Lovely gardens downriver from Luang Prabang
Published: 3rd December, 2018
As if visitors to Luang Prabang needed another excuse to get on the Mekong, the Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden beckons on the opposite side of the river.
With a stunning location at the base of its namesake cliff, the gardens are the first of its kind in Laos. Opened late 2016, Pha Tad Ke has been a huge undertaking, taking seven years to come to fruition. Now the 40 hectares of land (the grounds were the former hunting estate for the Lao royal family) require 50 Lao staff and a team of scientists and botanists. Though still in its infancy and developing its offerings, a full rainy season has unleashed the potential. Marked gravel pathways lead through thriving plots and habitats, from a ginger garden and limestone habitat, to an arboretum.
Not much is formally known about the flora of Laos. Only about 30% of the country’s plants have been catalogued and knowledge is key for conservation. When people speak of protecting heritage, they think of music, dance, crafts, dress and religion. Plants may not immediately come to mind but with Laos rapidly modernising, the study of plants and the local people’s traditional knowledge of them (ethno-botany) is just as critical.
Plant-based medicine is a large part of Lao culture, especially in ethnic minority villages in rural Laos where each will have a “medicine man”, the knowledge passed on orally. The centrepiece of Pha Tad Ke is the ethno-botanic gardens, helping to preserve the plant wisdom while teaching visitors about how each plant is used in every day life, handicraft, special ceremonies and medicine for people, and even for elephants.
The main garden can be briskly walked in as little as half an hour, however there is a growing list of reasons to linger to make it into a half day or full day excursion. The information signs are detailed and well-written, displayed in both English and Lao and they’re well worth the read. There are free scheduled talks, as well as one-hour workshops (US$18) that may appeal to gardening buffs. Those looking to stretch their legs and work their lungs can go for a hike or arrange for the more strenuous guided Pha Tad Ke mountain trek (book in advance). They have a small shop selling locally made goods and a cafe pleasantly situated at a pond. Some boat tour companies now offer an itinerary combining the gardens with Kwang Si waterfall. Pha Tad Ke is quickly rising to the top as one of Luang Prabang’s special attractions.
Admission is Adult US$25, children under 12 US$10, the boat included in the price. To get there, there are boat shuttles approximately once an hour, departing from a reception office on the Mekong in Ban Wat That village (on the main street at Nam Phou fountain, head down to the river). Check their website or office for the up to date schedule. As of a sample, the schedule for 2017: (to Pha Tad Ke) 09:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00; (return to town) 10:30, 11:30, 12:30, 13:30, 14:30, 16:30, 17:30.
In terms of accessibility, the main garden pathways are gravel and flat. Additional pathways have steps. Getting on/off the boat takes some sure-footedness and there are steep stairs up the river banks. If stairs are a problem, it is possible to reach the garden by car. Contact the reception in advance to organise.
Address: 15 minutes by boat south of Luang Prabang.
Coordinates (for GPS): 102º5'50.43" E, 19º52'37.22" N
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
Admission: Adults US$25 children under 12 $10
Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you'll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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