The Boat Landing Guest House, Luang Namtha, Laos - offering pro-poor tourism options fighting climate change

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About Us

Here are some of the people you may see running around: (left to right) Thone, Pawn, Baby Namtip, Nawk, Kees, Bill, Joy, Khanti, Own, Peng
Bottom Row: Cert, Liam, L'il Nang, Souk, Chan, Deuy, Nang

People who live by rivers dream they are immortal.

-Audre Lorde

The Boat Landing Guest House is Luang Namtha's first ecotourism lodge. We first opened in December, 1999. The Boat Landing Guest House aspires to make tourism a positive experience for everyone. We believe that both the tourist and the local Lao people should benefit from tourism. We believe in small-scale, low-impact tourism. We want our visitors to come away with a greater appreciation of Luang Namtha's culture and natural resources and we hope the locals will gain a greater understanding of the outside world in addition to economic benefit from tourism.

Any assistance that we provide is done as a service to the local and traveling communities. We feel that if others benefit from our services then we benefit as well. We have no monopoly and feel that there is enough room for everyone.

Our Story: In the early 1990's the Lao PDR was just beginning to open it doors to the outside world. Luang Namtha Province had been isolated from the western world since the early 1960's. In early 1991 the first western development workers can to help with rural development. Among the first to come was an American from Pueblo, Colorado named, Bill Tuffin, who established a primary health care project supported by the French NGO Enfants et Developpement. It was then that Sompawn and Bill met. Sompawn was still a high school student and worked for Bill doing gardening and odd errands around the house and office.

But as fate would have it the relationship would not end there. Sompawn married Joy, had a son, Liam and soon was studying architectural drawing in Vientiane and Joy was working in a restaurant named  " Just For Fun."

Bill in the meantime continued  working in Luang Namtha. Later he moved to Vientiane, then to Luang Prabang and then back to Luang Namtha.

During this time tourism began to increase especially after the relaxation of travel restrictions on foreigners in the 1994.  Bill knew what was drawing the tourists to these remote rural areas of Laos. However, the locals were at loss to understand why in the world they would want to come to some of the most backward areas of Asia. But they obliged the tourists, put up low priced guest houses and opened restaurants serving inexpensive generic Asian food.

Bill knew that the potential for tourism was going unexploited. The tourists were unsatisfied. There was a lack of information and activities which could provide meaningful interchanges with the locals. Many had misgivings about transforming the local ethnic villages into human zoos. On the other side, the locals never had been tourists, had no idea what kind of services and experiences they could develop for the tourists and how the tourist could be a economic force fueling development and at the same a means to preserve their way of life which made them so attractive to these crazy foreigners.

Bill, while having qualms about getting involved in tourism, was confident that he could provide the tourists the experience that they were looking for while benefiting the locals. It was not rocket science and his ideas were simple. It just took someone to get the ball rolling. to set up the model.

By now Pawn, Joy and Liam had returned from Vientiane. Bill was working in Luang Namtha again. Pawn worked as a site foreman for a construction company for a while and could hardly make a living.

There was talk and work on designs for building a guest house in the main town. It would be a French colonial style building. But somehow it just wasn't right with the plan, the location, the size of the property, the cost of construction. Pawn's father said,  "Couldn't we do something with the grove along the river?" "Nah, it's too far away. Who would come? Maybe we could build some cheap huts for the backpackers", Bill said.

Well, at some point along the way, Pawn and Bill's thinking changed. Bill said that if were going to build something in the grove along the river, it had to be local style architecture and had to blend in with nature. Bill asked Pawn to do a concept sketch based upon these lines. The result is what you see today.

It did take Pawn some time to fully accept that he had to adhere to local building styles and construction methods and if he did not he had to hide them. If you look closely around you'll find some plaster, some paint and some concrete. There were times when Pawn wasn't happy to see Bill because he knew that it meant that he probably had to redo a lot of things that he had worked very hard on.

The Ladies in local dress

Beyond the local style architecture, the Boat Landing needed to be comfortable enough that people would want to relax and spend time there. It also needed to provide the guests a window into the locality. This needed to be achieved through the decoration of the rooms, the menu and the availability of information about the local area. And most of all through the family who would live and at the Boat Landing.

In the first year the Boat Landing was opened and running, the Nam Ha Ecotourism project was started. The Nam Ha Ecotourism project has helped to guide our vision and provided us with a framework for us to develop our business beyond what we could have ever imagined. And on the other side we have worked closely with the project helping to develop programs and activities. We also spread the word of their work beyond the bounds of the Luang Namtha and Laos though our website..

Bill, Hum and Nawk

In that first year all we aspired to be was a nice guest house with good information. But with the coming of the ecotourism project and our involvement in it, we saw that we could easily become more than an simple guest house and could become a ecolodge - a thing that we only learned of after starting the guest house. But it seemed the natural way to go. But we did not want to just jump on the ecotourism band wagon, we really wanted to do it. So, through friends in the business we found out about Green Globe, an international body which certifies ecotourism operations. We have started work on certification but we have a ways to go especially as concerns staff and local awareness of environmental issues.

What you see at the Boat Landing today may have had its beginning in Bill's head but the none of this could have been achieved with the hard work of Pawn, Joy and their extended families. The Boat Landing also owes a great deal to the cooperation and support given by the local tourism authority and the Nam Ha Ecotourism Project.

Meet the People who live at the Boat Landing

Pawn on a boat on the Mekong

Sompawn Khantisouk (Pawn) and, his wife, Patsanee (Joy) are the owners and operators of the Boat Landing Guest House. The property on which the guest house is located belongs to Pawn's father who used to be a boatman on the Namtha River.

Pawn, born in 1975, studied architectural drafting in Vientiane and soon after finishing his studies moved back to Luang Namtha and later designed and built The Boat Landing Guest House.  Pawn is a lead guide for the Nam Ecotourism Project. You may meet him on you trek or on a rafting trip.

Joy, Pawn's wife, born in 1979, is originally from Luang Prabang grew up in the same village as Pawn. Joy is renown for her excellent cooking. While Pawn studied in Vientiane, Joy cooked at Just for Fun, a vegetarian restaurant in Vientiane. 

Deuy, Ning, and Mee, Joy's sisters, clean, do the laundry and  the rooms and help Joy take care of the baby, Lum, and cook  in the kitchen.

Mee, Chan, Deuy, Lum, Joy and Joy's Mom

Joy & Liam

Liam with his Grandfather

Liam, Pawn and Joy's first son. The patter of little feet belong to him and his friends.

Pawn, Joy, Liam, Lum & Namtip

Lum is Liam's baby brother born in 2000 - he may just take the show away from Liam. By the way his full name is Lumtahn, which is poetic for river. A fitting name for a boy living by a river, don't you think?

Liam, Namtip and Nang 

Liam and Lum also have a baby sister named Nam for short. Her names means water and her full name, Namthip, means the source of water. She was born during a flood in 2002 and lives along a river with her family. So, another fitting name for a child who lives next to the river. 

Namtip on the first day with her family 

You may see a number of other people around The Boat


Mr. Lum

 Landing like Pawn's mom and dad or Joy's parents. Both Pawn and Joy between them have a dozen brothers and sisters some of whom who have kids of there own. So, you see, it is all in the family!




Copyright © 2000-2005 The Boat Landing Guest House and Restaurant. All rights reserved.
Revised: June 01, 2009 .