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Vangviang Organic Farm


August, 2004

Laos photo.
1. The organic farm
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Laos photo.
2. Teaching English
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Laos photo.
3. Community center
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Laos photo.
4. The Song River
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Vang Vieng is a small tourist town with pot-holed, muddy streets; loud, late-night bars, and innumerable guest houses filled with young backpackers. We chose instead to stay at a quiet little organic mulberry farm a few kilometers north of town (see photo #1, at left). Located in Phoudindaeng Village, the farm was started in 1996 by Thanongsi Soangkoun, known to visitors as "Mr. T". He is working to re-establish organic farming methods in northern Laos. The result is a charming little farm that welcomes foreign visitors who want to learn about organic farming or who take part in Mr. T's many community projects.

Today, Vangviang Organic Farm is a vibrant center for a variety of projects that focus on the organic production of mulberry trees, along with organic fruits, vegetables, and poultry for the farm's restaurant. The mulberry trees provide leaves to feed to the silk worms, plus mulberry tea, mulberry wine, and mulberry shakes. Wages support the many villagers who work here and the profits provide assistance for the whole community. And, amidst all this activity, there is a steady stream of foreign visitors who come for the quiet relaxation, the opportunity to work on an organic farm, or the thrill of teaching English to a room full of excited children (photo #2). Volunteers often come for a few days, and then stay for weeks.

The farm provides a source of income for many of the local villagers, who are a mix of three ethnic groups — Hmong, Kmou, and Lao. They speak different languages, but all can communicate in Lao, and the children are learning English in the schools. Thanongsi has been influential in creating a number of community projects to improve the lives of the villagers. These include obtaining a grant to purchase a school bus to take the children to school, construction of a community center (photo #3) with the help of foreign volunteers, and the English classes. Jamie had a great time helping out at the English classes every day.

Jim heard that a previous visitor had created a website for the farm, but it never made it to the internet for lack of funds. We decided to donate the money to pay for the farm's website. But, it turned out that the farm's computer had been attacked by a virus, the hard drive was ruined, and the website work was all lost. So Jim ended up creating a new web site. It took almost a week to learn about the farm, take the pictures, and write the html code. Jim's sister, Lois, arranged to get them a domain name and a service provider. And now the Vangviang Organic Farm has its own website. You can visit them at www.laofarm.org. Their website is certainly worth a visit, if only for the scenery (photo #4).

We had a wonderful time at the farm. The food in their little restaurant was always excellent and the other foreign visitors from countries around the world were always interesting. We had many long talks with them, especially when it was raining too hard for them to work on the farm.

And we learned a lot from our interactions with the local villagers. Many of the young people in particular have learned to speak English very well. One of them wanted someone to make a recording of his uncle, Mr. Hua, playing a traditional Hmong instrument called the khen. Jim recorded a short funeral song (they can go on for hours) and made a CD for Mr. Hua. The sound is very different and quite interesting. Jim has placed a 12 second (108k) sample of the music here. We hope you enjoy it.

If you ever have an opportunity to come to this beautiful valley and its little organic farm, we think you will have an excellent experience. We certainly did.

 

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Jim and Jamie Richter, http://gotouring.com/razzledazzle/
Website designed and created by Lois Richter, expanded by Jim.
Created 8/2004. All text & photos are © 2004 Jim Richter.