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Ecotourism Pioneer

Inthy Deuansavanh: Laos’ ecotourism pioneer

Meet ecotourism pioneer and sustainable entrepreneur Inthy Deuansavanh. How did a man born in Vieng Xay cave while Laos’ revolutionary forces were fighting for independence end up unlocking Laos’ impressive potential for sustainable adventure travel? In a country with limited resources, Inthy’s creative adventure travel experiences are nothing short of epic. Let’s head into the Lao wilderness and delve into the mind of a pioneering and fearless adventure traveller.
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In the first episode of Series 2, Radio Ock Pop Tok heads to Vientiane to meet Inthy Deuansavahn, ecotourism pioneer, epic outdoorsman and founder of Green Discovery, an adventure travel company. Often called a visionary, Inthy  has been instrumental in accessing the country’s most remote, unexpected regions. And, he did it in a way that protects nature and includes local communities. 

He built treehouses and ziplines and strung net bridges through ancient karst forests. The idea is incredulous itself, and in a country with limited resources, engineers and materials, how do you even begin projects like this? Even convincing people around you that you can float across a 2000 metre gorges from one karst outcrop to another on a net bridge and then actually doing it, that’s epic!

Inthy has been a vocal proponent for sustainable, socially-responsible practices. Out in the field and in the jungles, things can get a bit challenging.

This is a man who sailed from Australia to China with no prior experience. He’s the only person in Lao to have ever completed an Ironman race. He and a team of running buddies ran the length of Laos to raise money for charity. That’s over 1500 kilometres of running across rugged country.  His eyes are now set on the summit of Everest. Inthy is an example of someone who leads with their passion for life and a sense of purpose to do good and leave something better behind.

Check out the episode’s highlights or listen to the full episode here.

From USSR to Lao Ecotourism Pioneer

[7:48 min]

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Here Inthy describes how he went from studying in Russia to championing sustainable ecotourism. 

Inthy came of age right as the newly-independent Laos nation was taking shape. His father was a poet for Pathet Laos, a nationalist movement that led the country to independence. After high school, Inthy received a scholarship to study in the former Soviet Union. When the Berlin Wall fell, Inthy came back home and tried to regroup. He sold cigarettes for Marlboro and ran a popular Lao noodle shop and barbeque restaurant on the banks of the Mekong.

In the early 2000s, Laos opened its borders to tourism and tourists began to stream in and out of spots like Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. But Inthy headed north to Luang Namtha in Laos’ far north and launched the country’s first eco-trekking program among the Akha communities. Over the years, Inthy has been helpful in putting unexpected, remote places on the map and in doing so, he created an opportunity for tourism income to reach ethnic communities and village-based artisans. 

Partnering with communities & nature

[17:24 min]

Inthy as a ecotourism pioneer has been a vocal proponent for sustainable, socially-responsible practices. Out in the field and in the jungles, things can get a bit challenging. The majority of Lao still live in the countryside, supporting themselves by farming and handicrafts. And, the Lao government has limited resources to survey and manage the country’s natural assets. Inthy’s eco-tourism model is founded on enlisting local communities in protecting natural areas and on sharing the economic benefits of tourism. This type of partnership is a win-win, with positive outcomes for nature, for local communities and for the country.

The legacy of war & the start of an adventure travel company 

[19:58 min]

To understand doing business in Laos, one must step back and look at the ramifications of the “Secret War” or the American War. In the mid-twentieth century, Laos was heavily bombed—in fact, it is the most heavily bombed nation in the world—leaving behind a culturally and ecologically scarred nation. When Laos gained independence in 1975, it slipped into a period of isolation, a self-imposed exile with limited interaction with the outside world. While development stalled during this period, it was nonetheless useful in allowing the nation’s 50 plus ethnic communities to restore a sense of normalcy, to plant rice and weave in age-old ways, to allow the cultural fabric to knit itself back together. It wasn’t an easy time. Let’s hear from Inthy how this period of Lao history shaped his family and his future.

Final Thoughts

[31:42 min]

So .. there you have it! You know before I recorded this episode, I had heard of Inthy but had not met him. I can say that I did not want our conversation to end. Inthy has big hopes and dreams and he has a big heart. Of course,  Inthy’s remote eco-trekking and adventure travel offerings have been a boon to international tourism. But he also mobilises local Lao residents to travel within their own country. And, in doing so, he’s made Lao people proud of their country and their heritage. If you are coming to Laos, or just need inspiration, please visit the Green Discovery website.

When Inthy was running his first kayaking trips in Luang Namtha, Ock Pop Tok was there working with Akha, Tai Daeng and Tai Dam communities to help access markets for their textiles. Over the years, Ock Pop Tok has helped the world recognize Lao weavers as master weavers. To learn more, explore our Village Weavers Project and buy directly from our online shop.

About Inthy and eco-tourism in Laos:

Contact us: [email protected]

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