Laos is a sleepy country of 7-million people that many have heard about but know little beyond the name and perhaps a few key destinations. Some tourists are familiar with the charming riverside town of Luang Prabang in the country’s northwest and maybe the capital Vientiane but know of little else there. Sharing borders with Thailand, China, Vietnam, and Cambodia, this landlocked nation, run by a Marxist-communist government, has a lot going for it. Many say it’s like Thailand 30 years ago, is very quiet, and is truly off-the-beaten-path. On this episode we dig into this fascinating country that is, for the most part, off most traveler’s radar with Paul Eshoo, who heads up a tiger conservation project in Laos, and has a long history in ecotourism in the region.
Trevor: I had been to Laos a few times before I was asked to write about Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, and Vientiane for Fodor’s Thailand and Laos guidebook. In fact, Luang Prabang (along with Bali) became one of my go-to getaways for catching up on my writing and enjoying down-time in between projects. I fell in love with Laos because of its natural beauty and the almost naive friendliness of the local people. I found the people so genuine and the countryside so unspoiled: I guess it reminded me of Vermont in many ways.
Scott: I first went to Luang Prabang and Vientiane back in early 2000, then returned to those two places in 2012 to work on a travel map. I’ve really enjoyed the two spots I’ve been to and would love to to see more, but it all comes down to time and money. It seems like the kind of place that if you just drive a few kilometers out of any town, you’re suddenly well off the beaten path.
Trevor: Just recently, I took a trip to Wat Phu in Champasak, the south of Laos, which was one of, if not the earliest, centers of civilization of the Cambodian Khmer empire, centuries before the foundation of Angkor. Just as with my impressions of central/north central Laos, particularly Vang Vieng, the landscape is just spectacular. Even reading the first hand accounts of early archaeologists who visited Wat Phu: it wasn’t simply the temple that impressed them so much as the stunning location the Khmer’s chose to build: on a hillside overlooking the Mekong River. Just spectacular beauty.
Today’s guest, Mr. Paul Eshoo, has a long and storied history in ecotourism. He originally came to Asia with the Peace Corps, where he was based in Nepal as a national parks volunteer, stationed in Langtang National Park and Koshi Tappu Wildlife Conservation Area. He later moved to Laos and developed community-based ecotourism with various agencies including UNESCO, WWF, WCS, the EU GTZ, the Asian Development Bank, and SNV, as well as projects in Cambodia and Vietnam. In 2009 he became the site coordinator for the Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area Management and Tiger Conservation Project in northeastern Laos. Paul joins us via Skype from California.
Paul then answers the following questions:
Q: Where are you originally from and why did you decide to join the Peace Corps and start a life in Asia?
Q: What led you to originally become interested in wildlife and ecotourism?
Q: Why did you decide to move to Laos?
Q: Give us a bit of an overview of the ecotourism scene in Laos.
Q: You’re currently involved at the Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area in Houaphan Province, which is, as I understand, one of the premier tiger eco-systems in Indochina. Tell us a bit about your work there.
Q: The Nam Nern Night Safari eco-tour there has won the prestigious ‘World Responsible Tourism Award’ at the World Travel Mart in London, England, in 2013 and 2014. How important is it to win such awards to raise awareness and move things forward?
Q: What can tourists expect from a visit?
Q: You’ve also been involved at the Standing Stones in the Xe Pian National Protected Area. This is near Wat Phou correct? Tell us about that area.
Q: Don Daeng is a nearby area to Wat Phou – tell us what’s going on there for travelers?
Q: Anything else people should know about ecotourism in Laos?
Links to some things we discussed in the episode:
- Map to the areas we talked about: https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zTmgcNQ7w4UI.k0256fbg-DUo&usp=sharing
- Nam Et-Phou Louey: http://www.namet.org/en/
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