intelligent, dynamic elephants, could not overcome. His fascination with nature and his elephant friends overcame his exhaustion. “It was a fruitful experience to approach the Lao way of life in this way, especially in the rural areas, where people are relatively pure, bound closely to nature and religion,” he recalls. “They are never in a rush and time seems unimportant for them.” He said that when he embarked on his journey from the north to the south, he was impressed by people’s reactions, especially those of the children, who enjoy biking and running through the dust with their bare feet to admire the caravan. As the caravan passed through each province, people treated the riders and their

elephants respectfully, welcoming them with shy smiles. Sometimes, villagers offered food to the elephants, and crowded around the huge creatures. “While accompanying the caravan,” he says, “I experienced various lifestyles and saw the relationship between religion and the elephants. In particular, I learned how these people live in harmony with animals and nature. “I feel that the relationship between people and elephants in Laos is very strong and ancient. It has been a tight knot for decades. Elephants are also linked to various episodes in the life of the Buddha.” He travelled for about three months with the caravan, and says he probably took more photos in the south, because they stayed longer there. Aside from photographing the elephant caravan, he also took photos of monks in each temple and the historic sites they passed, along with

‘Sing Thong’ takes his morning bath, after being led to the water by his driver.

Children rush to watch the elephant caravan pass through their village.

important buildings relevant to local culture, art and Buddhism. “I don’t think I took more pictures in any one area compared to the others. Each province in Laos is interesting,” he says. “The pictures that involve people,

especially their daily life, normal activities, and religious ceremonies are the ones I like the most.” This is the second showing of the exhibition, after it first opened in a gallery in Luang Prabang. The photos intrigued both locals and foreigners who came to view them and to appreciate the value of traditional cultures and the close relationship between people and animals. “Although Lao people love photography, I don’t always get feedback about my photos,” he said, adding that maybe this is because people are shy, or that an understanding of what makes a good photograph is not as widespread in Laos as in Europe. What Lao people appreciate about his photographs tends to be different from what Westerners respond to, he said. These photos will be important to Lao people, because the tradition of travelling by elephant is definitely under threat in Laos, as in many other Asian countries.

This is because their natural habitat is shrinking every day; with agriculture expanding, and the logging of forests extending further and further, their future is highly endangered. Today, there are only some 50,000 domestic and wild elephants left in Asia, including 2,000 wild elephants in Laos, formerly known as Lane Xang, ‘the kingdom of a million elephants’. The demise of the elephants would be like the death of a whole culture. The aim of the expedition was therefore to heighten awareness and change international and local opinions about the issue. For many, this expedition was one of rediscovery of old traditions, reviving hope among many villagers that this part of their culture may continue. “I am mainly attracted by people and culture. I think people used to live in better harmony with nature,” Mr Renavand says. “It is terrible to see how human beings are now destroying their environment.”


“La Nouvelle République” - Apr. 2002

“Vientiane Times” - Mar. 19th 2002


Vientiane Times - Laos - 28/12/06


Index

10

Feature

February 16, 2007

Vientiane Times

Tourism brings hope for elephants’ future † M. VONGSAM-ANG

W

hat is today known as Laos was once a part of the Kingdom of Lane Xang, which means ‘the land of a million elephants’, a name that is now more than 650 years old. Elephants have had important symbolic connotations and historical associations in Laos ever since, and are dear to the hearts of the Lao people. Unfortunately, as time has passed by, it is no exaggeration to say that the elephant has come under dire threat, and their number has reduced drastically over time, due to many factors. “The elephant is endangered today because of the loss of its forest habitat. Economic and technological change has limited the number of domesticated elephants needed in traditional

occupations,” said an expert from the Institute for Cultural Research, at the National Institute of Science, Mr Thammalay Chanthamoungkhoun. There are only about 2,000 elephants left in Laos today, including both wild and domesticated elephants. There are around 5,000 elephants in Asia, according to Mr Thammalay, who is also a coordinator of the French nonprofit organisation, Elefant Asia. There are elephants living in the forests that remain intact around the country, such as in north-western Xayaboury province, he said. The province’s Hongsa district is famous for the elephants it is home to. The expert training and handling capabilities of local mahouts from the district have become a focal point of Lao elephant-lore. In this expert’s opinion,

Elephants on their way to an important event in the southern province of Champassak.

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elephants are sacred and superb animals. They have been one of mankind’s best friends since time immemorial. The province will host an elephant festival this weekend in Hongsa district to give visitors a chance to discover the marvels of the culture and its surrounding natural splendour. The event will promote Laos as one of the last countries in Asia that is still home to a large number of the animals. “The festival is intended to raise awareness of the need for action to protect elephants in Laos. The Asian elephant is part of the vital cultural and natural heritage of Laos, and the region,” Mr Thammalay said.

This will be the first time that the province has welcomed visitors from inside and outside the country to pay tribute to its elephants and to enjoy cultural activities and entertainment, a “meeting point for the past and present,” he said. About 50 elephants will take part in the event. However, the future challenge for elephant preservation in the province, Mr Thammalay explained, is that the forests have been rapidly destroyed in recent years. If this continues, the animals will disappear from Laos in the next 20 to 50 years because of the lack of food and natural habitats. Elephants and farmers will face intensifying problems; elephants are forced to steal

food from farms, as the jungle around them shrinks. Today, domesticated elephants in the province are being sold to neighbouring countries, as farmers have ceased to put them to work. Formerly, they had hauled logs to earn money for the mahouts’ families, but their work on the farms has been replaced by modern technology, he said. The price of a large, adult, male elephant can be as high as US$20,000, and about half as much for an adult female. The festival is a good example of how to promote the protection of elephants before they disappear from the country, leaving only the image and memory of the animal after which the country of Laos was formerly named.

VACANCY FOR NATIONAL CONSULTANT (Mid-Term Project Evaluation Assignment) Concern Worldwide is an International Relief and Development Organisation working in Lao PDR since 1992, and is looking to recruit consultants for Mid-Term Project Evaluation Assignment. Purpose of the Evaluation: The purpose of the evaluation is to draw out all the lessons – both positive and negative – of the experience gained during the project implementation. Applications from teams, agencies or individuals are welcome. Timeframe: 14 days starting from 17 – 31 March 2007. Team should include: ¾ One consultant national livelihood expert will be engaged to complement the skills of the team leader particularly in regards to local livelihoods context ¾ One local translator/interpreter will be hired to assist the team. Ideally they will be able to speak one of the ethnic minority languages in the project area as well as Lao and English (the latter two language skills are compulsory) The team should have experience in evaluating rural development projects. Applicants should include their expected remuneration for the consultancy services. For the complete ToR, please refer to the website www.directoryofngos.org and go to Jobs Opening. Applications should include CVs and details of relevant experience. Send to palash.bagchi@concern.net Concern Worldwide Lao PDR before 28th February 2007.


Index

Vientiane Times

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The FFir ir st National English Langua ge Ne wspaper irst Languag Newspaper

ARY FEBRU MONDA Y 19, 2007 UAR AY FEBR MOND

ISSUE 42

4000 kip

Elephant festival draws jumbo crowd † PANYASITH THAMMAVONGSA

XAYABOURY--Some 10,000 local people and foreign visitors descended on Hongsa district in Xayaboury province to witness the first Elephant Festival in Laos, from February 17 to 18. Senior government officials and overseas guests, along with media from around the world, came to witness the festival and explore the

cultural village of Viengkeo, where the festival took place. Close to 50 elephants took part, with 17 coming from Viengkeo, the largest population centre in the district. “This is a wonderful festival and a historical event for Hongsa district. We want to preserve our elephants, as they are symbolic of our country. For centuries they have been closely bound up with our history and the lives of

ordinary people,” said Xayaboury Governor Dr Lien Thikeo. At the opening ceremony he pointed out that Xayaboury has always been home to more elephants than other provinces in the country, with the animals living in the villages and in the forest. But, he said, the elephant population was declining, and people no longer attributed them with the same importance as in the past. The festival was organised

to rekindle an interest in elephants, and to encourage their care and preservation. On the first day of the festival, visitors arrived on foot, by bus, boat, car, and even by helicopter to gaze at the majestic elephant procession, which grandly began the event. The elephants gathered together in a rice field and paraded through the village to be blessed by monks, in front of an array of officials and crowds of fascinated

spectators. On the same day, an elephant beauty contest was held to select the leader of the grand parade. The winner was Phousinuan Yai from Viengkeo village, owned by Mr Nanvongsa Thivongsa. The runner up was Phousinuan from Phonxay village, owned by Mr Thidsy, and in third place was Phoukhampheng from Viengkeo village, owned CONTINUED PAGE 2

Lao People’s Revolutionary Party Day Mar. 22

INSIDE

Vietnam boosts rubber investment in Laos PAGE 3 SME strategy under final debate PAGE 7

Local elders hold a baci for elephants at the Elephant Festival in Hongsa, Xayaboury province, on Saturday. --Photo Vichit

Rice shortage drives villagers to collect UXO PAGE 10

Vientiane Times on CD-ROM

Govt to monitor mining projects † MANICHANH PANSIVONGSAY

THE government has signed more than 100 agreements for mining projects with local and foreign investors in recent years, but few of them have been put into operation, said the Vice President of the Committee for Planning and Investment on Friday. Mr Bounthavy Sisouphanthong said at a press conference that most projects are still in the survey and exploration phases. “We need to properly monitor the implementation of concession agreements. At the same time we may slow down the consideration of new

applications for mining projects,” he said. The central government will coordinate with provincial authorities to inspect projects already agreed to, but it will take time, according to the Deputy Director General of the Department for Promotion and Management of Domestic and Foreign Investment, Ms Thamma Phetvixay. The government wants to assure all investors that it will continue to honour all the concessions and agreements it has entered into. Mr Bounthavy told the press conference that the government recognises the important role played by

potential and serious private investors in the development of the sector, but it has to properly monitor implementation of mining projects in terms of benefits, social and environmental impacts, and sustainable development. Recognising the current economic development of the country as being small-scale, it is the intention of the government, in line with its socio-economic development plan, to have a balanced investment scheme, according to the Vice President of the committee. He said it was government policy to promote foreign investment and it was trying to speed up the process, so as not

--VientianeTimes www.vientianetimes.org.la - a member of Asia News Network --

to cause delays and confusion for investors. Since 1986, the government has put considerable efforts into mobilising capital, technology and know-how to develop its natural resources to create jobs and generate revenue for the people in terms of hard currency. The government has been working to address difficulties it has encountered during the past few years in attracting more investment into the country. Many concrete measures have been put in place at the macro-economic level to revitalise and expand production, especially in agro-

based and export-oriented industries. In general, industrial development is in its infancy, according to a press release on investment in the mining sector. Mr Bounthavy said “During the past few years, through our utmost endeavours to encourage investment, we have attracted quite substantial investment in some of our relatively advantaged sectors such as hydropower and mining.” The press conference was held in the Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and attracted a large number of diplomats and foreign investors.

Issues of Vientiane Times from 2001 to January 2007 have been recorded on CD-ROM. Now available at Vientiane Times office. Corner Setthathirath/ Pangkham Roads, Nam Phu, Vientiane. P.O. Box: 5723, Tel: (856-21) 216364, 217593. Fax: (856-21) 216365 Email: info@vientianetimes.gov.la

CONTINUED PAGE 3


Index

2

HOME

February 19, 2007

Vientiane Times

New roads to improve remote villages † MEUANGKHAM NORADETH

THE Swedish International Development Agency and provincial officials are supporting the construction of roads in Oudomxay province to raise local living standards. “We are building gravel roads in Nga, Houn and Pakbaeng districts to help remote villagers improve their quality of life. We want to ease their poverty and help the government achieve its target of removing Laos from leastdeveloped country status by 2020,” said the Head of Office of the Communication, Transport, Post and Construction Department of the province, Mr Somxay Soulisack, on Wednesday. “Realising the need for better access, the agency and provincial officials have

contributed more than US$290,000. Local villagers are supplying their labour for the project,” he said. Roads in the three districts are very bumpy and are so narrow that they are only suitable for walking on, so it is hard for villagers to get around, Mr Somxay said. Access between villages is difficult and hinders the work of provincial officials attempting to improve conditions. Work on the roads began in 2006, and engineers expect to complete them by the end of next month. The roads involved stretch for more than 48km and have an average width of 3.5 metres. The work in Nga district is almost complete, while the roads in Houn and Pakbaeng districts are almost half finished. The new gravel roads will

Elephant festival... by Mr Nanphet. The elephants were colourfully decorated, and competed to be the most spectacular. The winner was cloaked in a specially woven red and gold cloth. The village was abuzz with a variety of attractions, including stalls selling silver and wooden handicrafts, elephant souvenirs, local snacks, and clothing. There were exhibits detailing the work and life of elephants and their mahouts. The elephants gave a demonstration of their work in logging, and did a short circus performance. A film showed the journey of the Elephant Caravan that took place in Laos in 2000, and local youngsters performed traditional dances. On the second day, the 50 elephants paraded in front of spectators, and took part in a baci ceremony. The younger elephants, aged two to three years, gave a training demonstration, and there was a lecture on elephant conservation. The children of Viengkeo primary school took part in a drawing competition, and visitors toured a photo exhibit. “On Saturday, the festival revolved around three main components - the work of elephants in logging and training, and the procession,” said Hongsa District Governor Mr Somvang Indavong. “During their two days here, visitors can take elephant rides around the village and explore our beautiful natural surroundings,” he said. Hongsa is the largest district in the province, with Viengkeo village having the largest elephant population, he said.

“In this district we respect elephants and regard them as auspicious. They play a part in our religion, as well as being closely bound up in our everyday lives. We have lived with elephants, as have our ancestors, for as long as we can remember,” he said. He explained that local people used elephants to carry logs from the forest to use in building their homes, and also for the transport of goods. “Elephants work well once they have been trained. In Hongsa we say “Ao xang khao kheuan”, meaning that if you can bring an elephant to the enclosure, it can be easily trained,” he said. Mr Somvang explained that the ao xang khao kheuan ceremony was a respected traditional festival in Hongsa, and was held annually to train elephants from November to January. A baci ceremony is also organised at Lao New Year every April, in order to acknowledge the work of the elephants and the benefits they bring to the community. According to Viengkeo Village Head Mr Nankham Keomany, Viengkeo was declared a cultural village in 1999. It has a population of 1,054, and 241 households. “We don’t have any guesthouses or hotels, but everyone here has spruced up their homes to accommodate visitors. We are charging 25,000 kip per person,” he said. President of the Lao National Tourism Authority Mr Somphong Mongkhonvilay said in a media interview, “As you all know, Laos used to be called The

Lao Press in Foreign Languages Director General Savankhone Razmountry

Vientiane Times is published by Lao Press in Foreign Languages

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link neighbouring villages, Mr Somxay said. “When the roads are finished, travel between villages will be easy in all seasons, and living standards, especially amongst poor families, will be improved as it will be easier for them to get their goods to market.” Villagers in the three districts produce a variety of marketable agricultural products, especially maize and animal products. Last year the department tested the viability of the road repairs by resurfacing 5km of road with gravel in Houn district, and found that it made life easier for local people. “Before the new surface was laid it was difficult for people to get to hospital and take their produce to sell at nearby markets or in neighbouring villages,” Mr Somxay said. FROM PAGE 1 Land of a Million Elephants. This festival aims to raise awareness among the public of the need to help preserve our dwindling elephant population in a way that is sustainable. We also want to promote our ecotourism projects to the region and to the world.” A visitor from New Caledonia, Ms Bertille, said “I heard about the festival when I was in Luang Prabang. I came here by boat, as I really wanted to be present at such a special occasion. I’ve never seen anything like it before – it’s fascinating to see so many elephants and everything else that’s going on here.” “The people in this village are very hospitable, and I have enjoyed staying with a family as part of the homestay that was arranged for us. At first I thought I would stay in a guesthouse, but the house where I’m staying is just lovely,” she said. To add to the interest of the event, the district arranged for about 50 stallholders to set up booths selling a variety of handicrafts. These were made in various districts of the province, as well as in Luang Prabang, Huaphan, Luang Namtha, Khammuan and Champassak provinces and in Vientiane. Local traders came from Xayaboury, Hongsa, Kaenthao, Xienghon and Ngeun districts, hoping to make a healthy profit at the historic event. On a hot day, visitors were only too pleased to take advantage of the local dishes and cool drinks on offer. Xayaboury province has a total of 500 domesticated elephants and a further 200 to 300 that live in the wild. Tel: 252630 Fax: (856-21) 216365 Marketing Manager Phoutthasack Inthakoummane Tel: 216364 Mobile: 020 5599209 info@vientianetimes.gov.la Subscription room Tel: (856-21) 251619 info@vientianetimes.org.la Fax: (856-21) 216365 yommalath@hotmail.com Contact Information Editorial feedback, news, articles or enquiries Tel: 217593 editor@vientianetimes.org.la Advertisement and customer service Tel: 216364 Fax: 216365 info@vientianetimes.gov.la or yommalath@hotmail.com Online subscription: Tel: 216364 Fax: 216365 info@vientianetimes.org.la

Health workers bag up duck carcasses in Dongsavath village.

More poultry culled to curb bird flu † VIENGSAVANH PHENGPHACHAN

HEALTH workers culled about 450 ducks in Phonpapao Thong village, Sisattanak district, on Friday, after tests showed that tissue samples were infected with the H5N1 virus. Health workers slaughtered infected birds belonging to Mr Khamphong, whose poultry were bred on an open paddy field. The sample from his farm, collected on January 28 and tested in Vietnam, demonstrated the presence of the H5N1 strain of avian flu on February 9. The emergence of avian influenza among these ducks was one of two simultaneous outbreaks detected in Vientiane. Poultry belonging to Ms Vankeo, in Dongsavath Neua village, were also found to be infected. Some of Mr Khamphong’s ducks died between January 17 and 20, while another 100 ducks became weak, producing no eggs, according to a report

from the Vientiane Agriculture and Forestry Department. However, the ducks became stronger when the weather warmed up, producing eggs again as usual, the report said. The Vientiane Administration Office announced the outbreak of bird flu in Dongsavath village, Sisattanak district, when the test results from dead poultry found in two residential backyards in Dongsavath village proved positive. A Vientiane Department of Health official, Dr Phonpasueth Ounaphone, told the Vientiane Times yesterday that no suspicious cases had previously occurred in those areas. “We will closely monitor the situation and conduct checks on people living near Ms Vankeo, her family members, and Mr Khamphong’s employees, but nobody has fallen ill yet,” he said. There are five health workers volunteering in each of the villages identified as

‘yellow’ and ‘red’ zones, searching for people who may have contracted the disease from poultry or birds. Information will be relayed to doctors immediately if residents show avian flu-like symptoms. The administration office categorised various areas under surveillance as yellow zones, including Phonpapao Thong, Sangvuey, and Done Koy villages in Sisattanak district. The yellow zones include Phonthan Tai, Meuangnoy, Xiengda, Nonvay, Khamsavath, Nonkor and Huakhua villages, along with Talatnoy market in Huakhua village and the night market in That Luang village, Xaysettha district. In a bid to limit the disease, four checkpoints were set up in Donnokkhoum, Sangveuy, Donkoy and Nonghai villages, adjacent to Dongsavath village. The infected ducks lived on a large pond, about 1.4 kilometres away from residential communities.

Blind students have difficult walk to school † KHONESAVANH LATSAPHAO

BLIND students at the Lao Rehabilitation Centre on Khouvieng Road face danger every day as they walk to school along this busy main road. They go to and from school on foot and often bump into vehicles parked along both sides of the road. “They are hurrying to get to school, but sometimes they get hurt in accidents,” an official from the centre, Mr Vilaivanh, said on Thursday. Students use their canes to guide them, but at the times they walk to and from school, the roadsides are crowded with vehicles. They most commonly bump into large vehicles such as 4WDs, as their canes slide underneath them. The centre is located opposite Nongchan Park, and

accommodates about 30 blind students, but only offers the first two years of primary school on site. Students in years three to five go to Phaxay Primary School and afterwards to Phiavat Secondary School. “These schools are about 1.5 kilometres from the centre,” Mr Vilaivanh said. There is no footpath on the side of Khouvieng Road that joins the centre, so students have to walk on the road, but parked vehicles make it difficult for them to walk safely. “We have asked the Ministry of Communication, Transport, Post and Construction many times to see if they can do something to help us and they have said they will, but so far nothing has been done,” he said. “I worry every day and am

very relieved when I see the students return safely for lunch and dinner,” he said. The students come from different provinces, and most come from poor families, so they are not charged for their education or accommodation at the school. “We welcome blind children from seven to fifteen years old as long as they are willing to study,” Mr Vilaivanh said. When they have finished primary or secondary school, they can go for training at the Nongbone massage centre. Other job opportunities for the blind are extremely rare in Laos. “We can also send them to teacher training college if they don’t want to train in massage. Our hope is then that some of them can become teachers at the blind school,” he said.


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PHOTO ESSAY

February 19, 2007

Vientiane Times

A monk sprays water over elephants during the baci ceremony at the Elephant Festival.

The elephant procession parades through Viengkeo village to a baci ceremony.

–Photos Vichit

A mahout commands his elephant, from Sibounheuang village in Xayaboury province, to kneel as part of a performance at the Elephant Festival.

Foreign visitors ride a motorbike from Vientiane to Hongsa district to attend the Elephant Festival.

Viengkeo villagers in Xayaboury province prepare their elephants ahead of the parade at the Elephant Festival on Saturday.

A photographer from Lao Press in Foreign Languages, Vichit Chanthavong, takes a welcome break during the long and dusty drive to the festival.


Index

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February 22, 2007

PHOTO ESSAY

Vientiane Times

Senior officials of Viengkeo village bring a three-year-old elephant to show how it is trained to follow the commands of its mahout.

Elephants demonstrate their cooperative work in logging at the Elephant Festival in Viengkeo village of Hongsa district, Xayaboury province, last Sunday. The festival was partly organised by ElefantAsia, a non-profit organisation founded in 2001 to support the conservation of Asian elephants. Deputy Governor of Xayaboury province, Mr Khamsouk Thor (middle front row), hosts a farewell dinner at his home for TV, radio and newspaper reporters after they had finished reporting on the event.

Students from Kiettisack International School take an interest in the workings of Vientiane Times yesterday, taking a photo of a reporter writing an article. –Photo Sisay

Marketing and Public Relations Manager of the Lao Press in Foreign Languages, Mr Phoutthasack Inthakoummane, explains the operation of the newsroom to visiting students. Students from year five of Kiettisack International School visited Vientiane Times yesterday. –Photo Sisay Temperature (ºC) Min. / Max.

Location

Phongsaly

15/29

Vientiane

23/36

Xamneua

15/30

Pakxan

23/36

X.khuang

12/30

Lakxao

19/33

Oudomxay

09/33

Thakhek

23/37

Bokeo

15/33

S.nakhet

25/37

L.Namtha

09/32

Saravan

24/36

Location

A resident of Viengkeo village, Xayaboury province, catches fish in the river using a traditional fishing net known as a hae. –Photo Vichit

Department of Meteorology and Hydrology Today’s Weather Forecast (Valid from 7 pm 21/ 02/ 2007 to 7 pm 22/ 02/ 2007) For more information, please visit our web page: http:// dmhlao.etllao.com/

Weather

Weather

Temperature (ºC) Min. / Max.

L.Prabang

15/36

Pakxe

23/36

Xayaboury

14/35

Pakxong

14/27

X.somboun

13/30

Attapeu

24/37

Phonhong

20/36

Xekong

23/37

Partly cloudy

Haze

Isolated Showers Mostly Cloudy

sunny Mist

windy Light rain


Index

Vientiane Times Weekend

Lifestyle

March 3, 2007

11

Home-stays give first-hand glimpse of rural lifestyle  PANYASITH THAMMAVONGSA 25,000 kip per person per night. A French tourist, Mr verseas visitors Fabien Offner, said the family who welcomed him was very who enjoyed the recent Elephant nice, and he met other Lao and Festival in foreign tourists who stayed in Hongsa district, the same house. “I travelled more than ten Xayaboury province, were lucky to also get an insight into hours to get here, and I am very the local culture and life of the pleased to be able to see the Elephant Festival,� he said. “I Leu ethnic people. Residents of Viengkeo have only seen elephants in the village, where the festival was zoo before, so it was very staged, offered visitors from impressive to see them only one across the world a chance to metre in front of me, with their taste local life with home-stay strange trunks and their a c c o m m o d a t i o n , seemingly suspicious eyes.� “The man who owns the demonstrating their proud and house is a mahout, so we asked hospitable nature. The people of Viengkeo him a lot of questions. He also village in Hongsa district took us into the forest one opened their doors to offer evening to see the elephants,� home-stay style he said. He said sleeping in a local accommodation to visitors was the best during the weekend of the house festival. The concept was so opportunity to see how Lao popular that many houses now people live in the countryside, offer home-stay beds for and it was completely different from Vientiane. visitors throughout the year. Villagers who open their Spic and span and pretty as a picture, the village houses a homes to accommodate tourists have been well briefed on fine collection of traditional bamboo and wooden homes. foreign language communiVillage homes built in typical cation skills, and can offer Viengkeo style are often reference guides and menus in bordered by wooden fences, both English and Lao. These made of the same material as resources give Lao and foreign the house and complementing people a better chance to communicate with each other. the overall design. Before opening their Well established, Viengkeo village homes present a distinct homes, owners attended architectural style, and many training courses provided by are surrounded by mature provincial authorities, teaching gardens. Environmentally them how to prepare their

O

A local trader displays weavings by the women of Viengkeo village in Xayaboury province, for sale to visitors to the Elephant Festival earlier this month.

around Laos, and Hongsa district marked the end of his journey. He had always stayed in a hotel or guesthouse before, but in Viengkeo village he

Overseas visitors staying with a family in Viengkeo village have a chance to experience the local lifestyle by eating lunch with their host family.

Travellers also shopped for have their ancestors, for as long population in Hongsa district. handicrafts, sewn and woven as they can remember. Travellers who wish to visit Viengkeo village has 17 Hongsa can get there by public locally. For those who preferred an elephants, the largest transport, by road or river. added measure of freedom, fields and backyards were made available for camping. Viengkeo was declared a cultural village in 1999, and today has a population of 1,054 in 241 households. People living in the village use elephants as transport and in their work. They regard elephants as auspicious and have an innate respect for them. As well as being closely bound to their everyday lives, elephants play a part in the villagers’ religion. Local people Travellers sleep under mosquito nets during their home-stay have lived with elephants, as in Viengkeo village, the site of the Elephant Festival.

Ă…Â™Â“Â›Â„ĂŠÂˆÂ•Â™|™„ conscious, villagers weave bamboo bins, placed outside shops and homes, to keep the village clean. “We encouraged residents living on the main street to build wooden fences to enhance the village’s appearance for this first-ever elephant festival. We believe that a well-developed and clean village will encourage homestay tourists to stay longer,â€? said the village head, Mr Nankhamkeo Manyvong. “Our village doesn’t have any guesthouses or hotels, so everyone has spruced up their homes to attract visitors and house them in comfort,â€? he said. Each home-stay costs

homes and cook and serve meals for visitors. The villagers also learnt how to upgrade their bathrooms, with emphasis on the importance of providing clean water. “It’s fascinating to see so many elephants, and also to get to know the people of this village, who are very hospitable,� said a visitor from New Caledonia, Ms Bertille. “I have enjoyed staying with a family. At first I thought I would stay in a guesthouse, but the house where I’m staying is just lovely.� A traveller from Holland, Mr Keroen Le Sage, told the Vientiane Times during the festival that he had toured all

stayed in a villager’s home where he learned things he hadn’t encountered previously. “I have a guidebook which instructs foreigners on the ‘do’s and don’ts’ in Laos, so during this weekend of living with local people, I have been able to speak with the owner of the house, and learn the correct pronunciation of words and taste Lao food I haven’t seen anywhere else,� he said. “The owner and people here are very nice and they are always smiling. I really hope to come back again in the future.� Aside from home comforts, visitors also enjoyed riding elephants in the nearby forest and could see for themselves how the local people lived.

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Opinion

March 10, 2007

Vientiane Times Weekend

The white elephant: a national treasure

A monk gives sugarcane to a female white elephant at Dok Maidaeng Garden, next to the That Luang esplanade. During the early 1990s, the elephant appeared in public at the annual That Luang festival.

VIENTIANE TIMES

F

or past generations, the white elephant was one of the priceless symbols of the Lane Xang Kingdom. People then thought the animal would bring them good fortune and ensure a bright future for the kingdom. By the 1990s, Laos had just one female white elephant, named Nang Keoming Meuang Lao. The elephant came from a southern province and was exhibited to the public at the That Luang festival in the early 1990s. However, Nang Keoming Meuang Lao has not appeared in public for quite some time

now. In 1999-2000, the country organised a huge tourism campaign to welcome visitors from around the world. A parade with elephants from around the country was a special part of the promotion and a welcoming ceremony was held at the That Luang esplanade, but the white elephant remained out of sight in Vientiane. Another big event in the history of Laos was the 650th anniversary of King Fangum, who united the Lane Xang kingdom, held in Vientiane in 2002. A new statue was built and installed on open land at the fork between Samsenthai and Luang Prabang roads in Vientiane. Again, the white elephant did not participate in

the parade, in which only elephants from other parts of the country took part. The latest elephant round-up took place on February 17 to 18 in Hongsa district, Xayaboury province, with more than 10,000 local people and foreign visitors gathering to witness the first Elephant Festival in Laos. The festival calls to mind the very name of the Lane Xang Kingdom, the ‘land of a million elephants’. Foreign organisations, private companies and the provincial authorities, in cooperation with the Lao National Tourism Administration, organised and hosted the festival in Viengkeo village. The province was chosen as the

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site of the festival as it has around 500 domesticated elephants and a further 200 to 300 living in the wild. The aim of the festival was to raise public awareness of the need to help preserve the dwindling elephant population and their habitat in a way that is sustainable. The organisers sought to rekindle an interest in elephants, and to encourage their care and preservation. There were 50 elephants to parade in front of spectators, with an elephant beauty contest to select the leader of the grand parade. Various exhibits detailed the work and lives of elephants and their mahouts. However, yet again, the famous white elephant Nang Keoming

Meuang Lao failed to put in an appearance. After such a long absence from public view, people are wondering whether this national treasure is in fact alive. Lao people have long had a close association with elephants, living together with them around the Mekong River for thousands of years, as recorded in Lao history and legend. The older generation believed that the white elephant was the best and cleverest of all domesticated animals. At all major festivals, elephants were used as vehicles to lead the parades, and appeared at other events such as the annual Boun Pravet festival. In days gone by, people used elephants as a mode of transport and in war, to protect the sovereignty of the nation. For years they were used to haul logs from the forest for use in building their homes, and also for the transport of goods through the mountains. For the South East Asian Games in 2009, which Laos will host, two white elephants have been selected as mascots. The male elephant is named thao champa or Mr Champa (national flower) and the female is called nang champior Miss Champi (native flower), and they will appear on a range of products to promote the games. If the real white elephant were invited to appear at the opening ceremony, it would be a wonderful and appropriate complement to the games, especially as so many local people and overseas visitors have never seen a white elephant before. If the national treasure were to reappear, and be on display to the public, it would prove a very attractive draw for visitors, and would give a unique flavour to the promotion campaigns. In the coming years, the tourist industry may become the largest source of national revenue, with local people nationwide benefiting from tourism. If this is the case, the government’s goal of graduating from least developed country status by the year 2020 will not be far off.

FEEDBACK We, the board of directors of Lao Press in Foreign Languages, would like to request your comments and suggestions concerning the Vientiane Times and Le Renovateur, in order to improve their quality. We are seeking your feedback on the daily issues and the recently introduced Weekend issue of the Vientiane Times in regard to the following: Content: What styles and methods should we change, add or omit and what columns are not interesting to you? Services: Which services should we improve, such as advertisements, distribution and online subscriptions? Reporters: Are there any changes our reporters should make in the way they perform their duties? We look forward to receiving your comments in order to better serve all our readers and customers.

Vientiane Times

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International Children’s Day June 1

Drawn from the heart PAGE 10

Median strip on Kaysone Phomvihane Road to reduce accidents † VIENTIANE TIMES

VIENTIANE authorities will begin installing a median strip along Kaysone Phomvihane Road in June as part of an initiative to reduce road accidents and maintain order on the capital’s streets. A senior official from the Vientiane Urban Development and Administration Authority, Mr Khamphet Phonglatlasy, told Vientiane Times on Monday that the project would take four months to complete. “We are preparing concrete blocks and other equipment to start the project,” he said. Mr Khamphet explained that many drivers did not respect traffic regulations, which was why a median strip along this road was necessary. Drivers often use incorrect lanes and turn without regard for lines painted on the roads, causing many accidents, and the project aims to tackle this problem by forcing drivers to

slow down and stay in the correct lanes. Villagers The 7.4-kilometre strip will prepare to start at Km5 in Phonphanao bury an village, Xaysettha district, and finish in Don Noun village, and elephant that by will be financed by the was killed illegal Swedish International hunters in Development Cooperation Borikhamxay Agency and the Nordic province, last Development Fund. month. Authorities initially wanted to build a nine-kilometre strip running from Hongxeng canal in Phonkheng village to Don Noun, but there was not enough funding. The remainder of the strip will be built when financing becomes available. When asked why authorities did not build the median strip while the road was being rebuilt, Mr Khamphet responded that authorities had planned to do this, but there was insufficient † EKAPHONE PHOUTHONESY funding at the time. He maintained that work on THE protection of endangered wild elephants in Borikhamxay CONTINUED PAGE 2 province will eventually become impossible if illegal hunters of the giant animals are not arrested, provincial officials have warned. According to a report from the Borikhamxay Agriculture and Forestry Department, investors and the government to export electricity to other another elephant was killed in countries stipulate that only 5 to April in the Namkading 10 percent of the supply will go National Protected Area, to local villagers,” Mr bringing the number of elephant killings in the Homphone said. “The only way to ensure new province since 2006 to three. There are now thought to factories have a sufficient electricity supply is to establish be just five elephants more hydro-power projects to remaining in this protected produce enough energy for the area. A police officer working in country.” Current hydro-power the economics unit in Bolikhan projects primarily built for local district, Mr Sysouphan supply in Laos include Nam Lorvanxay, who is involved in the investigation of the latest Ngum 5, Nam Lik 1 and 2. Mr Homphone explained elephant killing, said the that, previously, information hunters had taken the about new industry had not been elephant’s tusks, toenails and comprehensive enough for various organs that are sectors to make plans for valuable because they are used projected demands on the electricity grid. Electricity du Laos, the country’s main electricity company, is already earning almost US$20 million a year from exports of electricity to Thailand and Vietnam, but around US$8 million of its electricity has been bought back from these countries to meet local needs.

Another elephant killed in Borikhamxay

More local power needed to meet industrial growth † VIENTIANE TIMES

THE government has announced plans to introduce more hydro-power projects to supply electricity to meet growing local demand, particularly with the growth of new industry around the country. It will also conduct detailed surveys on the number of factories being built in Laos each year, and what additional electricity demands there may be in the future. Director General of the Ministry of Energy and Mines’ Department of Electricity, Mr Homphone Bouliyaphon, said yesterday that Laos currently does not have enough reserve electricity to supply new factories being built amid the country’s growing economy. Most of the hydro-electricity produced in Laos is intended for export to neighbouring countries, but can be bought back when local demands increase because of new industrial developments. This has an impact on the national economy. “Today, agreements between

CONTINUED PAGE 2

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in some traditional medicines. He said the investigation team had talked to villagers who said they heard a series of gunshots coming from the area before they arrived on the scene to find the dead elephant. The hunters had apparently used firearms to shoot the animal in the head. Mr Sysouphan confirmed that the previous two cases involved elephants killed using the same technique, and they were continuing to investigate, as these killings were illegal under the country’s forestry laws. The Deputy Director of the Namkading National Protected Area, Mr Manisengphet Phakhounthong, told Vientiane Times this week that, until now, police had been unable to find the people responsible for illegal wildlife hunting. “It is going to become ever more difficult to protect these wild animals if we cannot arrest the perpetrators of these acts,” Mr Manisengphet said. “To stop the illegal hunting of

wild elephants, the search for those who are responsible must become more urgent.” He said forestry officials were concerned about the continued hunting of endangered wildlife in protected areas, which would have a negative impact both on the animal population and on the forest itself. “Wildlife is crucial for the survival of the forest, as they help to balance the ecosystem,” he said. He said that elephants were on the list of protected wild animals along with tigers, and forestry officials were determined to find the hunters and punish them. He said forestry officials were cooperating with various international NGOs to launch a campaign in nearby villages, to help locals understand the importance of wildlife. If people are more aware of how many wild animals are endangered and what impact this is having on the forests, this might encourage them to

play more of a role in protecting the animals. But this is a slow process, Mr Manisengphet said, because in the past villagers have had problems with elephants damaging their crops and are generally not concerned if they are killed. He confirmed that forestry officials were increasing their patrols and inspection measures in the protected areas to reduce the opportunity for wildlife hunters to kill endangered animals. But, he said, this would not solve the problem completely, as it was not limited to the protected areas. For instance, one of the main problems was that people were continuing to consume wildlife in various forms, giving illegal hunters more of a reason to continue killing endangered species. Discouraging locals from buying or eating wildlife was part of the awareness-raising campaign in nearby areas, Mr Manisengphet said.


World Environment Day recognises endangered elephants in Laos. By Ingrid Suter The Department of Livestock and Fisheries have recently released the latest statistics relating to domesticated elephant populations in Laos. Several years of elephant registration data and                         entire domesticated elephant population is ag        male domesticated elephants under the age of           !             tion’s entire domesticated elephant population. " #$%&!    ' (            )*  +             ! !  !   %& !                +             !     ,        %    %&% / 0  12  *       !        3% / 0  !2 ' !   %     Laotians to support the protection of elephants in Laos. “The lack of young female elephants and an inadequate       4      ! 5      !            3%  / 0  The main cause of decline in the domesticated elephant population is that female elephants are rarely given the    6              

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