HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

The heavenly road to Phong Saly

Japanese delegation visits Saori-Hiroba project

The Rotary Club Chiang Mai West hosts Ladies Night

The heavenly road to Phong Saly

A survey trip to Northern Laos

Reinhard Hohler

Following a call for a survey trip from Chiang Mai to Northern Laos with Lao Youth Travel Vientiane, I was delighted to see how Laos is opening up very quickly. Still being a laid-back and sleepy tourist destination compared with other countries in Southeast Asia, Laos does it by its own way, and according to its self-controlled rules.

The Lao Youth Travel team at the pagoda in Udom Xay.

The ATR72 of Lao Airlines arrives at Chiang Mai International Airport from Vientiane and Luang Prabang every Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday afternoon. The check in is efficient and supervised by Kham Ouane Fongmylavanh, station manager of Lao Airlines in Chiang Mai. Departure time is 3.40 p.m. and on to the world heritage town of Luang Prabang, a flight of 65 minutes. After a transit stop of 20 minutes, the plane continues for another 35 minutes to Vientiane.

Bridge building in Phong Saly

Travelers without a pre-arranged Laos visa get a visa on arrival, which costs USD 30 weekdays and USD 31 weekends.

After arriving in Luang Prabang I was transferred to the comfortable Villa Santi Resort, which is six km south of the city center. General Manager Khammouane Siphanthong gave me a hearty welcome to this lush, tropical boutique resort and guaranteed a regular shuttle service into town between 8 a.m. - 10 p.m.

Luang Prabang is renowned as the former royal city of Laos and was declared a world heritage site. It was the capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom during 1353-1560. The last king of Luang Prabang abdicated on December 2, 1975, ushering the nation into a peaceful republic. The old palace is located at the Mekong River and functions as a museum.

The unpaved road in Phong Saly province leading to Dien Bien Phu in Northern Vietnam.

A town in heaven, half hidden in the morning mist - the view from Phu Fa Mountain down to Phong Saly.

Highly recommended are the restaurants of L’Elephant and Auberge les 3 Nagas for French food, Indochina Spirit for Lao or international food.

One of the Lolo Pho women, one of the 25 tribes in Phong Saly.

I left Luang Prabang by public bus to reach Udom Xay, a tiny provincial town on Highway 13 some 150 km north. It can also be reached by plane from Vientiane three times a week. The town is overshadowed by a pagoda called Phu That. There are some cheap guesthouses along the highway and recommended is ‘Linda Guesthouse’ with rooms for as cheap as USD 5.

We visited the director of the provincial tourism office, Sivanh Bounsavath, who predicted that the town will prosper in the future with 20,000 tourists a year expected as it is at the crossroads of China in the north, Vietnam in the east and Thailand in the west. Actually, the town will be the transit point to reach Dien Bien Phu in the north of Vietnam as soon as the Laos-Vietnamese border in Phong Saly is opened up for international tourism at the beginning of 2005.

Thongyin Khounsanga, head of the provincial tourism office in Phong Saly.

The next day, we took the winding but paved road to Phong Saly Province. Our first stop was in the Tai Lue village of Muong La to look at the 400 year old sacred temple, the colonial French bridge over the Nam Phak River and the outstandingly beautiful scenery. We followed the river to Ban Sin Xay, where a still unpaved road continues to the Vietnamese border. From Ban Sin Xay, we drove north into a hilly forested area and came across a large Hmong village. But our aim was to reach Phong Saly, a town in heaven.

We stayed at the Phu Fa Hotel at the foot of Phu Fa Mountain, where on top is still a venerated tree sanctuary some 1,650 m high. Phong Saly town is a hill station with a cooler climate and the area is inhabited by 25 ethnic tribes, such as Akha, Lolo, Yao, Phu Noi and Chin Haw. Thongyin Khounsanga, head of the national tourism office Phong Saly, said that only 2,000 tourists visit each year.

Back on the road next morning, we drove back to Bun Nua and tried to reach U Tai and U Nua, picturesque Tai Lue villages along the Nam U River. As the road conditions became worse, we stopped some 50 km short of the Laos-China border, which will eventually become an important international checkpoint into Yunnan Province.

Early next morning, we were up to start our long journey back via Udom Xay, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng to the capital Vientiane, which is more than 815 km from Phong Saly.

Vientiane was the center of the Lan Xang Kingdom during 1560-1707. In 1828, the town was destroyed by the Siamese, but you can still see and visit many temples around town. The newly arranged National Museum gives a good overview about the development of Laos from prehistory to modern times.

The Baan U Tai valley, a Tai Lue village in the northern part of Phong Saly province, just 50 km before the Chinese border.

For food and entertainment are countless places in town, especially along the “Golden Mile” on the Mekong River featuring international cuisine. Very popular is Khop Chai Deu Beer Garden at the corner of Nam Phu Square, where some good French restaurants abound. Joma Bakery is just opposite the road and if you like Indian food, go no further than Nazim, who already runs branches in Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. You will never be bored in Vientiane.

For further information, please contact Reinhard Hohler, GMS Media Travel

Consultant, by email sara @cmnet.co.th or Lao Youth Travel by email youthtra @laotel.com

Japanese delegation visits Saori-Hiroba project

Saksit Meesubkwang

The Saori-Hiroba project, under the assistance of Japan International Cooperative Agency (JICA) was visited by the senior Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, HE Masatoshi Abe, on August 31.

The JICA supported project has helped improve vocational opportunities for people with disabilities through promotion of hand-weaving techniques and supports the hill tribe peoples’ economic independence through the use of locally produced yarns.

The Japanese delegation led by HE Masatoshi Abe, accompanied by Katsuhiro Shinohara, Japanese Consul General in Chiang Mai visited the JICA Saori-Hiroba project, in tambon Nong Hoi, Muang district, Chiang Mai.

The project’s president Nakayama Haruo gave everyone a warm welcome and spoke on the project background to HE Masatoshi Abe and delegates.

It is a private project which gains official support from the Japanese Government. It covers over 30 countries including Korea, Indonesia, and Singapore. The project’s main philosophy is to support disadvantaged people and minorities.

The project came to Thailand in 2001 firstly assisting people with brain damage, before moving into the current area.

Pradith Preechanont, a parent of one of the disabled children, said that the project not only raised awareness of people with disabilities but it also helped boost the relationship between Thailand and Japan.

Parents of the children who took part in the project have named the new foundation that will run the JICA -Saori Hiroba as “Samarn Jai (United Heart)” and they believe more disabled people will become part of the foundation.

The Japanese delegates are enjoying their ‘hands on’ experience.

Some of the girls at the project center wear their hand woven material.

Hand woven products on display.

Project products on display.

The Japanese delegation was led by senior vice minister for foreign affairs, HE Masatoshi Abe, who cut the ribbon to open the project.

Work is ongoing at the project center.

Disabled girls hand-weaving at the project center.

Disabled girls perform to entertain the guests of honor.

Vice minister for foreign affairs, HE Masatoshi Abe, guests and hosts.

The Rotary Club Chiang Mai West hosts Ladies Night

The three F’s - Fellowship, Fun and Fundraising

Past President Michael Vogt

To be a Rotarian does not just mean to be on the lookout for funds and worthwhile charity projects - it also means that you may have some fun once in a while. President Preecha, soon after taking over the reins this year of the Rotary Club Chiang Mai West, realized that the old saying “Behind every successful man stands a strong woman” was true, and the good reason for this particular Ladies’ Night was to say ‘thank you’ to the strong women behind his Rotarians. Keeping the spouses supportive means that the Rotarians will continue to work tirelessly on the worthy causes the Club is undertaking, which will eventually result in a successful year. That is a win-win situation.

Past President Dr. Amnuay Tapingkae (left) receives his ‘Lifetime achievement award’ from President Preecha Wongsakul.

To achieve this, the Amari Rincome Hotel the club’s regular venue, had prepared a wonderful feast, and there was wine, women, and entertainment that night.

Past President Dr. Amnuay Tapingkae, a 30+ year member of Rotary International, was especially recognized that evening, and became the recipient of a Rotary achievement award for his tireless efforts and charitable undertakings. A birthday cake was presented to all the birthday boys and girls of the month of August, with the recipients happy to donate 1,000 baht each into the Club’s charity box.

Don’t sneeze! This was by far the highest tower, and the constructors were awarded with a healthy prize.

Rotary District Governor’s representative Worapong Towseangchai briefly outlined the importance of the forthcoming Rotary Centennial celebration. Clubs around the world will participate in the fun, and global fellowship of the Rotary Centennial celebration, and a number of activities are being planned for Rotary’s Chiang Mai District. A century of Service is indeed a great reason to celebrate.

The main Rotary business, however, was postponed to the next regular meeting, and all attendants focused more on the brighter side of life, thoroughly enjoying themselves by playing not-so-serious games. Overall a very light-hearted and entertaining evening, but it will be business as usual from next Tuesday night onwards, when the regular meeting will start at 7.30 p.m.

If you are interested to learn more about Rotary and its philosophy, simply drop by. The members will be happy to inform you how you can make a difference.

The birthday boys and girl were happy to receive their birthday cakes, shared with all participants afterwards.