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Saturday, January 5, 2019

Pha Tad Ke: A Dutchman's Faszination with Ethno-Botanism in Luang Prabang

See the locations on Luang Prabang Google Map by #treasuresoflaos

Orchid nursery, Picture by marhas

There are more than 1,200 different plant species, arranged in sections such as the ginger garden, ethno-botanic garden, palm garden, bamboo garden, organic and educational garden: Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden is a new attraction a 10- to 20-minute boat ride down the Mekong River, around 2km from Luang Prabang, opened in 2017.

Scenic outlook from Pha Tad Ke Botanical garden   Picture by marhas

Rik Gadella, the general manager of Pha Tad Ke, had no knowledge of botanism, before he started this adventure. The Dutch national was organizing art exhibitions and publishing art books in Paris and New York for 25 years, before he flew to Luang Prabang for a short holiday 11 years ago. He fell in love with Laos and looked for a plot of land to build a small house. By chance he found the Pha Tad Ke site, named after the nearby mountain, which name in Lao means "the mountain to unite and resolve". This was the place, where the former viceroy of Laos used to go hunting. Rik Gadella found Laotian partners, who bought the area and leased it to him.

Waterlily-pond   Picture by marhas

Gadella sold his publishing company and borrowed some money from an uncle to realize his collection of indigenous plant species. “Everything we have here we had to collect ourselves. We have concentrated on the flora of Laos, our plants are used every day by Lao people”, he told the South China Morning Post. Gadella and his team collaborated with the National University of Laos, the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden in Chiang Mai (Thailand), the Singapore Botanic Garden and the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh in planning the Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden.

Bamboo along the way   Picture by marhas

He recounts that there were no plant nurserys in Laos and little research on ethno-botany, when he started his project, little research about the use of plants for medicine, food and handicrafts by the many ethnic minority groups living in Laos. "Eighty percent of the Lao population live in the mountains, lots of them with no real access to modern medicine so they are still using these plants," Gadella told Nikkei Asian Review. In Laos this knowledge is passed from mouth to mouth. The team of Pha Tad Ke Botanical garden did a lot of field trips, collecting plants and ethno-botanical data and is now showing it to its visitors, who can even find a section of plants said to placate spirits or medical plants for elephants. Rik Gadella plans to do research more on the efficacy of the plants. He would like to know how much of traditional healing is based on shamanistic rituals and how much on the plants.

Learn about rice plants and their use for elephants   Picture by marhas

Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden specializes on limestone botany and offers also a limestone habitat and a cave. Laos has some of the last remaining intact areas of limestone karst in the world. Gadella is now collecting funds for the next development: a mist house for orchids, a herbarium, better nurseries, a rice field and a research and training center.

Picture by marhas

The entry fee for Pha Tad Ke Botanical garden is 25 US-Dollars for foreigners and 10 Dollars for locals. The boat trip from Luang Prabang is included.

See mor pictures of Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden on Instagram.

Follow Rik Gadella on Facebook.

Discover more:
Your Guide in Luang Prabang

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