Phongsaly is well-known for its colorfully dressed minorities. The population is officially made up of 28 different ethnic groups, but if we were to count them in the way the people identify themselves there would be more than 40. Many of them came from elsewhere, mostly from China, fleeing wars and famine during the 19th Century.
In Phongsaly Town, the two main ethnic groups are the Phunoy, and the Hor, descendants of the old Yunnan traders. Thai Dam people are mostly found in Muang Mai district; Yao, Hor and Lolo people in Gnot Ou district. Many Khmu live in Muang Khua and Samphan districts.
There are at least 14 different groups of Akha and related people. Most of their villages are remote and up in the mountains, some of them creacting a perfect trekking destination. Akha people practice spirit worship and several taboos are to be respected in their villages. The Museum of Phongsaly Ethnic Groups provides detailed information about the different ethnic groups, their origin and way of life.
Unless many other cities in Laos, Phongsaly town has not been destroyed by bombing during in the American war. It features a remaining old quarter with Yunnanese wooden architecture now rare to find in Yunnan itself. Most of the people living here belong to the Hor ethnic group, speaking Chinese. Until the 1970s there had been a Chinese consulate in Phongsaly town, and now is the ‘Phou Fa Hotel’.
The Museum of Phongsaly Ethnic Groups’ newly-designed exhibition has been inaugurated in January 2013. It presents the province and its people, their origin and way of life. It also includes information and exhibits about different aspects of their daily life: clothes, music, agriculture, housing, social organization, their rituals and ceremonies, as well as about Buddhism. Don’t miss it, it is one of the best museum in Laos and you will not find this information anywhere else! You will need at least 1 hour to visit the exhibition.
The museum is located in the centre of Phongsaly town, next to the Agriculture Promotion Bank and Lao Telecom, close to the post office. It opens Monday to Friday from 08:00am-11:30am, 01:30pm-04:30pm. Entry fee: 10,000 Kip (5,000 Kip for Lao people).
For more information please contact Mr. Khoun: +856-20-56576050.
TEA PAVILION AND 400-YEAR-OLD TEA TREES
The famous 400-year-old tea plantation is located about 18 kilometers from Phongsaly Town in the Phunoy ethnic village of Ban Komaen, which according to some tea experts has some of the oldest tea trees in the world. The large root system of the old trees extends deep into the mineral-rich soil and gives ‘Phongsaly Tea’ its specific aroma and taste.
The oldest trees stand 6 meters high with a stem up to 30 cm in diameter. The Tea Pavilion’s exhibition provides a peek into the world of tea, from its legendary beginnings to its production and consumption, and explains how the famous 400-year-old tea is picked and processed by the villagers into “tea cigars”. From there, you can take an hour stroll through the ancient plantation: just follow the Tea Trail signs! The trail will lead you to the top of the tea mountain to enjoy the stunning view of Phongsaly and then to the village temple and its unique bigeared Buddha statue.
Ban Komaen makes an ideal 1-day excursion, therelatively flat road passing through more recent tea plantations and offering a superb view of Phongsaly and surrounding mountains.
Town map and mountain bikes to rent (50,000 Kip/day)
are available at the Tourism Office
Photo and Clip: Alan Liu | Hope Vision Photography