Thursday, December 27, 2012

Chinese money brings big change:
A Railway from the North of Laos to Vientiane
and Thailand

China has just opened the worlds longest Highspeed-Railway from Beijing in the north along 2298 km to the southern boom city of Guangzhou. There were a lot of international headlines around the first train on this line. And they helped to forget the big problems with Chinese Highspeed Trains as the Wenzou train collision in the not so far past.

But the Chinese Railway policy has much bigger ambitions. It is under way to create a Highspeed Railway System in Southeast Asia, linking China to Laos and Thailand and creating connections from China to Singapore.

Laos is forcing plans for a $7 billion railway link from the capital Vientiane in the South to the Chinese border in the North (passing the towns of Phonhong, Vangvieng, Luang Prabang, Oudomxay and Luang Namtha). The construction shall begin early in 2013. The line will be completed around 2014, said Laotian Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad at an international rail conference in Beijing. "While the exact route isn't clear, the rail line is expected to connect the southwest Chinese city of Kunming with Singapore, passing through Laos, Thailand and Malaysia", wrote

The project is financed by a 30-year loan from Export-Import Bank of China, according to China will be responsible for the construction. "Beijing is seeking to secure raw materials from neighboring countries to feed massive infrastructure investment and its manufacturing industry", wrote There is one more railway project in Laos: On December 24 a contract was signed for a US $5 billion railway line from Savannakhet to Lao Bao at Vietnam border. The construction is undertaken by Malaysian company Giant Consolidated, writes

Meanwhile preparations for four highspeed-railway lines in Thailand are going on. Funding is to come from a proposed 2-trillion-baht investment programme dedicated to new infrastructure projects over the next seven years. In November 2012 Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong said according to Bangkok Post the government is planning four high-speed rail lines to support trade and tourism within the country. The four high-speed rail lines are Bangkok-Nong Khai-Vientiane; Bangkok-Ayutthaya-Chiang Mai; Bangkok to Hua Hin; and an expansion of the Airport Rail Link in Bangkok to Chon Buri, Pattaya and Rayong. These plans are supported by a Study of Thailand Development Research Institute Foundation. And China is aggressively lobbying the Thai government to select its train and construction technology, writes Bangkok Post. Chinese Deputy Railways Minister Lu Chunfang told Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra that its construction costs average only US$20 million per kilometre compared with $81 million in Japan and $50 million in Germany. Thailand and China signed a memorandum of understanding on April 15 to conduct a feasibility study for the Bangkok-Chiang Mai and Bangkok-Nong Khai high-speed rail links. Thailands government plans to open international bidding early next year on the first phase of the high-speed rail project. Chinese government officials advising Thailand have suggested that it begins with a 54km route linking Bangkok and Ayutthaya as it would fall in line with the government's push to have the ancient capital serve as host for the 2020 World Expo, noted Bangkok Post.

Read also:
Growing Chinese influence in Cambodia: A railway from Preah Vihear, a steel plant and a seaport in Koh Kong

Thai-Burma Railway to be restored: The Myanmar government has announced plans to complete a railroad and highway on the route of the Thailand-Burma Railway built by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Jewel on the Mekong

See the locations on Luang Prabang Google Map

Suddenly there is an orange gleaming in the morning mist. A line of monks in their saffron robes turns around the corner. From the temple, where they live, into the main road. A line of Lao women is waiting, kneeling on mats, with baskets filled of hot sticky rice, bananas, candies. It's short after six o'clock in the morning. It's the daily procession of hundreds of monks through the streets of Luang Prabang. The women are ready to gain merits. Merits are important in Buddhism. Monks earn merits through meditation, chanting and more rituals. One way for women to earn merits is cooking and serving food to the monks, giving alms to them. When the monks pass by, the women take the food out of their baskets and put it into the bowls of the men.

The monks on their way

It's a magical moment in a mystic town.

And it's a moment of pity, when the monks and women are surrounded by hordes of tourists with their cameras. What happens too often now.

Luang Prabang is awakening. One of Southeast Asia's best preserved old cities makes faster and faster steps into the modern era. Tourism is a hope for the poor country of Laos. And also a danger. More and more tourists are looking for the unhurried charm of the traditional tranquility. They can still find it in this former royal city on a peninsula, formed by the Nam Khan, a river coming out of the misty mountains and joining the Mekong, the stream that is one of the wonders of Asias nature itself.

Luang Prabang has been a spiritual centre for hundreds of years. It became the royal capital in the 14th century, for six centuries, until the abolition of the monarchy in 1975. The first Lao Kingdom, The Lan Xang (Million Elephants), was founded in 1353 by the Khmer-supported conqueror Fa-Ngnum. He made Theravada Buddhism the state religion (see history). He got from the Khmer monarchy as gift a golden Buddha image, the Phra Bang, which gave the town the name. Today still around thousand monks and novices are living here. More than 30 temples, the so called wats or vats, have survived, dating from the fifteenth century onwards. In the morning you may wake up and hear chants, bells, gongs and drums sound harmoniously across the town. You wake up in a town of old Indochina, that still looks as it used to look during the colonial time, when the French were the rulers. A combination of Lao, Indochinese and French styles. Temples as well as shophouses from the early 20th century and older wood houses. Since 1995 Luang Prabang is a Unesco World Heritage site. Strict construction rules are followed. Thats why you discover an unique old asian town.

Haw Pha Bang

L'Eléphant Restaurant

But inside the buildings there are changes. More an more families leave the old town, because they transform their old houses into guesthouses and hotels. There is a limit of this development in view: Some days there could be not enough families left for giving nutrition to the monks. Then the existence of the old temples will be in danger. The impact of the tourism on the city has been described by the New York Times lately. This led to a broad discussion, that you can follow on

The view from Mount Phousi, picture by annamatic3000

See a series of fotos by New York Times and read 36 hours in Luang Prabang.

The Royal Palace is now a museum. Read the article by Gary Walsh from the Australian, whats best here and elsewhere in Luang Prabang. Find a nice description also by Jeffrey.

Picture by

Royal Ballet Theatre: The Royal Ballet troupe performed Phra-Lak Phra-Lam, the Lao version of the sacred poem, the Ramayana, in the Royal Palace in Luang Prabang. 1975 the theatre was banned. 2002 the theatre was reestablished. See scenes from the Lao Ramayana, Lao folk dances and tribal dances. The performance starts from 6pm and entry is from 8 to 20 USD.

Picture by Lorna87. See more pictures by Esther Kalandjai


Exploring Luang Prabang See picture by Mariko

Sakkarine Road.

Ban Phanom Village

Luang Say Mekong Cruise: On the Pakou Boats, a 34 meter long barge


Festivals Find a calendar of festivals in Laos here.
Hmong New Year: See a photostory by AdVenture into Laos.

Read background articles:
Stemming the Tide by Travel+Leisure
Unce upon a Sleepy by Fah Thai Magazine
Le tourisme au Laos ; bénédiction ou calamité? - Article by Alain Devalpo

Friday, January 6, 2012

Puang Champa: A house for
the traditional royal arts

See the location on Puang Champa House Google Map

Picture by marhas

A tiny, wooden stilt house for local artists to earn a sustainable living while practicing traditional arts and for teaching and transmitting the heritage of Luang Prabang to vistors: This is Heuan Puang Champa. Gold thread embroidery is trained here and skills of musicians, dancers and singers for Lao classical dance and music are formed, the olders give the repertoire to the young ones, making new instruments, reviving a long time lost Luang Prabang handicraft used for ritual vessels and dance ornaments and training young people on ceremonial flower arrangements.

Prince Nithakhong Somsanith - a member of the former Lao Royal family - is one of the last gold thread embroiderers in the ancient tradition of the court of Luang Prabang. His grandmother taught him in this art, when he was young. Later he lived in France as Psychologist. He has founded "The House of Puang Champa', an organization to educate Lao youth in traditional arts and culture. The project has been supported by the Lao Heritage Foundation in Washington (USA).

See a video about Puang Champa House.

Puang Champa house can be visited by appointment (Heuan Chan Road, Ban Xieng Mouane; 011-856-71-254-787;