The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), Digital Traveler ~ Asia Pacific eNewsletter, September 2006www.ecotourism.org
Buddha Cave – Ecotourism Potential in Khammouane Province, Lao PDR
By Graham Harper, North by North East Travel Services, Thailand / Lao PDR Khammouane Province in central Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) is a unique, yetrelatively unknown tourist destination. Blessed with magnificent limestone mountains, denseforests and crystal clear rivers, it is a promising ecotourism destination. Lacking infrastructure,however, Khammouane receives fewer numbers of visitors than other Lao destinations. TheBuddha Cave,
just two years ago, holds promise – not only as an anchor for further ecotourism development, but also as an effective poverty alleviation tool.In April 2004, Mr. Bun Nong, a local villager searching for bats, a local delicacy, spotted a small cave about 15 meters up asheer cliff face. Thinking it worth an investigation he climbedup and entered the narrow opening. Turning on his light, hecame face-to-face with a large Buddha statue. Shining the lightaround the cave he realized he was in the midst of over 200Buddha statues.The news of this incredible discovery quickly spread and the cave is now the province’s most popular tourist attraction with over 200 people visiting every day. The statues are 400-600 yearsold and were placed in the cave for safe keeping during one of the many conflicts that occurredthroughout the Mekong area. The cave and statues are now valued as important Lao nationaltreasures.With the assistance and encouragement of the KhammouaneProvincial Tourism Authority, the villagers have been able toeffectively manage and protect this valuable asset. The Netherlands Development Organization (SNV) has been anactive player in this process, providing advisory assistance to thelocal authorities and villagers on how to develop and protect theattraction in a sustainable way.The sudden increase in the visitor numbers, however, hasstretched the capacity to effectively manage waste and other unwanted impacts, including ground water contamination anddeforestation. On the other hand, the local community has yet tofully exploit the potentials of the new site.Villagers and SNV advisor, Jan Burrows, recently made anassessment of the business opportunities at the site. It wasconcluded that lack of microfinance limits locals’ ability todevelop spin-off ventures and take full advantage of theattraction. In September 2006, SNV microfinance specialistswill again meet with villagers to find a way forward.