Mr. Thanongsi, organic farmer | Vang Vieng, Laos | Dec. 21, 2009
A native of Vang Vieng, Mr. Thanongsi was sent to Bulgaria for school when he was 12 years old. After completing his degree in biology, he came back to Laos and worked for the forestry department before returning to Vang Vieng and starting his organic farm. His farm is close to the main tubing station for “tubing” or floating down the river on an inflated tire, a very popular activity for international backpackers in town.
About Vang Vieng
Vang Vieng is a small town by the Nam Song River and surrounded by limestone karst mountains. Because of the increase in tourism, the town has been transformed from a quiet sleepy village to a busy backpacker destination full of guesthouses, restaurants, bars, travel agencies and other services catered to backpackers.
LPT: How does tourism help your farm?
Mr. Thanongsi: Because when tourists come, they bring something – maybe give some advice or buy some of our products, so that is helping a lot.
Remote farmers do not have this chance because tourists haven’t arrived there yet. We are not just a farm, we are a community development project. We have many projects about the environment, eco-tourism, education…many things.
LPT: I also see you have a volunteer board. Is that also for tourists to come help? What kind of things can volunteers do?
Mr. Thanongsi: But now we have changed some practices. We still accept tourists like volunteers but by contract because some people come for a very short time and make problems as well.
LPT: Maybe staying longer is better?
Mr. Thanongsi: Yeah, longer is better.
LPT: What are the main changes you’ve seen in Vang Vieng since tourism arrived?
Mr. Thanongsi: Very big change. Change maybe in a good way, maybe in a wrong way because it’s too fast. Some people cannot prepare or make good long term planning or sustainable tourism. Now, it doesn’t matter if I have money or not, I can borrow from the bank and build a house or facility for tourism. It’s spoiling nature and for the long term effect, they don’t see it yet, such as cutting down the forest and building houses. At the river, there isn’t a measurement for rubbish.
And as well, the music, like you hear now (from the tubing station).
LPT: What about culture? Is it affecting the culture?
Mr. Thanongsi: I think slowly, slowly it’s being changed. More now, the young people are changing their fashion and behavior as well. Yeah, more. I don’t know how to say it…are using drugs and drinking more beer or alcohol. Yeah, everywhere you see Beer Lao, Foster, everywhere.
LPT: Do you think there’s a way tourism can be more sustainable in Vang Vieng?
Mr. Thanongsi: Of course, yes.
LPT: What are some ways to make it more sustainable?
Mr. Thanongsi: For example, usually eco or adventure tourists are looking for nature and new tourism sites; if we can prevent that or maybe do it slowly; not very quickly so that it doesn’t spoil the nature, rivers, and culture. Maybe that will be sustainable.
Can I ask you for help and write to the Lao Tourism Authority about the bad noise (music from the tubing stations) that’s spoiling our nature? It’s becoming crazy, everyday. I hear louder and louder and louder music.
LPT: Are there no laws against it?
Mr. Thanongsi: Yeah, yeah.
LPT: But nobody cares?
Mr. Thanongsi: Nobody, anymore. Before I asked people to make a petition to the Lao Tourism Authority or talk to the Lao Authority to complain about the noise, the music. They sent a commission there to control and stop it. It only stopped for 2 or 3 days and after they were gone, the music started again.
And now I’ve become the enemy, you know. I’ve always done petitions and they say, “you come alone” and separate me. Very well.
Tourists, they come here for a few days and you go but I live here.
LPT: What do you think you need the most help with on the farm?
Mr. Thanongsi: To stop the noise. Yeah, that maybe good but everyone needs to give a voice to stop it. Maybe our government, they can listen to the tourists because they invite tourists to come. When tourists say “I’m not coming anymore because it’s disorganized and we cannot sleep because of that noise (music).” It’s spoiling the nature so say something. Maybe it can be stopped.
We have laws for the environment, for noise control, for culture, everything but it needs enforcement.