Phou Khao Khouay National Protected Area

Phou Khao Khouay is one of Laos’ most beautiful nature reserves. This extensive sandstone mountain range is only 40 kilometres northeast of Vientiane. Lao P.D.R. designated it “National Protected Area” in 1993. This means, that the nature reserves’ forests, wildlife and water are protected by state decree.

The landscape and ecosystem varies from sheer sandstone cliffs and pristine river gorges to rough mountain slopes. Three large rivers and numerous tributaries empty into the nearby Mekong. In the centre of the reserve lies the beautiful Ang Nam Leuk reservoir. Another reservoir, Ang Nam Mang 3, has only recently been completed and still shows the scars of construction work. It is located in the very west of the park.

Covering three provinces, Phou Khao Khouay is stretching over about 80 kilometres from west to east and up to 40 kilometres from north to south. The area covers about 2000 square kilometres. The highest mountain peak is 1671 metres high.

The diversity of forest types in the area includes evergreen, mixed deciduous, dry dipterocarp and pine. During the rainy season, from May to October, the reserve comes alive as the forests become green and lush. The waterfalls then reach full flow and vibrantly coloured butterflies fill the air. 50-60% of all orchids found and identified as of now in Laos (nearly 500 of expected +/- 800 species) are also present in Phou Khao Khouay.


Elephants and other Wildlife

It cannot be denied that parts of Phou Khao Kouay have been heavily logged and exploited. Still, it is home to some remarkable wildlife. With the exception of elephants, most of these animals are rarely seen though.

Some of the larger animals that inhabit the national reserve are the Asian Black Bear, Sun Bear, wild dog (Jackal and Dhole), Southern Serow, Clouded Leopard, Sambar, Mouse Deer, Phayre’s Langur, White-cheeked Gibbon, Rhesus and Pig-tailed Macaque, civets and otters. In 2001, the sighting of a Siamese Crocodile near to the Nam Leuk reservoir has been reported, but this may have been the result of an erroneous observation. Whether there are still tigers present in the park remains to be reconfirmed.

Two herds of Asian Elephant live inside the park. They have formed two groups, who apparently do not mingle or interbreed with each other. While one smaller herd is living in the north-eastern part (Nam Mang/Long Xan valley), the other group of about 40 to 50 heads is roaming near Ban Na in the southern periphery of the park.

There are many different bird species in the park. The most remarkable one is the majestic Green Peafowl. This once very common bird of the Mekong lowlands is now confined to only five tiny enclaves in southern Laos. Amongst other birds are the Blue-breasted Quail, Siamese Fireback, Red-collared Woodpecker, Coral-billed Ground Cuckoo, Grey-headed Lapwing, Jerdon’s Baza, Fish Eagle and Purple Heron. The park is also home to a large number of butterflies and countless other insect species.

Communities in and around the Park

The people in and around the park belong to different ethnic origins, from Lao-Tai to Mon-Khmer to Hmong-Mieu groups.

To the north of the park, the picturesque Long Xan valley is home to four different ethnic groups: Hmong, Yao, Khmu and so-called Lao Loum. Here you can discover the traditional way of life and specific handicraft of these friendly peoples.

There are only two villages left inside the reserve. They are located in the western part of the park. But there are many villages along the periphery of the park, more than 70 in the 5-kilometre buffer zone alone! All of them utilize the park one way or the other for their livelihood.

Such activities include (unsustainable) agricultural practices, livestock grazing, timber extraction, infrastructure development, forest burning, collection of non-timber forest products, hunting and fishing.

Any unsustainable use of the nature reserve is now, hopefully, gradually being reduced with the help of community-based ecotourism. The park management protects the park by controlling any illegal use of the nature reserve.

Non-timber Forest Products (NTFP)

Anything derived from the forest other than timber which is used by mankind (such as animals and plants) is called ‘non-timber forest product’. Such ‘minor’ forest products have always been critical to meeting the basic needs of the rural people.

Of major importance is food such as meat, fish, fruit, edible oils and spices. Medicines are equally important, as well as fuel wood and charcoal. Structural materials are rattan, bamboo, essential oils, gums, latexes, tannins and dyes. Animal products such as honey, eggs, birds nests, silk, reptile skins, feathers and other decorative wildlife products are also commonly exploited, as well as living animals and ornamental plants.

Unfortunately, with the rapid decline of the forests and overexploitation of their resources, the forest dwellers’ existence is seriously threatened. In addition, large-scale resource extraction in tropical forests has a tremendous ecological impact. Phou Khao Khouay park authority is trying to diminish this impact by punishing any illegal use of the park’s natural resources - but also to generate understanding through education and participation.

Protect the Environment and Yourself

For your own safety, and for the preservation of the nature reserve, we ask you to read our Rules and Regulations and Safety Code before entering the park. Thank you for your understanding. Enjoy your stay at Phou Khao Khouay Natural Protected Area!