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Luang Prabang's New Botanical Garden


The opening of a botanical garden in already-lush Luang Prabang both parades and protects the local flora. By VERONICA INVEEN.

Published on Nov 21, 2016

 

IF THE ALLURE of Luang Prabang's cascading waterfalls and ancient palaces weren't enough to beguile us, a botanical garden offers yet another excuse for visiting the secluded city. After seven years of research and landscaping, Pha Tad Ke, the country's first botanical garden, opened to the public at the beginning of November 2016. Showcasing the elaborate flora of Laos, the garden serves as an oasis of orchids, bamboo and palms, clustered around the base of Pha Tad Ke cliff, as it rises from the Mekong.

Pha Tad Ke
A bamboo-shaded path at Pha Tad Ke. Courtesy of Pha Tad Ke.

The garden is the brainchild of Rik Gadella, a former Paris-based art and publishing executive who visited Luang Prabang back in 2007 and loved it so much he never left. The idea of turning 14 hectares of scrubland into an elaborate garden, museum, café and shop stemmed from his love of Laos's natural beauty. "I want people to reconnect with nature," Gadella says, "and the way Lao people live with nature in their everyday lives."

Gadella has created a conservation garden to preserve plants used in medicine and spiritual ceremonies, and as an archive of botanical wisdom traditionally passed down orally. "More young Lao are migrating to cities, and elders are passing away before they can transmit their knowledge," Gadella says. "By cataloging the information, we protect the plant diversity and help conserve the culture."

As focused as the Pha Tad Ke team may be on preserving history, they are equally dedicated to investing in Laos's future. Everything from the handicrafts at the onsite shop, to the ingredients used at the café, to the staff members making it all happen, is native to Laos. "We want to keep the money we make circulating in the Lao economy," Gadella says. "Our entrance fees will help fund our other projects, such as publications and educational programs." So as you walk the garden's quiet paths, stopping to look out over the sleepy river, or ducking into the Pha Tad Ke café for a Lao feast, remember this kind of tourism represents a balance. Take something away, give something back. pha-tad-ke.com; admission US$24.

 

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Lotus pond in Pha Tad Ke. Courtesy of Pha Tad Ke.
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