Written by: Jaii Fredregill
Destination: Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden, Luang Prabang, Laos
Visited: May 2018
Located just across the Mekong River from Luang Prabang, Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden is just a short boat ride from their riverside reception center. A visit here offers you the opportunity to stroll the beautifully landscaped grounds, which include several types of ginger, medicinal plants, and a lily pond with a visibly active ecosystem.
One of many pathways to be explored at Pha Tad Ke.
The atmosphere is relaxed, and knowledgeable guides are on hand to answer questions regarding Laos culture, and the critical part nature plays within it. Tours and activities are available for those who would like to delve deeper. Those feeling more adventurous can also participate in a trek or adventure to explore some of the surrounding natural wonders.
Dragonflies and butterflies have returned to the garden which became void of nearly all life during the days when it served as hunting grounds for the royal family.
The Pha Tad Ke project began in 2008 when General Director, Rik Gadella, visited Luang Prabang during a trip across Asia intended for self-reflection. Upon reaching Luang Prabang, Gadella became so enamored with the area that he sought out a small lot of land where he might build a modest home. He was soon asked if he would consider a much larger parcel of land that once belonged to the Royal Family and served as their hunting estate.
Seeing a chance to preserve the nature and culture of Laos that was fading away under the guise of modernization, he purchased the land. When he took ownership in 2008, Gadella had no previous experience with botany or horticulture but boldly set out to construct a botanical garden. The project came about out of sheer love and respect for the nature surrounding him and the hope that others could also appreciate it.
Pha Tad Ke's "ginger whisperer," Sengthong Soulinnaphou works in Garden and Landscape Design.
When Pha Tad Ke opened in 2016, Gadella paid its 40 staff members from his own pocket until enough revenue could be generated to cover their salaries. Since then the garden has developed a work training program for local villagers interested in increasing their skills. Those who do not stay on at the garden receive job placement assistance to find work with local hotels and businesses.
Over 50 participants from the program are currently employed at Pha Tad Ke. Most begin as laborers but can move into a different role, such as hospitality, if they feel this work suits them better. Opportunities for advancement are available and encouraged. The intention is that Pha Tad Ke will eventually be run solely by local farmers and other villagers.
Oudom, Oun and Horticulture Education Coordinator, Maartje Muskens are pictured here at the reception area. Muskens, a horticulture teacher, is a key player in the garden's work training program.
Biodiversity conservation, sustainable agriculture, and eco-tourism are the main focuses at Pha Tad Ke. Presently, 10-hectares have been landscaped to create the public gardens. The scientific team makes a significant contribution to global biodiversity by working continuously to research and inventory the extensive flora of Laos.
It is believe that when completed, there will be more than 12,000 species recorded. Some of which are newly discovered by Pha Tad Ke. They have even created an ethnobotany garden which provides some intriguing facts on the power Laos people believe plants hold. For example, some are believed to heal while others are said to protect your home from evil.
Garden & Landscape Designer, Khamphart Tongchan, is the garden's Medicinal plant expert. His knowledge of what can cure you and what can kill you is quite impressive and maybe even a little terrifying.
With the support from the United Nations Development Programme, Pha Tad Ke is now creating a demonstration farm where training in permaculture for Laos farmers will be provided. In turn, these farmers will teach these practices to other farmers in their villages.
Fritz Maddell stands where Pha Tad Ke's permaculture training farm will soon be.
Fritz Maddell, Pha Tad Ke's Permaculture Coordinator, is leading the project. Noting that, "Many people confuse permaculture and organic farming. Permaculture incorporates organic farming principles, but the main difference is that it is implemented within a system designed to be self-sufficient, where outside resources are limited or ideally not needed. An organic farm may not be sustainable, while a permaculture farm aims to be sustainable and operate in a closed system."
Thus, maintaining the health and longevity of the land for crop production. A considerable advancement for sustainable agriculture, farmers, and human beings.
Fritz Maddell with a sample of the elephant dung donated by the Elephant Conservation Center.
The manure is carried in large bags down the steep hillside steps to the Mekong Riverside and loaded into a boat for delivery. Once to the other side the bags must be carried up an equally steep hillside to the garden. A clear indication of the dedication shared among Pha Tad Ke staff.
The path to the riverside. Transportation by car can be arranged for those who may have trouble with stairs.
Eco-tourism is also a clear focus here. The garden's day-to-day practices are of course eco-friendly. The café serves local, seasonal food. The gift shop sells crafts from nearby villages. No pesticides are used anywhere on the grounds, and there is no single-use plastic. Guests are invited to take part in activities and tours that provide information on the local environment and how they can help to preserve Laos natural beauty as well as our shared global environment.
Etlingera elatior known as Torch Ginger. High in antioxidants it is said to help fight cancer and aid in treating respiratory problems. It is found very commonly used in Malay and Nyonya (Chinese-Malay) cooking for soups and curries.
Pha Tad Ke does not receive government funding. The cost of operations is covered by grants, donations, garden services and admission sales. To plan your visit and get updates on what's happening here visit www.pha-tad-ke.com