Story by Thin Lei Win
If location is key, then Kingfisher is already onto something. It sits at the edge of Khiat Ngong village, overlooking the untouched wetlands in the 24,000-kilometre square Xe Pian National Park in Southern Laos, one of the most important biodiversity areas in Indochina and known for its large mammals and rare water birds.
Italian Massimo Mera, who set up Kingfisher with his Lao wife Bangon in February 2006, says they were looking for a relatively untouched place. True enough, Kingfisher has plenty of natural beauty for everyone to enjoy, whether you’re staying in the deluxe stilt wooden bungalows or the more humble economy rooms built by wood and bamboo.
The bungalows, blending modern comforts with local materials, are worth splashing out for. The ceiling-to-floor glass front wall provides an unobstructed view of the wetlands. The shower also has all-glass doors so you can still enjoy the hues of the wetland even while you’re bathing.
Both lighting and shower are solar powered, and each balcony boasts a locally made massive hammock, perfect for whiling away the time with a book or a Sundowner or two. It helps that the two-storey open restaurant stocks a good selection of wine and cocktails, in addition to tasty Lao and western dishes.
However, it hasn’t been all plain sailing. Marketing has been difficult given the limited financial resources, but they are seeing a steady increase in customers. The more pressing issue is human resources.
Massimo says, “Employees and in particular skilled ones are a rare resource in Laos. This is a difficult task because it is our policy to try to employ local people as much as possible. We train them and once they start to learn something often they leave.”
Still, the couple believes in giving back to the community. It uses local produce, actively promotes activities that involve services from the local villagers (elephant trekking tours to an ancient site is most popular) and 5% of the income from these activities goes towards supporting the local primary school.
For those who think ‘eco’ means ‘uncomfortable and inconvenient’, Massimo has this to say, “Eco means that we are trying as much as possible to stay in contact with nature without spoiling it. We try to have as little impact as possible on the environment. We help, in our little way, to develop the local economy.”
If you’re looking for getting back to nature without sacrificing a good sleep, then check out Kingfisher. There are no TVs, telephones or music. It’s all about you and the wetlands – without the distractions.
Photos by Thin Lei Win
Kingfisher is an hour’s drive from Pakse, the capital of Champasak. The easiest way to get there is by a minivan arranged through a travel agency or hotel in Pakse. For a cheaper option, it is also possible to hire tuk-tuks.
Elephant Trekking, Mountain Biking, Hiking, Village Visits, Bird Watching
Phou Asa archaeological site, Ta Ong village, Xe Pian National Park
Bungalows start from US$38 during off-peak (US$43 during peak seasons) and economy rooms from US$14 during off-peak and US$17 during peak.