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Adventure along the Mekong in “Visit Nakhon Phanom Year 2004”

ASEAN Tourism Forum 2004

PATA Strategic Intelligence Centre WorldWatch

‘Outstanding’ Keynotes at Mekong Forum

Adventure along the Mekong in “Visit Nakhon Phanom Year 2004”

Now daily direct flights with Phuket Air

Reinhard Hohler

As part of the “Unseen Thailand” campaign, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) organized a familiarization trip to Isaan, the northeastern part of the kingdom. This was a 6 day - 5 nights soft adventure tour program along the mighty Mekong River.

Wat Song Khon, the largest Catholic Church in Thailand.

We met at Don Muang Airport to depart from Bangkok to Udon Thani. We were given a hearty welcome party in the Charoen Hotel by the governor of the province and visited Phu Phrabat Historical Park near Ban Phue, where a holy footprint in Wat Phra Buddha Bat Bua Bok is surrounded by strangely shaped sandstone rock formations.

Wat Phra That Tha U-Then in Nakhon Phanom Province

In the afternoon, we reached Ban Dung District, surrounded by salt fields, where we visited Ban Kham Chanot. This place is marked by a special type of palm tree and features a clear water swamp which is regarded as the gateway to the naga world, where mythical creatures bring fertility and abundance to the human world.

The new immigration office in Laos - Nakhon Panom

In Nongkhai Province we attended a performance of the town’s dramatic art club and checked in very late at Nongkhai Grand Hotel. Early the next morning we paid respect to the golden Buddha image of Wat Pho Chai and visited the weird Sala Keo Kou, where the late Luang Pho Bunluea had created a Hindu-Buddhist Disneyland.

The 66 meters high Ho Keo Tower

At Wat Ahong, we were told that this is regarded as the navel of the Mekong. The river there is 200 meters deep and full of giant catfish. Late in the afternoon we reached Wat Phra That Tha U-Then in Nakhon Phanom Province to see a lively Thai Yo dancing group. From there it was a long drive to Renu Nakhon, where we had an entertaining dinner and watched a colorful Phu Thai dancing group.

After a quiet night at the River View Hotel at Nakhon Phanom, we enjoyed a newly established morning cruise on the Mekong. Back on land, we paid respect to two wooden Buddha images housed in Wat Okat and visited the celebrated house of Ho Chi Minh, who lived in Ban Nachok between 1923 and 1929.

After lunch in the Mae Nam Khong Grand View Hotel, we departed on National Road No. 212 to That Phanom, the most important pilgrimage center in Isaan. It is interesting to note that TAT has just announced a “Visit Nakhon Phanom Year 2004” to attract more international tourists.

We left That Phanom for Mukdahan Province and reached Wat Song Khon which is actually the largest Catholic Church in Thailand. We passed Wat Mano Phirom in Ban Chanot, a 250 year old temple with an impressive Buddha image seated under a hooded nine headed naga, a bronze Laotian Buddha and eight carved ivory Buddhas.

In Mukdahan, there was still enough time to survey the crowded Indochina Market with goods from as far away as Vietnam, transported from Savannakhet across the Mekong to Mukdahan.

Next morning, we climbed the city landmark, the 66 meters high Ho Keo Tower. In the basement, there is a display of Mukdahan cultural items, while the second floor has exhibits of the costumes of the eight distinct ethnic groups living in the province.

After visiting Mukdahan National Park, we arrived in Khemarat District in Ubon Ratchthani Province to have an official welcome in Wat Pho Chai. In the afternoon, we visited the two waterfalls of Nam Tok Saeng Chan and Nam Tok Soi Sawan, both belonging to Pha Taem National Park. We arrived relatively early at Tohsang-Khong Chiam Resort to have a sunset cruise along the Mun River towards Kaeng Tana. Some of the local fishermen are living there in completely authentic stone-aged surroundings.

The next morning, we left for Pha Taem National Park to watch the sunrise over the Mekong Valley to make merit by giving alms to six waiting monks. We were at the most eastern part of Thailand. Later we went to the Pha Taem Cliff to study the more than 180 meter long ancient rock paintings that show a variety of animals, humans and geometric designs. We lunched at a floating restaurant, where the Mun River flows into the Mekong and then left for Chong Mek on the Thai-Lao border to go shopping.

Heading 90 kilometers on National Road No.217 to Ubon Ratchathani, we finally reached the luxurious Lai Thong Hotel. For the last evening of the educational trip through the eastern provinces of Isaan, we were invited by the vice-governor to the private compound of Ban Kampun, a garden palace housing traditional art and handicraft from Ubon. The highlight of the evening was a sophisticated fashion show.

The next day we went to Wat Nong Pa Pong in Warin Chamrap District, seven kilometers south of Ubon. The monastery is a peaceful forest temple built in 1954 to study the practice and discipline of meditation. Some Westerners have been ordained here as Buddhist monks.

After lunch, we flew back to Bangkok with genuine desire to promote Isaan with its unique culture and heritage, now made much easier now with a direct flight from Chiang Mai to Udon Thani with Phuket Air.

For further information, contact Reinhard Hohler, GMS Media Travel Consultant, email [email protected]

ASEAN Tourism Forum 2004

Catapulting Laos onto the world tourism map

Reinhard Hohler

The annual Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Tourism Forum (ATF) was held in Vientiane, Lao PDR on January 30 - February 7, 2004 bringing more than 260 foreign tourism companies as buyers to the country to explore business opportunities in tourism from the 1000 sellers of the 10 member nations of ASEAN. Each year, the hosting of ATF is rotated among the member countries and next year’s event will be held on Langkawi Island in Malaysia.

H.E. Somphong Mongkhonvilay, Minister to the Prime Ministers Office, Lao PDR, announced that ASEAN tourism performance in 2003 decreased only 14% despite the global travel situation

The theme “ASEAN, the new tourism landscape” was well chosen to highlight the co-operative effort to promote the whole region as one tourist destination. With a budget of USD 600,000, the Lao National Tourism Organization (LNTO) tried its best to welcome the sellers in organizing 467 tourism booths and the participation of 210 media agencies in providing coverage of ATF 2004 to the public in the newly built Lao International Trade Exhibition and Convention Center (Lao-ITECC).

The decorated Victory Monument greeted delegates

During the first five days of the forum, there were high level meetings of the task forces on tourism manpower development, ASEAN tourism investment and ASEAN tourism marketing. In addition, there were meetings of the ASEAN tourism ministers plus the tourism ministers of China, Japan and Korea.

Laotian Akha Dancers at the Opening Ceremony

Delegates and the press, who stayed in 76 designated hotels and guesthouses, were offered complimentary half-day city tours to visit such places as the golden That Luang stupa, decorated Victory Monument, Vat Sisaket and Ho Pha Keo Museum. Also on the program were visits to the Morning Market, Kaysone Phomvihan Museum, Handicraft Promotion Center and Ban Buathong Weaving Village.

The newly built Lao ITEC Convention Center, which was just finished in time

During the press conference, under the chairmanship of H.E. Somphong Mongkhonvilay, Minister to the Prime Ministers Office, Lao PDR, it was announced that ASEAN tourism performance in 2003 decreased only 14 percent despite the global travel situation affected by SARS and the war in Iraq. The bird flu epidemic was also mentioned.

The ministers welcomed the decision of the ASEAN leaders to establish the ASEAN Community by 2020 to ensure peace, stability and shared prosperity in the region. Also, there is the plan for inter-ASEAN visa exemption by 2005. Furthermore, the ministers emphasized the need to promote closer ties with China, Japan and Korea for a greater tourism exchange scheme and with India and the European Union (EU) in the long run.

To open the travel exchange (TRAVEX) as the more practical part of the forum, a flamboyant welcome reception was held at Lao-ITECC with an address by H.E. Somsavat Lengsavat, Deputy Prime Minister of Lao PDR, and a keynote address by H.E. Bounnhang Vorachith, Prime Minister of Lao PDR, who mentioned the two world heritage sites of Luang Prabang and Wat Phu in Champasak. The Prime Minister also advised on the 20 national protected forested areas as the basis for a thriving eco-tourism industry.

Other highlights of ATF 2004 were the Vietnamese Culture Night Dinner at the Lao Plaza Hotel and the evening with Malaysia Truly Asia at the Dansavanh Nam Ngum Resort and Hotel. Besides one luncheon hosted by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Indonesia and another by Thai Airways International, there were exciting late night functions by the Singapore Tourism Board, Travel Weekly, and the colonial Settha Palace Hotel. The Tourism Authority of Thailand also held a very special Songkran Night at the newly opened Golden Bowl Hotel on the outskirts of Vientiane.

Interesting to note was the lively morning event of the ASEAN Tourism Conference where “responsible tourism” was scrutinized by David Baffsky, Chairman of ACCOR/Asia Pacific from Sydney, and Robert Hecker from Singapore, who spoke from the side of the investor’s perspective. Prithpal Singh from Singapore gave a presentation about the emerging low-cost carriers (LCC’s) in Europe, Australia, and Asia. Everyone has to watch AirAsia, which sponsored a special lunch and gave a vivid press briefing.

All in all, ATF 2004 was a big success for a small country like Laos. Unfortunately, most of the delegates were so exhausted from selling, buying and networking that only a few of them booked the offered expensive post-forum tours to Luang Prabang, Plain of Jars, or Pakse in the south. Nevertheless, Laos was certainly catapulted onto the world map of tourism.

For further information, please contact Reinhard Hohler, GMS Media Travel,
email [email protected]

PATA Strategic Intelligence Centre WorldWatch

* Singapore has allocated more than US$1 billion to expand Changi International Airport in a bid to preserve its status as a regional hub. Changi’s new Terminal 3, set to be in service by 2008, will handle the world’s biggest passenger aircraft, the Airbus A380, designed to carry more than 550 passengers.

* According to Chinese Customs statistics, China (PRC)’s trade with Southeast Asian countries hit a record high of US$78.25 billion in 2003, surging 42.8% year-on-year. China (PRC)’s imports jumped 51.7% to US$47.33 billion while exports grew 31.1% to US$30.93 billion.

* Japan, Korea (ROK), Malaysia and Singapore and moved to suspend poultry imports from the US after bird flu was detected there.

* On February 8, commerce ministers from Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand signed a free-trade agreement (FTA) in Phuket, Thailand, aimed at enhancing economic integration between South Asia and Southeast Asia.

* Qantas Airways’ new discount domestic carrier, Jetstar, aims to grab one-third of Australia’s domestic passenger traffic when it begins operating in May 2004.

‘Outstanding’ Keynotes at Mekong Forum

By: Pata

Professor Kaye Chon will deliver the Ninth Mekong Tourism Forum’s opening keynote address. Entitled “GMS in the 21st Century: Tourism as a Growth Engine”, the address will outline the effects of 21st Century global economics on Greater Mekong Sub region (GMS) tourism. Prof. Chon is Chair of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University School of Hotel and Tourism Management.

Dynamic American-Thai entrepreneur, William E. Heinecke, will close out the Forum with a keynote address entitled “Private Sector Investments in Mekong Tourism”. Mr. Heinecke controls Royal Garden Resorts, a listed company that owns hotel properties throughout Thailand and in Vietnam. Click to read the News @PATA breakout interview Heinecke on the Mekong.

PATA Director-Development, Mr. Stephen Yong, said: “It demonstrates the importance of the Mekong Tourism Forum in the GMS when we can attract such outstanding speakers to the event.” For more information about the Mekong Forum, please contact PATA Director-Development, Stephen Yong. Tel: (66-2) 658-2000 ext. 122. Fax: (66-2) 658-2010. E-mail: stephen Web site: