Impressions from a study trip to Laos – written by Mekong local researchers (Vietnam)

In July of 2015, representatives from WARECOD led a Thaibaan research group from Viet Nam on a study tour of Southern Laos to visit other village research groups. Here are some impressions from the individuals who were part of the trip. 

Vo Thanh Trang


My name is Vo Thanh Trang and I was born in 1955. I am a member of the Vam Nao research group of Tan Trung commune, Phu Tan district, An Giang province.


Early 2013, I volunteered to join the Thaibaan research group, initiated by WARECOD. I was trained on research methodology and skills, and had many chances to visit different places and participate in workshops. Among those activities, I was most impressed with a trip we took to understand how Thaibaan research was done in Laos in July 2015.


I have many impressions about the trip. The most special ones are the picturesque and pure scenery and the local people who are hospitable and subtle. When communicating with visitors, I found their sharings always sincere and polite.


When we visited Khinark village, the villagers showed us the many stages in the process of producing noodles, from making the noodles, to wastewater treatment to avoid polluting the environment. One thing I noticed was the lack of safety when they boiled the noodles. Two parallel wooden bars were placed above a boiling pot and the cook had to push the noodles against these bars, at which point the noodles would drop down into the boiling pot. If the cook was tired or slipped, he would certainly get hurt. My feeling was that they should consider using another bar to push the noodles – the work would then require less power and be safer.


Our next destination was the magnificent Khonephapheng falls, where we saw the lys fishing trap. This trap is creative because fishers only have to build it once and they can use it for the whole fishing season.


In meetings with the Department of Education of Champasak province and the Division of Education of Khong district, we were told that the Education offices had chosen the most practical and useful Thaibaan research results to incorporate into the curriculum of local elementary schools. This is a great idea. I would go a step further and propose that the research results to be submitted to the Ministry of Education and then be applied to the national curriculum. This way young students from the whole country will learn about this research.


In short, I liked the scenery which is both majestic and poetic. I was pleased and happy with the unfamiliar yet delicious food served with hospitality by our Laotian friends. The attentive guidance of our Laotian friends and WARECOD staff contributed to the success of this trip.



Vo Thanh Trang. Photo by Dinh Duc Thanh.


Nguyen Thi To Nguyen

At 5:00 am on 6 July 2015, five Thaibaan researchers from the Mekong Delta of Vietnam and 2 project officers of the Center for Water Resources Conservation and Development (WARECOD) got on a bus leaving Da Nang (Vietnam). The group arrived at Pakse (Champasak province, Laos PDR) after 14 hours and was welcomed by Ms Michiitta Taosuvan of PADETC, a non-profit educational association in Laos. That was how our 3-day trip to visit and exchange lesson learned between Thaibaan groups in Laos and Vietnam started.

After three days, what I was most impressed with was the way Thaibaan has been implemented in close collaboration between villagers, educational units and specialized departments (such as the Water Treatment Department and the Environmental Protection Department). They conducted research together and the Ministry of Education filtered research results carefully before including them into textbooks, which will be used at local schools. This is how the current generation works together to pass their valuable and practical knowledge to their own children and grandchildren. In other words, the research they did shows positive and negative impacts of human activity on the environment, which helps educate people that environmental protection is a responsibility that we, current and future generations, all share. Also as part of the research, fading folk songs or traditional dances are performed to awaken the passion in villagers and to inspire the young generation. These traditions can also bring additional income for local villagers by recording albums or selling handicraft products to improve their livelihoods. The whole ceaseless research process is a series of lessons that should never be ignored.

Another thing I was impressed with was a fishing tool called the lys that I had a chance to witness at the wild and majestic Khone Phapheng waterfalls near the border with Cambodia. According to the villagers in Thakhor village, this special fishing trap dates back to 1963. Made of long trunks (mostly from bamboo) tied together like a long chair, lys are inclined at 60­ degrees above the water’s surface. They are constructed along the falls and were fixed in place by the rocks. Each year between February and August, one ly can bring about 30 million kip in income for local people by catching fish, with some variation due to water level. You cannot find the ly outside Siphandon in Laos.


Megafirst, the investor of dams on Mekong mainstream, blamed lys for the large amount of wood it takes to build them and the large number of big fish it would catch. Megafirst was conducting a research on migratory fish on the Mekong and claimed that lys would affect the research results, but local people thought the company just wanted them to quit using lys. The company wanted to prevent fishers from using lys. If so, what will be the future for these fishers and their children, given the fact that lys generate most of their income? Will the compensation from the company be able to offset the fishers’ loss, and what is the solution for the long-term? These questions are waiting for answers.  

My next impression was the clean environment with green trees everywhere. If you visit a family in Khinark or Thakhor, you will love their wooden big house, decorations, and household items which are artistically made.

The last thing to mention is the food which was not familiar at all to me. The food tastes slightly spicy, but shows the hospitality of people of this land and cozy atmosphere they create to welcome strangers. The perfect harmonization between people and nature can be felt in the way friendly Laotians process and enjoy food.

I do hope that the things I have learned from this trip and from the Laotian fellows will be saved, shared and applied to later research that we are going to do in Vietnam. Once again, I feel like I was able to come back to the good old days when people and nature existed in harmony. I feel more respect and love for nature and think more about our current environmental issues. I hope that there will be more sharing among the local groups so that we can all be aware of the environmental issues and work together to protect the environment, the atmosphere and the our most precious resource – valuable water.

Nguyen Thi To Nguyen is a member of local knowledge research in Mekong Delta of Vietnam.


Nguyen Thi To Nguyen. Photo by Nguyen Khiem.


Le Phuoc Thao

We left Da Nang at 5:00 am on 6 July 2015, heading for Pakse, Laos. Our team included 5 villagers/ researchers from the Mekong Delta of Vietnam and 2 project officers from WARECOD.


After 3 days learning about how Thaibaan research was implemented in Laos, I was deeply interested in their story about ly fishing trap:


In Thakhor village, I had a chance to see the ly at the falls. The ly is a traditional fishing trap that local people have been using for fishing. They are made of wood and bamboo. One ly can be used for 3 years.


As I learned from the Thaibaan research, this fishing trap with a long history is the tool of its kind. It can catch 3-5 tons of fish per year, making an income of 30 million kip for fishers. From February to May, they use lys to catch small fish, and from June to August to catch big fish. Thanks to lys, the life of local people is improved. However, the local government and a major dam investor – Megafirst – do not allow local people to use lys; they argue that lys will catch the big fish that they marked in order to do research on migratory fish. They have agreed to compensate local people a fixed amount of money to abandon the lys. However, since local people have been using lys for decades, if lys are banned, they will not have alternative livelihood activities, and their futures will be uncertain.

Le Phuoc Thao. Photo by Truong Van Khoi.

Another thing I found interesting was our visit to Khinark village where people produce noodles:

Khinark village has about 20 households that produce noodles and bean sprouts. The Thaibaan research group focused on 16 of them. Villagers, in collaboration with relevant offices, make a clear plan to process wastewater and keep the environment clean. The annual income from selling noodles and bean sprouts can reach 20 to 30 million kip for each household. I was really impressed with the way they arranged noodles on banana leaves – it looked beautiful as a bouquet.

I was, however, concerned about safety of the villagers when they boiled the noodles, because they had to push noodles from two supporting wooden bars into a boiling pot underneath. It looked very dangerous and I think they should find ways to make it less dangerous.


I felt more mature after the trip and have gained more knowledge from Thaibaan research in Laos. I am thankful for the enthusiastic, kind-hearted and friendly Laotian fellows.



“Noodle is as beautiful as a a bouquet”. Photo by Nguyen Khiem.


Truong Van Khoi


After a 7-day trip to Laos to learn and share with Laotian fellows on Thaibaan research, I was impressed with many things. Some of them are:


Firstly, two project officers of WARECOD were leaders and interpreters during the trip. These two officers took good care of other members during the trip so we could understand the places we visited.


Secondly, when we arrived in Laos, local people welcomed us with their hospitality and sincerity. They enthusiastically shared with us how they did Thaibaan research. When we asked questions, they answered all of them in detail.


Especially when visiting the Khone Phapheng Falls where people’s main livelihood activity is fishing, we had a chance to witness the traditional fishing tool – the ly fishing trap. These traps have been used from many generations. They are made of woods, and are placed at waterfalls to catch fish. I could see the falls from upstream on the Mekong, bringing huge amount of sediment and fish to my hometown in the Mekong delta of Vietnam.


In general, the scenery was beautiful with fresh air and magnificent big falls – it was all amazing!


I am deeply grateful for this 7-day trip, during which time I learned useful knowledge and had a great time travelling in a neighboring country. I gained an understanding of how Thaibaan research is done in Laos. When I return to my village, I will share what I experienced with other members of my Thaibaan group and other villagers.


Truong Van Khoi. Photo by Le Phuoc Thao.



Truong Thi Luu


After 2 days of travelling, the Vietnam team, which included 5 researchers from the Mekong delta of Vietnam and 2 staff from WARECOD, finally arrived in Laos for a study trip designed to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experience about Thaibaan research. This was such an interesting and memorable trip.


When I first set foot in Laos, I was deeply impressed with the hospitality and sincerity of people in this country. Although I was unable to directly communicate with them and had to speak through an interpreter, I could clearly feel they were friendly and kind-hearted people.


The second thing I loved about this trip was the food in Champasak. The food people eat everyday is sticky rice, and they have an interesting way to cook food: the spicy flavor of chillies goes well with the sweet and tough texture of Mekong fish. Perhap fish in different places taste different, which was exciting to me.


It would be a major shortcoming if I did not mention the ly fishing trap, a historical and unique fishing tool in this area. The ly brings the main source of income for local people. Lys are made of long pieces of bamboo or wood, with the lower part fixed to the river by stones. Everyday, the local people collect fish from the lys and store the fish at home. They told us that this year, the water level was much lower than the previous year and the amount of fish was lower as well. This problem should be discussed among the Mekong countries to find out the reasons. We were also told that the Government decided the ly should be banned. A company called MegaFirst (an investor for Mekong dams) feared that the lys would consume too much wood and overexploit fish! However, if lys are not allowed to be used, the income of local people will drop significantly because there is no replacement fishing tool. If the Government is going to ban the use of lys, they must organize trainings on livelihood activities and create more jobs for local people.


The fourth impression is the green color of the trees and fields. I recall my hometown 10 years ago, with the green of trees and the red of soil – so peaceful. In addition, Laotian people have amazing architecture and build their houses on stilts.


Lastly, I like the lack of traffic here very much: few vehicle and very little noise-pollution – unlike in Vietnam. Yet some roads were degraded and it would be dangerous to drive fast.


I hope there will be more trips like this one so that we can reconnect with nature, listen to it and feel it, and work together to protect it.



Truong Thi Luu. Photo by Truong Van Khoi.


The exchange visit is funded by Oxfam Australia in collaboration with Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems.

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