Many of those attending the annual Vat Phou festival in Champassak province told the Vientiane Times they had to spend almost 100,000 kip just to get into the event.
 One disgruntled visitor, Mr Phongsavanh Khammalavong, said “I spent quite a lot of money on several items including the admission fee, tickets and parking, which amounted to almost 100,000 kip. That included another 15,000 kip for a road toll on the way here from Phonthong district.”
 
In his opinion, people attending traditional festivals should not be charged exorbitant fees because many are low wage earners and may not be able to afford them. “Everyone has to buy a ticket to get into the temple complex itself, but if 20 people come in a truck they’ll also have to spend a lot more on other charges,” he added.
Mr Phongsavanh said many other people also complained about the high charges. Some said they wouldn’t come again if the practice persisted or fees were raised even higher.
“I came here five years ago and spent only 20,000 kip but I was able to see all the performances and several other interesting activities,” he added. “I don’t know how the charges are assessed, but the organisers should consider the age of some visitors and shouldn’t charge everyone the same price.”
Director of Champassak province’s Information, Culture and Laos Tourism Department, Mr Buathong Souvannasarn, said “Every motorist has to pay to use the road from Phonthong to Champassak district on any day of the year – not just during the festival.”
He said the road had been built by a private company which was collecting a toll from motorists until the construction cost was repaid by the government. “The reason why festival goers have to pay several different fees is because this year’s event was financed by a private company. They spent 1.8 billion kip to stage several historical plays as we wanted to create a more lively atmosphere than in the past,” Mr Buathong said. He admitted that complaints had been lodged by members of the public but said the feedback had been both positive and negative. He felt the festival needed to be improved to make it more interesting for visitors.
“This is the first year that we planned several new activities. We need to accept that changes must be made and to learn together about what the benefits are,” he said. The organising committee and sub-committees will meet at the end of the festival to resolve various issues ahead of next year’s festival.
This year, Yingchokchai Group, a private Champassak-based travel company, invested 1.8 billion kip to introduce new activities during the six days of the festival, which ran from February 20-25.
Source: Vientiane Times
By Bounfaeng Phaymanivong
February 26, 2013
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