There’s an interesting establisment in Luang Prabang, a house/non profit set up by Prince (Chao) Somsanith Nithakhong, a Lao artist of royal descent. (He recently made an appearance on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations episode on Laos) Educated in Laos and France, intelligent and eloquent in many languages, he spoke to us about the mission of the school. (Some of my art was hanging with his textiles last year in Lowell, MA.)
It was interesting that their mission was not to perform for tourists. The photos below are really of a fundraiser that they hold every now and then. He and his fellow staff and teachers would like the school to be a resource and link to the younger generation, in learning and upholding traditional Lao arts, whether they be textiles, music, or dance. What really resonated with me was that he said the older masters are dying, and it’s up to the students to rise up and become the new generation.
When the issue of tourism came up, the school did express that it was both good and bad. Chao Nithakhong said that in the past, bombs destroyed the land, and right now it is tourism.
The money and recognition that tourism brings is good, but with this influx of people brings pollution and environmental issues. Laos is already a dirty place, but more and more empty bottles litter the land, and water pollution has increased with the sewage and detergent needs of travelers. They too expressed their sadness over the alms giving become a zoo-like spectacle. Hundreds of tourists carelessly using flash photography adds up over time, and it just smacks of disprespect. In the Lao tradition (and not the Thai tradition) everyone, even a King must kneel before monks, when giving alms. To have noisy and not properly dressed tourists interrupt the daily ceremony is saddening.
It is amazing that my home country of Laos has gotten so much international recognition for eco-tourism, but this rapid globalization is a big problem for a country that is easily 40 years behind most of the world.