In a notice released on 25 March, the Vientiane Capital governor issued regulations for residents to follow during the Lao New Year period, effective from 13 to 16 April.

New Year celebrations come with guidelines to ensure safety and respect for traditions. 

The issued regulations dictate conduct both on the roads and in public spaces. Among the rules: refraining from the use of unsanitary or colored water, ice, water tanks, or basins for dowsing, avoiding revealing clothing, abstaining from creating excessive noise without proper authorization, and prohibiting the use of fireworks, firecrackers, or possession of explosives. 

Additionally, drivers are prohibited from consuming or vending alcoholic beverages near temples, and shops are instructed not to hike prices or sell substandard goods during the festivities. Moreover, vehicular access to the Mekong Riverbank, except for police vehicles, is strictly prohibited.

Actions that violate these rules, whether they are intentional or not, will result in consequences, including warnings, fines, or apprehension, depending on the severity of the offense. Fireworks or firecrackers found will be confiscated and destroyed, and their owners will face punishments, ranging from warnings to fines.

Traffic police will also be stationed in numerous areas, including residents’ households, official establishments, restaurants, and workplaces to prevent potential crimes and road accidents.

These regulations are aimed at ensuring a safe and respectful celebration of the Lao New Year in Vientiane Capital. By adhering to these guidelines, residents can enjoy the festivities while also maintaining the cleanliness and orderliness of the city.

Source: https://laotiantimes.com/2024/03/27/vientiane-capital-announces-golden-rules-for-lao-new-year-2024/

In recent days, several ancient Buddha statues were retrieved from the Mekong River’s shore in Tonpheung district of Bokeo province. Believed by some to be remnants of a 14th to 16th century temple, the true historical context of these artifacts remains shrouded in mystery, awaiting further investigation.

Shortly after retrieval, the artifacts were transported to Thongthip Phatthanaram temple in Yaitonpheung village for safekeeping.

In the meantime, research on the site continued. On 15-19 March, provincial authorities, in collaboration with experts from the Heritage Department of the Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism, conducted further search for buried artifacts near Done Phuengkham island. 

The search was prompted by a suggestion from the provincial administration office and the expert team, who deemed the area a likely hunting ground for such treasures.

The mission proved fruitful, a total of 38 Buddha statues, with sizes ranging from small (20-25 cm) to large (40-80 cm), were excavated, with ongoing investigation efforts planned. 

One of the largest statues measures 80 cm tall, 56 cm wide at the shoulders, and has an overall width of 88 cm, as reported by the tourism office in Ton Pheung district.

Provincial authorities excavating a land once buried beneath the Mekong River to search more ancient relics (photo: Vientiane Times)

The excavation efforts were spurred by a prior discovery on 11 March, when the provincial authorities found the head of a Buddha image and several small headless images during road repairs near Thongthip temple. The head was found in sand, once buried beneath the water of the Mekong River, used by the construction company for the road upgrade, prompting further exploration of the area.

As excavations continue, speculations among a prominent Lao social media page – and several Thai media – have arisen about the possibility of discovering a lost Buddha statue known as “Phra Souk.” Legend has it that “Phra Souk” was one of three sisters—Phra Souk, Phra Serm, and Phra Sai—built during the reign of King Setthathirath of the Lan Xang Kingdom, originally located in Vientiane Capital, from 1548 to 1571. 

During the reign of Thailand’s third king, the three statues were being transported from Vientiane to Nong Khai, Thailand, via ship along the Mekong River. However, tragedy struck when a storm hit the vessel, causing “Phra Souk” to plunge into the river, where it has remained lost ever since.

Presently, Phra Sai resides in a temple in Thailand’s Nong Khai Province, while Phra Souk is housed in a temple in Bangkok.

While this marks a great discovery for Laos, some Thai Facebook users are raising concerns over the legitimacy of the findings as many cited the fresh and new state of the statues despite being buried beneath the water for hundreds of years. 

“Wow, lost for 400-500 years, they said? Looks pretty new to me!” said a Thai Facebook user.

“Anyone can tell that these images aren’t 100 years old. They all look below 50 years old,” added another user.

However, some other users argued that the reason behind the buddha images looking new is attributed to the fact that they were not exposed to oxygen when buried underneath the river hence their coppers did not undergo the oxidation reaction, a process in which a chemical substance changes because of the addition of oxygen. 

“Whoever said that the statues look new, please do your research. The process in which they were forged is unique and is no longer practiced in the modern day,” a Facebook user wrote.

Despite mixed reactions from the neighboring country, Lao authorities stated that Thai people who live on the other side of the river are allowed to cross to Laos to pay homage to the relics without going through any document processes.

Meanwhile, efforts to uncover more artifacts continue, with the hope of revealing further insights into the region’s old days.

Source: https://laotiantimes.com/2024/03/20/ancient-buddha-images-unearthed-in-bokeo-province-spark-historical-debate/

The first Beijing to Laos cross-border tourist train of 2024 departed from the Chinese capital during the early hours of Monday morning, 18 March. Dai Kaiyi was there.

Slowly pulling out of the platform, the Y445 tourist train, carrying over 400 passengers, embarks on a cross-country tour spanning China and Laos. Before the train departed, I spoke with a few of the passengers about their trip.

“I’m really happy to be part of this trip. It feels good; I can’t really describe it in any other way.”

“I’m excited to find out that we have trains to go directly to Laos now, and with both sides being so friendly, especially the people being able to go to Laos to learn their traditional culture.”

Dai Kaiyi Beijing “Chinese railway officials say the trip covers many iconic sightseeing spots in both China and Laos. It lasts for a total of fifteen days, allowing tourists to experience the charm of both countries.”

GE RONGYAN Train Driver “With many elderly passengers on this journey, our main focus during duty is ensuring passenger safety, emergency response, water supply on the train, catering, and providing excellent customer service.”

Railway authorities have organized a team of chefs offering a diverse range of meals and onboard entertainment. Trained medical personnel and emergency equipment are available onboard to guarantee passenger safety.

Wang Xu Business Manager of China Railway Travel Service Group “This year, we have introduced our specialized tourism offering, which includes domestic tourist special trains and cross-border trains for international travel, creating a comprehensive travel experience.”

Since its opening, the China-Laos Railway has transported over 30 million passengers and more than 34 million tons of goods. The line has seen an upward trend in both passenger and freight traffic.

The China State Railway Group says it will strengthen cooperation with its Laos counterparts while contributing to the high-quality development of the Belt and Road Initiative, bringing benefits to the people of both countries. Dai Kaiyi, CGTN, Beijing.

Source: https://laotiantimes.com/2024/03/19/cross-border-tourism-2024s-first-beijing-to-laos-tourist-train-departs-from-chinese-capital/

Myanmar Airways International (MAI) has announced its plan to introduce direct flights between Yangon, Myanmar, and Vientiane, Laos, in early May this year as part of an ambitious expansion plan to bolster its international network.

The announcement was made during the MAI Flight Forward ceremony on 8 March. During the ceremony, Tanes Kumar, acting CEO and chief commercial officer of MAI, said that the airline will introduce new routes to Chiang Mai, Thailand; Vientiane, Laos; Dhaka, Bangladesh; and others.

“Although there are many challenges at present, MAI will further expand our travel network. The number of foreign flights MAI is flying will increase to 21. I believe that the new flights that will be run again will benefit passengers and colleagues a lot,” said Kumar as reported by Eleven Myanmar.

According to Myanmar’s Ministry of Information, MAI’s new routes to Vientiane, Laos, will operate weekly flights on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting 4 May. Additionally, MAI plans to increase its new international flights with other countries and expand its domestic flight offerings.

Direct flights between Laos and Myanmar have been unavailable for decades. In the 1980s, Lao Airlines stopped flying to Yangon due to the route’s lack of profitability.

The plan to connect the air link between Vientiane Capital and Yangon was also introduced in early 2013. However, Lao Airlines later canceled the plan within the same year, stating the necessity for more time to develop a marketing strategy to ensure adequate profitability of the route.

Source: https://laotiantimes.com/2024/03/12/myanmar-plans-to-launch-direct-flights-from-yangon-to-vientiane-in-may/

Hin Nam No National Park is on the path to achieving World Heritage Status, with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) accepting its complete application document. However, additional reviews are necessary before the park can receive this prestigious status.

Phankhalxay Sikanxay, the Director General of the Heritage Department at the Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism, provided an update in a meeting between 11 to 12 March, saying that Vietnam had received an official notification from the UNESCO World Heritage Center confirming the completeness of Laos’ application documents for Hin Nam No National Park. 

These documents have reportedly been forwarded to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the advisory body of the World Heritage Committee, for review. Following this, a team of experts from the World Heritage Center will visit Laos to inspect the actual heritage sources to ensure the accuracy of the submitted documents.

The meeting also discussed the dissemination of information to central, local, and grassroots societies, particularly within Khammouane Province, to enhance their understanding of the park’s value as a shared world heritage site. Additionally, discussions were held with the German Development Organization in Laos (GIZ) on a cooperation plan for sustainable forest ecosystem protection and biodiversity.

Hin Nam No National Protected Area is located in central Laos, where the Central Indochina Limestone meets the Annamite Mountain Chain. This chain extends into Vietnam, where a significant portion of the contiguous Phong Nha Ke Bang karst has been designated as a National Park and Natural World Heritage site.

In 2018, the governments of Laos and Vietnam signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), with Vietnam pledging full support for the nomination of Hin Nam No National Protected Area as a transboundary World Heritage Site. This nomination is in partnership with the established natural UNESCO World Heritage Site, Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park.

The Lao government first confirmed the nomination of Hin Nam No National Park for the IUCN Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas, a global standard for protected area management back in 2021. 

Managed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forest, the park is supported by the German Government’s ProFEB project. Once certified, it will be the largest protected tropical karst area globally, covering 94,000 hectares of pristine karst forests. The certification will enhance international recognition and conservation efforts, setting a precedent for other protected areas in Laos and aiding its UNESCO World Heritage nomination.

As preparations continue for the potential world heritage status of Hin Nam No National Park, stakeholders remain committed to promoting and preserving this natural treasure. The collaboration between the Lao government and international partners highlights the significance of sustainable conservation efforts in safeguarding the park’s unique biodiversity and ecosystem.

Source: https://laotiantimes.com/2024/03/12/hin-nam-no-national-park-moves-closer-to-world-heritage-status/

The ASEAN-South Korea Music Festival 2024 (2024 ROUND) is set to take place in Laos this November.

The festival, themed ‘Step Out, Sing As One,’ aims to foster closer cultural bonds and facilitate dialogue between ASEAN member countries and South Korea through the universal language of music, according to the ASEAN Secretariat.

This year’s event, organized by the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) and supported by the South Korean government through the ASEAN-South Korea Cooperation Fund, will commemorate its fourth year since its establishment in 2020.

Annually, the ASEAN-South Korea festival aligns with the rotation of the Chairmanship of ASEAN. With Laos assuming the rotating chairmanship of ASEAN in 2024, hosting the festival holds particular significance as a major cultural event during its leadership tenure.

Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic’s three-year hiatus, the festival successfully returned in 2023 with its first offline concert in Jakarta, Indonesia. Drawing in over 2,000 enthusiastic attendees and selling out pre-sale tickets, it proved to be a success.

To be well-prepared for the highly anticipated 2024 ROUND, the ASEAN-Korea Music Forum is scheduled to take place on 5-6 March in Seoul, South Korea. The forum will bring together music industry professionals from South Korea and ASEAN member countries to explore the vision and potential of both regions’ music in the global market.

Discussions at the forum will also delve into KBS’ innovative AI solution, ‘VVERTIGO,’ and showcase South Korean broadcasting technology through music programs.

Additionally, this year’s festival holds special significance for ASEAN and South Korea as they commemorate the 35th anniversary of their partnership, which was established in 1989. The relationship between ASEAN and South Korea has deepened over the years, evolving from sectoral dialogue to comprehensive cooperation in 2004 and culminating in a strategic partnership in 2010.

Source: https://laotiantimes.com/2024/03/04/asean-south-korea-music-festival-2024-coming-to-laos-in-november/

The Consular Department under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Laos has issued a notice regarding the adjustment of fees and service charges for passport issuance, effective on 4 March, to simplify passport procedures and ensure the sustainability of service provision.

According to the revised ordinance, issuance of electronic passports will be priced at USD 60 per book, while non-electric passports will cost USD 40 per book. Despite being set in a foreign currency, fees will be collected in the local currency, based on the exchange rate determined by the Ministry of Finance.

The notice regarding fee adjustments in USD currency emphasizes the need to secure sufficient funding for passport operations, covering expenses such as payments, procurement of IT equipment, and maintenance of technical systems sourced from foreign countries.

Furthermore, the amendment will also introduce an express passport service with three processing options: 1-day, 3-day, and 5-day, priced at LAK 1 million, LAK 500,000, and LAK 300,000 per book. This expedited service is designed to assist individuals in need of passports before the stipulated 10-day period as per the Passport Law.

“The [express passport] service aims to address the ongoing issue of illegal express passports by implementing a systematic, orderly, transparent, and verifiable process,” the notice states. “It also aims to generate extra income for the state budget.”

The Consular Department urges all sectors, including residents, employees, and officials from various fields, to familiarize themselves with the revised fees and services.

Additionally, the adjustment aims to tackle residents’ concerns, particularly regarding long waiting times faced by residents, as many have recently expressed frustration with the passport acquisition process, citing long waits, system errors, and appointment favoritism.

Source: https://laotiantimes.com/2024/02/23/laos-adjusts-passport-issuance-fees-service-charges-in-usd-collected-in-lao-kip/

The Lao government, along with stakeholders in the tourism sector, is increasing efforts to elevate tourism standards with the aim of attracting more visitors to the country.

During a meeting held on 13 February to review the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism’s achievements in 2023 and outline plans for 2024, Lao Deputy Prime Minister Kikeo Khaykhamphithoune urged collaboration between the public and private sectors to enhance tourist attractions, visitor amenities, and services provided by hotels and restaurants.

Emphasizing the importance of quality services, Deputy PM Kikeo stressed the need for diversification of tourism products, with a focus on activities that showcase the cultural richness of Laos’ ethnic groups, as well as the promotion of agritourism.

Deputy PM Kikeo also raised awareness of existing challenges in Lao tourism, especially issues with many tourism aspects that lack coordination and do not generate significant revenue for the government.

On the other hand, Lao local residents have also urged the government to enhance road conditions across the country to facilitate better access for visitors to reach tourist destinations.

Despite challenges, progress has been made over the past year in the development, management, and promotion of various forms of tourism, including natural, historical, cultural, and agricultural tourism. Infrastructure and facilities in some areas have also been upgraded to connect more effectively with local facilities.

This year, many tourism-related businesses across Laos have also shown dedication to improving services to meet ASEAN tourism standards. On 13 February,  Lao tourism business operators were honored for meeting the standards set by ASEAN across three categories. Notably, the awards included 45 recognitions for the ASEAN Green Hotel Standard, 6 awards for the ASEAN MICE Venue Standards, and 1 award for ASEAN Sustainable Tourism.

Additionally, during the recent ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) in Vientiane Capital in late January, Laos was also honored with 20 ASEAN Tourism Standard Awards, out of the total 192 awards given to entities across the bloc.

During the ATF, government officials and industry representatives from ASEAN nations also gathered to explore strategies for promoting sustainable tourism, leveraging social media for marketing purposes, and tapping into the potential of adventure tourism.

To further boost the tourism sector, the Lao government has also launched the Visit Laos Year 2024 campaign, with many provinces and local villages set to welcome visitors from around the world to discover the country’s wonders.

With ambitious targets set by the Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism, Laos aims to welcome over 6 million domestic and international tourists in 2024.

Source: https://laotiantimes.com/2024/02/19/efforts-underway-to-enhance-tourism-standards-in-laos/

The Lao government has pledged to complete its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and carry the nation out of the Least Developed Country (LDC) status by 2026, with efforts focusing on human resources development, economic regulation, and poverty reduction.

Lao Minister of Planning and Investment Khamjane​ Vongphosy made the vow on 14 February​  during a press conference following the 2023 Round Table Implementation​ Meeting, where the focus was on accelerating the implementation of the 9th Five-Year National Socio-economic Development Plan.

The Five-Year plan focuses on economic growth, with aims to improve human resources by ensuring improved quality of the educational system from early childhood, prioritizing green development, boosting productive sectors, such as crops, livestock, forest and fisheries and improving living standards. The plan also prepares for Laos’ graduation from Least Developed Country status.

The Lao government is also pushing to reduce urban-rural development disparities, eliminate violence against women and children, reduce poverty, and enhance domestic business competitiveness by improving the business environment.

To support these initiatives, the government will implement appropriate financial strategies and strengthen disaster prevention and control operations. This includes improving early warning systems, conducting risk studies, and supporting high-risk communities to enhance preparedness for extreme weather events.

Minister Khamjane also emphasized the importance of collaboration, stating that the Ministry of Planning and Investment will coordinate with other authorities to follow up on suggested guidelines for successful implementation. This collaborative approach is seen as essential for achieving the SDGs and LDC graduation..

While factors such as an economic slump and high inflation project a downward trend for the country, the Lao government is continuing to implement the 9th Five-Year Socio-Economic plan, as part of the broader goal to achieve the SDGs and graduate from the LDC status.

Source: https://laotiantimes.com/2024/02/16/laos-vows-to-graduate-from-least-developed-country-by-2026/

The Ministry of Finance announced a new regulation on mandatory tax payments for all digital shopping platforms in its latest notice, released on 14 February.

The notice classifies digital platform shopping websites into three groups: registered enterprises in the Value-Added Tax (VAT) system, micro-enterprises, and revenue-generating individuals, legal entities, and organizations.

Under the new regulations, enterprises registered with the VAT system must include their taxpayer identification number and VAT certificate in their advertisements for selling goods and services through e-commerce channels. They must also inform users whenever VAT is collected.

Microenterprises, however, are not required to inform users when collecting tax but must display their taxpayer identification number in their advertising. 

VAT-registered enterprises, microenterprises, as well as revenue-generating individuals, legal entities, and organizations must provide information on the purchase of digital products, services, and every electronic commerce activity. Only VAT-registered enterprises are required to connect their electronic information to the Tax Revenue Information Management System (TaxRIS).

The TaxRIS system is a government investment aimed at modernizing revenue collection. It aligns with the strategic plan to make tax payments easier for taxpayers, ensure all taxes are accounted for in the state budget, and enhance transparency. 

Furthermore, all three e-commerce groups must manually submit their revenue tax, VAT, profit tax, salary tax, and other taxes through the government’s website. Additionally, they must maintain accounting according to the system prescribed by the Law on Accounting Management and submit proper documentation to receive an annual tax payment certificate.

The notice also instructs the Tax Department nationwide to streamline procedures for the three groups. This includes facilitating the issuance of taxpayer identification numbers to individuals, legal entities, or organizations that conduct electronic commerce to access the TaxRIS system fully.

Failure to comply with the new regulations may result in warnings, fines, legal action, or even the platform’s shutdown.

The Ministry’s new regulations aim to enhance tax compliance among digital shopping platforms in Laos. These measures, including the integration of taxpayer identification numbers and VAT certificates in advertisements, reflect the government’s commitment to modernizing revenue collection and ensuring transparency in e-commerce transactions.

Source: https://laotiantimes.com/2024/02/20/lao-government-rolls-out-new-tax-regulations-on-e-commerce/