Salavan and Sekong: Warm People, and Unparalleled Natural Beauty
I just got back from a trip to Salavan and Sekong Provinces in southern Laos. The scenery was absolutely stunning. Lush, dense forests, picturesque mountains and waterfalls, and the dark, fertile soils on the Boloven Plateau surrounded us, and we were warmly welcomed by the smiling faces of the provinces’ friendly people. Salavan and Sekong Provinces are the homes of several of Laos’ minority cultures, including the Ta’oy and Katu peoples, and my wife, Judy, and I purchased some naturally-dyed textiles expertly woven by Katu women.
Agriculture is very important to this region, and I sampled several local delicacies, including bananas, mushrooms, and of course Boloven Plateau coffee. If you have had a good cup of coffee in Laos, chances are the beans were from the Boloven Plateau, which occupies a beautiful area crossing Salavan, Sekong, and Champassak Provinces. I stayed at the Sinouk Coffee Plantation in Thataeng and enjoyed the hospitality of Mr. Sinouk Sisombat, who introduced his coffee plantation and allowed me to plant a new tree on the grounds.
The people I met in Salavan and Sekong told me that they welcome increased tourism. The beautiful Tat Lo waterfall, for example, has three set of falls, each different and without a doubt worthy of many photos. The waterfall area has accommodation with good food available for vacationers, backpackers, or people just looking for a nice rest in peaceful, natural surroundings. I am already planning a return visit!
I visited with the Governors of both Salavan and Sekong and expressed the appreciation of the American people for the assistance these provinces have provided to teams searching for American personnel lost during the Vietnam conflict. Along with the Vice Governor of Salavan, I visited the Ta’oy base camp where hard-working Americans and Lao are working together to account for American MIAs. Our two countries are doing great work together, and their camaraderie showed at the base camp. Unfortunately, weather intervened to prevent us from taking a helicopter to the sites where the teams are searching. The fact that the teams have to use a helicopter to access these sites brought home to me just how remote and difficult these places are.
Delivering healthcare and education to the people of Salavan and Sekong, who often live in some of these remote locations, was also on the minds of the governors. We discussed efforts to contain the very serious malaria outbreak in the region, including American assistance of about 1.2 million dollars to purchase and distribute medication, test hits and mosquito netting to help combat the outbreak.
Officials of both provinces also helped me inaugurate new hospital facilities in Huai Ngua, Salavan and in Thateng, Sekong. These facilities, part of the Embassy’s humanitarian assistance program in Laos, will increase healthcare capacity in traditionally under-served communities. We also hope that they will help to continue the positive trend in Laos of increasing pre-natal and mother-infant care, so important especially in places far away from urban health services.
Students of the Ta’lo Lower Secondary School in Salavan helped me to inaugurate their new school, which is another excellent project from our ongoing humanitarian assistance program. The school will serve a community near the border of Vietnam so remote that we could not reach it due to high river levels. It didn’t seem to matter to the students, as they were clearly excited to embark on their studies in a brand new facility.
I concluded a very busy visit to the region by meeting with dedicated teams clearing unexploded ordinance (UXO) from the Vietnam conflict. Teams from UXO Lao and Norwegian People’s Aid took me to agricultural areas where they are finding UXO and destroying it so that villagers can continue to plant rice and coffee to support their families and communities. The teams are dedicated to their communities and highly trained in their work, and the people of Laos can be proud of their efforts. Americans can be proud as well, as we have recently increased funding to these teams so that they can clear more areas of Laos faster. It is precisely because of this dedication, from both countries, that terrible accidents from UXO are decreasing.
So there you have it. After a fruitful week in southern Laos, I can’t wait to plan a return trip. If you have the chance to visit, the people of Salavan and Sekong will certainly welcome you.