Laos Attracts Foreign Travelers With Pristine Nature
By Kang Hyun-kyung
Laos, which is the destination of Southeast Asia's most pristine natural landscape and intact cultures, has attracted many foreign tourists over the past years because of its government's three-pillar tourism policy ― eco-, culture- and agro-tourism, said the leader of the country.
``Laos is a country of culture and historical sites as well as its beautiful natural tourism sites, and this trait attracts tourists from all over the world,'' said Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh.
In an interview with The Korea Times, he said education and Lao people's understanding of the importance of traditional culture were the key that enabled the country to preserve its own unique cultural traits in an era of globalization.
``Laos has fine and unique tradition where its ancestors have been teaching, educating the new generations to preserve our valued tradition. Although the Lao people recently have been influenced greatly by multi-culture, they have maintained their own unique culture due to their ancestors' education,'' said the prime minister.
Theravada Buddhism is the professed religion of about 90 percent of Lao people and the impact of Buddhism to their daily life is immense.
Prime Minister Bouphavanh went over a specific example of his country's preserving its traditional culture intact.
When traveling to Laos, travelers will encounter Lao women wearing ``sin", a traditional Lao woman's skirt, who will show their respect to the foreigners by performing Nop, a greeting in the local language, he said.
Being located in the center of Indochina, Laos shares borders with China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam and 70 percent of its territory is mountainous.
Asked about the political situation, the prime minister claimed that the country has become a stable and peaceful one.
``Since we have established Laos in 1975, it has become the most stable and peaceful country in the region. And the political stability, along with its breath-taking natural environment, has attracted many foreign travelers with the government's effective promotion of eco-, culture- and agro-tourism,'' he said.
Economic Ties With Korea
Korea is a donor country that has provided soft loans and other economic assistance to the Southeast Asian country.
The prime minister stressed that Laos and Korea have maintained ``fine cooperation'' in several fields in recent years.
``Korea has granted Official Development Assistance (ODA) to our country to help three main sectors such as rural development, education and public health. Korea has also provided soft loans from the Economic Development Cooperation Fund, a bilateral ODA loan program, in order to assist the educational project, infrastructure building and other projects in agricultural and cultural sectors, investment and trade,'' he said.
As a trade-dependent economy, the prime minister noted that Laos has taken a variety of measures in order to reduce the possible negative impacts of the global financial meltdown starting from Wall Street last year to its economy.
``One of the measures that we've taken is to encourage foreign investors to invest in big projects particularly in hydro power and mining sectors. We also lowered the bank interest rate in order to attract more investment,'' he said.
He said his government has also introduced a measure aimed to encourage domestic expenses in an effort to stimulate economic growth.
``Although many governments have developed their own policy and measures to minimize impacts of the global financial crisis, they have not been able to address its consequences over night or by one country. It takes time to restore confidence of local and foreign investors in order to help them see that governments are ready to lend their hands should a new crisis occur in the future,'' he stressed.
The prime minister said he supports the idea of measures aimed at encouraging domestic demand in order to make the national economy stronger and recover faster.
He also said foreign investors would benefit from income tax exemptions and other supportive measures that the government has prepared in an effort to attract more foreign investment.
North Korean Defectors
The Southeast Asian country is a territory of transit for North Korean defectors, and this has become a major diplomatic challenge in bilateral relationship between Korea and Laos.
The North Korean refugee issue in Laos made international headlines in 2007 when three North Korean teenagers aged 12, 13 and 17 were reported to have entered China in 2002 and made their way to Laos.
They were arrested there and had been investigated for five months before they were freed and handed over to the South Korean Embassy.
Asked his view on the North Korean refugee issue, the prime minister admitted that it was indeed a sensitive issue to handle.
``Some illegal migrants from North Korea are using Laos as a transit country with the intention of traveling to a third country or South Korea has put much trouble for us as a transit point. However, Laos has taken proper measures based on a humanitarian perspective and enforced our regulations on illegal migrants by imposing fines on them,'' he said.
National television in Laos has aired several soap operas informing viewers of the Korean culture and lifestyles as well as Korean documentaries in an effort to help Laotians build awareness of Korea.
``In promoting and continuing these activities, Lao National Television and Korea's Arirang Television are expected to sign an agreement on information exchange, producing documentary films and so on in an attempt to have more cultural exchanges between the two countries,'' said he.
The prime minister declined to comment on Lao people's detailed reactions to the Korean wave which has become a phenomenon in Asia since the mid 1990s.
Chinese media coined the term hallyu ― meaning that foreign cultures are alarmingly assimilated into the local culture ― back in 1999 to refer to its people's quick fascination with Korean cultural products such as dramas, actors, actresses and singers.
The Korean wave stared in mid-1990s mainly in China and Japan, then gradually went to other Asian countries and further on to other continents.
Empirical studies backed the positive effect of the Korean wave on foreigners' perceptions of Korea.