Loei Rajabhat University at forefront on GMS studies


Already in the third year, Loei Rajabhat University organized an international conference on “Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) University Networks” at its campus in the northernmost part of Northeast Thailand (I-San). Funded by the Commission on Higher Education and Loei Rajabhat University, as well as technically supported by Thailand Research Fund, Asian Development Bank (ADB) and UNESCO, some 400 participants came together on August 27-30, 2008 to discuss papers on education, sustainable development and regional tourism.

The 4-day program included a two-day excursion to various natural and cultural destinations in Loei Province, such as Phu Rua National Park and Wat Phrathat Si Song Rak in Dansai District. Guest speakers were invited from the Philippines, Lao PDR, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Europe’s far away Holland.

On the first day of the seminar, key-note speaker Dr. Suchart Muangkaew, chaiman of Loei Rajabhat University Council and deputy secretary general of the Commission of Higher Learning, issued the guidelines for Thai Higher Education, its standardization and management in the global context by postulating quality improvement and competitiveness. In another talk, Dr. Javed Hussain Mir from ADB’s Thailand Resident Mission in Bangkok emphasized the need of sustainable development and the importance of protecting the environment in the GMS, which comprises the 6 countries of Cambodia, China (Yunnan and Guangxi), Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. Furthermore, Dr. Nguyen Bach discussed the socio-economic and environmental impact assessments of tourism and possible interventions, being a lecturer and program manager from Mae Fah Luang University in Chiang Rai, School of Management & Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Management.

The highlight of the last day of the international conference was the presentation by Dr. Molly Lee from the UNESCO Office in Bangkok, who explained Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and introduced two available CDs featuring Open Educational Resources (OER) on tourism in the GMS. Dr. Prakorb Phon-ngam, vice president of Loei Rajabhat University chaired and facilitated all these sessions, which had more presenters, too many to name them all.

As I was invited to the seminar as a travel trade journalist based in Chiang Mai to give a presentation about the ongoing Khao Phra Viharn saga between Thailand and Cambodia, I was happy to be able to recommend some reflections and conclusions at the closing session.

Welcoming emerging regional tourism in the Mekong region, the city of Loei should be more aggressively promoted as one of the 7 gateways from Thailand to Lao PDR overland in order to reach Luang Prabang, one of the most important UNESCO world heritage sites. The other gateways are located in Chiang Rai Province, Nan, Nong Khai, Nakhon Phanom, Mukdahan and Ubon Ratchathani. Also, Loei should be branded and internationally marketed as “Switzerland of I-San” in the context of the upcoming Visit Mekong Year 2010. Especially Chiang Khan at the Mekong River is a gem in the crown of Loei’s tourist attractions with its old wooden houses and the nearby Kaeng Khut Khu rapids.

Last but not least, the social highlight of the conference was the dance performance of members of the colorful “Thai Dam” ethnic group, which settles in a small village in Loei’s Chiang Khan District. The young dancers performed during one of the network dinner receptions hosted by assistant professor Dr. Patthira Phon-ngam, chairwoman of the PhD Program in Regional Development Strategies, Loei Rajabhat University.

With tourist attractions like these already mentioned, tourists will be pouring into Loei Province, at least in the long run. If properly managed, tourism – or better Eco-tourism – will provide solid income, poverty reduction, more jobs, human resources development and a more improved transport infrastructure.

Recommended hotel accommodations in Loei City are Loei Palace Hotel with its 156 stylishly-furnished guestrooms and the smaller but newer Loei Orchid Hotel, which is located near the Chinese-styled town pillar (Lak muang) of Loei. A small local airport is presently not in use, but the nearest airport is in nearby Udon Thani. Loei is 535 km by road from Bangkok, and it is a ten-hour bus ride between Loei and Chiang Mai in the northern part of Thailand.

For further information, please contact GMS Media Travel Consultant Reinhard Hohler by e-mail: sara@cmnet.co.th or write to: Reinhard Hohler; 85 Suthep Road Soi 5; Chiang Mai 50200; Thailand.