Removed from the Vang Vieng’s party scene, this chilled-out guesthouse and farm provides a model of sustainable small-scale agricultural practices
Mulberry plantation at Vang Vieng Organic Farm.
VANG Vieng Organic Farm is all about the mulberry - or so it would seem. Open the menu at the farm's tranquil riverside restaurant and they just jump out at you. Mulberry shakes, mulberry juice, mulberry wine, mulberry green tea, mulberry pancakes, fresh mulberries ... oh, and did I mention the irresistible mulberry and mint mojitos?
The status of the mulberry at Vang Vieng Organic Farm is completely justifiable. Predominantly a mulberry farm, they have to produce enough mulberry leaves to make oodles of their famous mulberry green tea, and to feed their hungry silkworm population.
These busy little creatures are working to make reams of fine silk, which is hand-woven into exquisite silk scarves by 20 local women employed at this organic farm.
Model of sustainability
However, dig past the pile of mulberry leaves, and the crux of the farm as a model for sustainable small-scale agriculture practices in Laos becomes evident.
It's just handy that the farm doubles as a chilled-out place to kick back, living it up in a cute mud-brick house with some mulberry delight of some description always within reach.
Removed from the notorious party scene of Vang Vieng town - not that there is anything wrong with a leisurely tube down the Nam Song River - the organic farm is a sprawling verdant haven set against dramatic limestone cliffs on the banks of one of Laos's most swimmable rivers.
Vang Vieng Organic Farm was established by Thanongsi Soangkoun in 1996 to demonstrate what could be achieved without pesticides and mass deforestation.
THE ORGANIC FARM IS A SPRAWLING VERDANT HAVEN SET AGAINST DRAMATIC
Their mission is to preserve ecological diversity and provide people with accessible and sustainable technologies to earn a living.
The mulberry trees are naturally grown, the leaves hand-picked, and the end product creates food, fiber and an income for those involved.
Aside from their mulberries and silk, the farm also produces an array of organic fruit and veggies, and incorporates renewable energy systems into their practices, such as solar, compost and biogas.
Community development is also a huge focus for the farm.
The profits from Vang Vieng Organic Farm are used to fund several community projects that support and educate the people who live in Phoudindaeng village.
The proceeds are used to teach local farmers about the advantages of organic farming.
For the kiddies there is the School Bus Project, which takes children from three remote villages to school each day.
The children receive a breakfast boost of organic goat yoghurt, which comes straight from the farm's special French Pyrenees goats - another reason to grow mulberry trees, as the leaves are these adorable animals' favorite food.
The farm's goat cheese is a must try and is available at the Vang Vieng Organic Farm restaurant and in specialty shops around Vientiane and Luang Prabang.
As a weekend getaway, Vang Vieng Organic Farm is all about relaxing in beautiful, natural surroundings, with the added bonus of benefiting the local community.
Variety of options
Mulberry wine poduced at Vang Vieng Organic Farm.
Visitors can stay in simple guestrooms or rent a mud-brick house for short or long stays.
Some choose to roll up their sleeves and get dirty in the garden, feed the goats, teach an English class to a group of excited children or make cheese.
For others, a stay at the farm is a feast for the senses, getting into a good book on the balcony amid breathtaking views, wandering the shady grounds and popping into the restaurant to sample a wholesome menu made mostly from fresh farm produce.
To reach the farm, jump in a tuk-tuk from the central bus stand in Vang Vieng.
Alternatively, rent a motorbike from one of the shops in town. A bike will mean you can also come and go as you please, visiting some of the hidden villages and less famous caves in scenic Vang Vieng valley.
If you are feeling really energetic, there are numerous rock-climbing operators in town, and there is always tubing ... although be prepared for bad pop music, rope swings, bikinis and more Beer Lao than you could ever want.
Maybe staying secluded in the oasis of the farm is the way to go.
Vang Vieng Organic Farm is located in Phoudin Village, three kilometres north of Vang Vieng town on Route 13.
For reservations, phone +856 (0)20 590 9132 or visit www.laofarm.org.
The mulberry green tea and naturally dyed silk scarves are available at the farm shop and make wonderful gifts.
The sale of these items means that the community projects of the farm can continue to prosper.