Wat Si Saket by Asienreisender

Wat Si Saket is Vientiane's oldest building. Although some others like Wat Pha Kaeo date much longer back, Wat Si Saket has never been destroyed. It's a temple built in 1818. Image by Asienreisender, 2006

Village in Laos by Asienreisender

A traditional Laotian village as a wall decoration in a guesthouse in Luang Prabang. Image by Asienreisender, 2011

Wallpaper in Luang Prabang by Asienreisender

Buddha, a temple and the Mekong River at sunset on a blanket as wall decoration in a guesthouse in Luang Prabang. Image by Asienreisender, 2011

Classical Laotion Music Instrument by Asienreisender

A classical Laotian music instrument in the theatre of the royal palace (now the national museum) in Luang Prabang. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

A Royal Laotian Princess by Asienreisender

A royal Laotian princess. The painting is displayed in a hotel in Luang Prabang. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Colonial Buildings and the Presidential Palace in Vientiane by Asienreisender

In Vientiane are still some buildings from the colonial time to see. Some are restaurated, others not. The picture at the bottom shows the presidential palace in Vientiane. Images by Asienreisender, 2006, photocomposition 2014

Plathet Lao Caves by Asienreisender

In one of the caves around Xam Neua, where the communist leaders of the Pathet Lao hid in the American Vietnam War. Image by Asienreisender, 2006

American Cluster Bomb Shell in Laos by Asienreisender

One of countless American cluster bombs who were dropped on great parts of Laos in the American Vietnam War. When dropped they open half-way down and pour out hundreds of smaller bombs and bomblets. Roughly a third of them are designed not to explode immediately but to harm people later on. Farmers and their children are mostly the victims. Laos' grounds are still filled with them. Laos is the most heavily bombed country in world's history. Image by Asienreisender, 2006

T34 Tank by Asienreisender

The wreck of a Russian T34 tank in the Plain of Jars. Image by Asienreisender, 2006

Kaysone Phomvihane Hero Memorial in Pakse by Asienreisender

A hero memorial in Pakse. The hero is Kaysone Phomvihane (1920 - 1992), leader of the Phatet Laos in the American Vietnam War and one of the, if not the most important player in the communist party of Laos from 1975 on. His picture is on the Laotian money bills as well. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Mao Tse Tung Poster by Asienreisender

A Mao Tse Tung propaganda poster in a Chinese retailer shop in Bon Neua. Chinese influence and immigration is rising in Laos. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

Hammer and Sickle over the Mekong by Asienreisender

Hammer and sickle over the Mekong River at Pakse. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Laap by Asienreisender

Laab, the Laotian national dish, together with sticky rice, another Laotian speciality. Laos is known for it's vast variety of different rice species. Image by Asienreisender, 2010, Muang Sing

Sandwich in Vang Vieng by Asienreisender

A sandwich in one of the smaller restaurants in Vang Vieng. A really good one. Usually the Laotian sandwiches taste like yesterday's newspaper. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Durian by Asienreisender

Two jack fruits. Seen around Vang Vieng. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

A Tiny Apple by Asienreisender

A tiny apple on a market in Muang La. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

Samphamit Waterfall by Asienreisender

One of the canals who lead to the Mekong Falls (Khone Falls, here Samphamit Waterfall), the largest falls in Southeast Asia. The falls here at the 4000 Islands are the biggest obstacle for making the Mekong River a big shipping route between Yunnan/China and the South China Sea. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Wildcat Fur in Laos

This fur once dressed a wild cat. Now it's a piece of decoration in a restaurant in Vang Vieng. All the remaining big cats in Laos are critically endangered. There are estimated 30 tigers left in Laos, and an uncertain, but small number of leopards. Image by Asienreisender, 2011

Strange Animal in Laos by Asienreisender

Another strange animal in the same restaurant where I found the fur above. I am pretty sure it will end up in the food as chicken or so... although the cook denied this question of mine. Image by Asienreisender, 2011

Squirrels on a Laotian Market by Asienreisender

Squirrels, hunted in the nearby forests and for sale on the market in Xam Neua. Image by Asienreisender, 2006

Spider by Asienreisender

One of the spiders who are frequently to see in the toilets. Image by Asienreisender, 2006, Nong Khiaw

Deer Antlers in Boun Neua by Asienreisender

A deers antler in a guesthouse in Boun Neua. There were many of this kind in the places around, witness of the (former) rich wildlife in north Laos forests. Now the forests die in high speed and the animals can not survive. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

Bizarre Spider in Laos by Asienreisender

A bizarre, small spider in Hat Sa, Phongsali Province. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

Beo by Asienreisender

A beo in Phongsali. He can speak, at least a few words he learned. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

Tribal Women by Asienreisender Tribal Woman by Asienreisender

A great number of hill tribes are living particularly in the mountainous north of Laos. Seen in Muang Sing and Luang Namtha. Images by Asienreisender, 2010

Laotian People by Asienreisender

Laotian employees in Vientiane, having a 'photo session' in their company. Image by Asienreisender, 2006

Buddha Statue at Wat Ho Pha Kaeo in Vientiane by Asienreisender

A metal Buddha statue at the entrance of Wat Ho Pha Kaeo in Vientiane. Ho Pha Kaeo is actually one of the oldest buildings in Laos, but it was destroyed in 1827 by Siamese troops and later restorated. Until 1779 the famous 'emerald buddha', who is now in Bangkok, was placed here. Image by Asienreisender, 2006

Sculpture Park by Asienreisender

Vientiane's bizarre sculpture park, near the 'friendship bridge' to Thailand. In Nong Khai is another sculpture park, made by the same artist. Image by Asienreisender, 2006

Pub in Vientiane by Asienreisender

A pub in Vientiane. There is still a frequently changing closing time, imposed by the government/police. Image by Asienreisender, 2006

Milestone to Luang Prabang in Laos by Asienreisender

A handwritten kilometer stone on the side of national road 13 in Laos. Road 13 leads the whole way through the country, from Boten in the north to the Cambodian border at the 4000 Islands. The kilometer stones were introduced by the French colonialists. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

Kilometerstone on the Asian Highway 3 by Asienreisender

Another kilometer stone, here it marks the Asian Highway 3 (AH 3). The ancient trade route was almost abandoned for decades, but in the last years the road was thoroughly improved and is now part of the new conncetion between Kunming/China via the bridge in Chiang Khong/Houayxay to Bangkok and Singapore. Image by Asienreisender, 2011

Huayxai, Slow Boats by Asienreisender

The slowboats at Houayxay, starting point for the two-days journey river downwards to Luang Prabang. Image by Asienreisender, 2011

Slowboats in Huayxai by Asienreisender

And a closer look to the slowboat. Image by Asienreisender, 2011

Lao Airlines by Asienreisender

A propeller plane of Lao Airlines on the airport in Luang Prabang. Image by Asienreisender, 2006

A simple, rural house in Laos by Asienreisender

A simple, rural house in Muang Ngoi, a village without street connection. These kind of buildings are more and more replaced by concrete houses. Image by Asienreisender, 2006

Night Market in Luang Prabang by Asienreisender

Luang Prabang's night food market. Image by Asienreisender, 2006

Building Site in Boten by Asienreissender

A building site in Boten, at the Laotian - Chinese border. The whole, formerly tiny place was a huge building site in March 2010. It was on the way to become a casino city for Chinese, accompanied by huge hotels. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

Boten by Asienreisender

A brandnew building in Boten. A great number of these big constructions were built here, on practically empty ground. Boten is a Chinese bridgehead at the recently improved road connection between Thailand's Chiang Khong Bridge and Kunming in China. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

Casino in Boten by Asienreisender

The place was not yet readily built up, and gambling activities already started. About a year this version of a 'sin city' was shut down. Image by Asienreisender, 2010, in Boten

Opium Pipe by Asienreisender

The head of an opium pipe, given out to customers in one of Vang Vieng's bars. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

Lao Lao by Asienreisender

The making of Laolao, the national booze, explained by a local expert. It's all done here in a simple shack in the rice fields. Image by Asienreisender, 2006

Beer Lao by Asienreisender

Beerlao advertisement. Good taste, but pretty sour. Beerlao seems to be the biggest company in little Laos. Image by Asienreisender, 2006

The Moon by Asienreisender

The moon over Laos. Image by Asienreisender, 2013




A forgotten Country...

The only landlocked country in Southeast Asia was for a long time a forgotten land, remote, weak and surrounded by the stronger neighbours Siam/Thailand and Vietnam who dominated it. In the cold war, after the American Vietnam War, Laos became a communist state and was pretty much isolated to it's western neighbour Thailand, which was always on the American site in the post World War II era. There were tensions between the two countries who lead even several times to armed conflicts. These conflicts ceased in the years after the downfall of the Soviet Union and eastern Europe's communistic system. The way was free for a reformation a la China, the big, emerging neighbour in the north.

Louang Prabang by Asienreisender

Sunset at the riverbanks at Luang Prabang. The river boats commute between Vientiane and the places Chiang Khong, Houayxay, Chiang Saen and, partially up to Xieng Kok. Image by Asienreisender, 2006

Little Laos, the country with the many hill tribes and some of the last thick rainforests in Southeast Asia started opening it's economy for foreign investment, mainly from China, Vietnam and Thailand. Late capitalism's hunger for profit in times of overaccumulation, overproduction and technical potentials never seen before performs a high-speed modernization of the no more that forgotten country. The forests fall, streets and big infrastructural networks are under construction. The countries capital Vientiane is under massive change, as well as it's provincial capitals. The quiet, remote and widely unknown country, the 'Jewel of the Mekong' (official tourist slogan), is eating up it's natural treasures in fast motion.

By the way: the country is in all-day-language often called 'Lao', and the official country name is 'Lao Peoples Democratic Republic'. On the other hand it appears officially in international affairs always as 'Laos'. Why are there two different terms for the same country?

Well, the term 'Laos' is meaned as the plural of 'Lao', so it comprehends several Laos to one united Lao. That dates back to the times of French colonialism, when France got three Laotian kingdoms under their control.

And, by the way: the 'national drink', rice whiskey, is also called 'lao'. 'Lao' also means 'alcohol'.

Plain of Jars by Asienreisender

The Plain of Jars around Phonsavan. One can not leave the paths, because the whole surroundings are still contaminated with unexploded ordnance dropped by the American Air Force.

Image by Asienreisender, 2006


A very short History of Laos

King's Palace in Luang Prabang

The old king's palace in Luang Prabang, one of the very few non-religious historical buildings. Luang Prabang is the place with the most historical evidence in Laos. The upper picture is a photo made in 2006, the lower one is a painting seen and photographed in Ban Pak Beng in 2011. Images by Asienreisender.

There were people living since prehistorical times on the territories of what is nowadays Laos. In the time around 500 CE so called 'Kha People' settled in Laos. They were under the rule of the first Southeast Asian civilization, the kingdom of Funan, what was centered at the mouth of the Mekong River in nowadays Cambodia and Vietnam.

In the 14th century the kingdom of Lan Xang (or Lan Chang, kingdom of a million elephants) emerged and shaped particularly the north of Laos. In the 18th century the kingdom was fallen apart and several other political units played a role. But predominant were the interferences from the neighbouring kingdoms of Siam, Burma and Vietnam. In the 19th century Siam became the dominant political power in Laos.

From the 1860s on France made up a colonial empire in Vietnam and advanced deep and deeper into Indochina. That led to several clashes with the empire of Siam and the final establishment of the border as we know it today between Thailand and Laos. The border between Laos, Burma and Thailand in the very north, at Houayxay and Chiang Khong for example dates back to 1893, the border between Thailand and south Laos and Thailand and Cambodia dates back to the decade before the First World War.

Though, Laos remained a very unimportant part of the world and of the French colonial empire. In a 1907 census there were far less than 600,000 people counted living in Laos, among them merely 189 French. Even in 1940 not more than 600 French citizens lived in Laos. In May/June 1940 France itself was occupied by the German empire and lost the Indochinese colonies in 1941/42 to the Japanese invaders.

Traditional Laotian Temple by Asienreisender

As everywhere in Southeast Asia, the most historical evidence is of religious source. Particularly the architecture, for only the temples were built in stone and sustainable materials. Here a painting of a traditional temple building (famous Vat Xieng Thong Ratsavoravikanh) in Luang Prabang. Seen in a hotel in Oudomxay. Image by Asienreisender, 2011

The Japanese rule was harsh but short and they had no resources and no interest to care for unimportant Laos. After their surrender in 1945 Laos declared it's independence. But France didn't accept that and wanted 'it's' colonies back. It didn't want to realize, that it's time here was over. Now it became really serious. An independence fight began, and the French, just themselves escaped from the oppression of the German occupation, started a dirty war in Indochina. Until 1954 they lost it in the last decisive battle at Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam, and Laos as well as Vietnam and Cambodia became independent.

Though, times remained hard for the people of Laos. The USA started the Vietnam War (also called the 'Second Indochina War') in 1964 and bombed Laos heavily, although they never declared war on Laos (Americas 'secret war' in Laos). There was a great involvement of the American armee and the CIA in Laos. Drug production was promoted to finance operations and boomed, making the Golden Triangle world's famous for heroin production.

After the end of the Vietnam War the forces of the communist 'Pathet Lao' fighters took over power and proclaimed the 'Peoples Democratic Republic Laos'. In the following years the situation remained unstable and around 10 percent of the population left the country, mostly to Thailand, the USA, France and Australia. A civil war was still going on, particularly against the Hmong People, who were former allies of the USA.

With a kind of opening and economic reforms from 1986 on the situation became slowly, step by step more stable for the regime. In 1997 the Laotian state joined the ASEAN.

Now (2013), Laos is in a process of rapid industrialization by foreign investments mainly from China, Thailand and Vietnam.

Working Elephants in Laos

Working elephants were over thousands of years the strongest workforce, followed by water buffalos. Horses played always a minor role here. Wall painting seen in Wat Jom Khao Manilat in Houayxay.

Image by Asienreisender, 2011


Laos' Geography

The country size of Laos is 237,000 km2.

The north and the east of Laos are mountaineous, while the south is widely flat plains, continuing the landscapes as in Thailand's northeast, Isan. Though, altogether some 90 percent of Laos is mountainous.

The Mekong River and it's numerous tributaries are of an enormous significance for the small country. The Mekong crosses Laos over 1,900 kilometers and formes the border to Thailand and to a much shorter extend to Burma/Myanmar over 1,000 kilometers.


Map of Laos

Map of Laos by Asienreisender

A map of Laos. For a larger, interactive version click the link.


Ecology and the
'Jewel of the Mekong'

The environmental situation in Laos is increasingly precarious. The high-speed industrialization in the Chinese pattern deals relentlessly with the natural resources. Deforestation done by the woodcutting industries and the slash and burn methods to create farmland for monocultural agriculture as rubber and other plantations led to the loss of a great deal of the virgin forests already. The ground water level therefore dropped in many areas considerably what led to a shortage of water supplies in many places.

Stone Quarry near Vang Vieng by Asienreisender

A limestone quarry in one of the mountains near Vang Vieng. The detonations are frequently to hear in the tourist village. Here a considerable and increasing part of one of the limestone mountains, who shape Vang Viengs phantastic landscapes, is disappearing for the sake of the construction industries. The material is delivered to the nearby cement factory, a huge fabric which is to see from the main road between Vang Vieng and Vientiane. There are more of these quarries around Vang Vieng. Image by Asienreisender, 2011

Besides the biodiversity of the ecology suffered already dramatic losses. Many species extincted in the last twenty years. The deforestation gives the nature just the rest, while the first step is massive hunting in the nature by villagers. Already ten years ago I observed the 'silent forest' syndrom in almost all the north Laotian forests where I went in. Forests, on the first glance looking intact, where hunted almost empty of animals. Slash and burn gives the forests then the rest and leads among other impacts like traffic and waste burning to the disastrous smog accumulations which the region suffers every year from February to June/July, until the rainy season makes burning impossible and clears the air again. For the effects of the infamous burning activities have a look at the article on 'air pollution'.

There are estimated 8% of the remaining forests yet primary rain forests, in which some few leopards and tigers hide. The number of remaining wild tigers in Laos is estimated on 30 individuals (2011).

Another really dangerous impact on the nature mean the plans for building dams on the Mekong River and it's tributaries. Laos officially propagates the ideology of becoming the 'battery of Southeast Asia' (what for a miserable slogan), means an electricity producer by hydropower to supply the neighbouring countries. Therefore the big rivers have to be cut into pieces. What that means for the Mekong River, who is still the river with the second richest biodiversity in the world (only topped by the Amazonas River in south America), you can read in more detail in the article 'Damming the Mekong'. Due to these projects the food base of 65 million people in the Mekong region is under threat, for they live either of the fish the river provides or by the natural irrigation periods the Mekong provides. So, the very 'Jewel of the Mekong', 'Simply Beautifyl' (official tourist marketing slogans of Laos) is eating up it's substance, leaving deserted landscapes and rubbish. The permanent main effect of development and modernization.

Under these conditions I would call Laos rather 'The Butcher of the Mekong'.

Although 14% of the country's territory is officially protected, protection generally means little. As in other Southeast Asian countries as well, the protection is worthless when bribing money comes into play. It's after all just a question of the price.

UXO, Unexploded Ordnance in Phonsavan by Asienreisender

Unexploded ordnance (UXO, see: 'Bombs on Laos'), deactivated and collected in one of the guesthouses in Phonsavan. The shells and metal can be used now for better purposes.

Image by Asienreisender, 2011

Another big impact on the country are unexploded ordnances of the American Vietnam War. Laos is the most heavily bombed country in world's history. 50% of the country is pested with bigger or smaller bombs, who still explode when farmer tools touch them or one is only stepping on one who is hidden in the earth. The threat due to these bombs are even a reason for the delayed development of the country. Clearing the unexploded ordnances is extremely difficult, dangerous, expensive and time consuming. A number of states support the UXO-LAO Project which clears the contamination. By the way, the USA, as the responsible causer of it, didn't take part in any clearing activity until 2012. Then US secretary of states (Hillary Clinton) visited Laos and in the first time after the American Vietnam War the US 'generously' granted 9 million dollars to clear land of explosives (their annual military budget is expanding 1,000,000,000,000 US dollars, not counted the hidden shadow budgets). The USA want to participate in the growing economy here.

For more details on this topic read the article 'Bombs on Laos'.


The People of Laos

Children in Laos by Asienreisender

Laotian children in a remote village without road connection around Nong Khiaw, north Laos.

Image by Asienreisender, 2006

There is no easy approach to the People of Laos, for the huge ethnical diversity. Since the 6,200,000 inhabitants (2010), of whom some 60% are ethnically different from the majority of the 'lowland' Laotians, are falling apart into 70 - 120 different languages, of whom some are still not scientifically explored; well, there is much more to say on this topic, but that would lead astray here. Laos is a country where many 'hill tribes' live, nomadic or formerly nomadic people who live in the mountains appart from the urbanized towns in the plains. Generally spoken, the linguistic families can be clustered into four main groups. It's the Tai (Thai) family, the Mon-Khmer family, Tibeto-Burmese and Hmong-Yao languages. Just to make it simple.

The country's official language, Laotian, is a Tai language, pretty similar to the Thai language which is spoken in Thailand. Besides, there are some 20 million Thai People in the northeast of Thailand (the Isan) and the north of Thailand who, despite the 'Thaiification' effords of the past, speak rather 'Laotian Tai' than the standard Thai language. They are commonly called 'Lao Wieng' and have been resettled from areas east of the Mekong River in the early 18th century.

Laotian Mountain Village by Asienreisender

A remote village in the wider surroundings of Hintang Archeological Landscape, near the Vietnamese border. In daytime the villages are usually without people, for everybody is working on the fields or goes hunting.

Image by Asienreisender, 2006

Still not everybody in Laos speaks the official Laotian language. But due to the expansion of infrastructure, the media, domestic migration and pressure from the central government the spread of Laotian into the population is advancing.

As in Thailand the dominant religion is Theravada Buddhism. Although the governmental regime is a communistic and therefore per ideology strictly non-religious, religion plays a very important role in the life of the Laotian People. It's richly intermixed with animism and ancestor worship.

The vast majority of the Laotion People does not live in cities, but in rural communities. The country's capital Vientiane counts over 600,000 inhabitants and is by distance the biggest city of Laos. It's followed by Pakse (88,500 inhabitants), Savannakhet (66,600 inhabitants) and Luang Prabang (47,500 inhabitants). Alltogether less than a fourth of the population lives in cities.

Demographics predict a reduplication of the Laotian population within the next twenty years.


The Laotians

When being in Laos now, I don't get the words of the 19th century French explorer Henri Mouhot out of my mind. Mouhot wrote in July 1861 in his diary concerning the people of Luang Prabang: "...dull, apathetic and full of little vices." That seems to me quite symptomatic for the lowland Laotians as a whole (not included the hill tribes). The many vices are all of their fun. It's not only the neverending booze on the neverending noisy parties everywhere, it's not only the adultery, the neglection of their children and all this cheating, manipulating and lying. It's also the gambling. Asian's are notorious gamblers. Live is just a game for those people. Nothing really serious, after all. You win, you loose, you accept it. Today loosing, you might be tomorrow the big winner, admired by everybody. That's a kind of paradigm here.

So, all the human relationships are devoted to the idea of gambling and business. Business is clearly nothing else than gambling. In a game you have cards on your hand, in business life you have a shop, an agency, real estate, a factory or whatever you can make business with. Every part of life is subdued to business/gambling. You are a winner, a hero? Then you can afford a lifestyle in luxury and presentation. You are always losing? How comes? Do you have a bad kharma? Don't worry, be nice and next life you have better cards in the game. Go to the temple and do a lot of fuzz to change your kharma. That's the mentality among the Laotians.

This kind of people is easy food for the mighty consumer industries with their totalitarian means of propaganda and commercials.

For an extended article on the People of Laos click the link...



Laotion Pupils in Vang Vieng by Asienreisender

Laotian pupils in school uniforms on the way back home from school in Vang Vieng.

Image by Asienreisender, 2010

There is a high rate of illiteracy in Laos. Only around 65% of the men and 33% of the women are able to read and write. 40% of the population never went to school; in rural areas like Luang Namtha and Phongsali Provinces 60% of the people never went to school. Two third of the Laotion children break off school on primary level and start working (mostly farming) to contribute somewhat to the family income.

Although officially the obligatory education time is eight years, many families can not afford it. School uniforms are mandatory (some of the stuff, inclusive books, has to be paid by the families). Primary school lasts five years, followed by a lower secundary school for another three years. Secundary schools charge fees. The upper secondary school lasts another three years. But these institutions only exist in bigger towns.

The obligatory language in the schools is Laotion. Very few schools teach also English and French.

The eleven universities are almost all concentrated in Vientiane.

The quality of the education is still very low.


The Development of the Laotion Education System

In the times before the colonialization, literacy was extremely limited. The Laotian script was probably developed long after the Thai script which dates back to the 14th century (Sukothai era). Reading and writing was something particular for high ranked nobles, monks and abbots, never for the mass of the people.

Sword Fighting by Asienreisender

Violent scenes in Buddhist temples are extremely seldom to see. Here is an exception: a sword fight. This might be depicting a local story, taught by the monks using this temple picture. Temple pictures are the learning material of the old times for illiterates.

Image by Asienreisender, Wat Mahathat, Luang Prabang, 2013

All the many paintings in Buddhist temples were meaned as a documentation and a teaching tool for monks. They describe mainly the 'Life of Buddha' and some other stories about the Ramayana and derivates from it, extended by local stories and sagas about certain happenings and people.

The education system doesn't change much in the French colonial time. The official educational policy of the French colonial government was to keep the vast majority of the people in the state of ignorance, while they promoted a very small elite of people who got all the educational input to become local rulers under French supervision, plus elaborate introduction into French culture as history, arts and literature to become familiar with it and to identify with it. And to become different, uplifted from the mass of the Laotian subjects. Moreover, in the buerocracy were mostly Vietnamese officials employed. For the masses the French relied on the traditional temple schools. In the sixty years of French rule not a single high school was opened in Laos, and at it's end in 1940, only 7,000 Laotian students (out of a population of 1,000,000 people living in Laos in this time) were attending a primary school.

Among these students the majority was Laotian. The people of the mountain tribes did barely get access to schools. They lived in remote isolation from the few urban centers where the few schools were established. Attending a school meant to leave the village and to live at the place where the school was situated, with all the implications: required money support, therefore not contributing to the family income, being separated from the family... Nevertheless, a very few children of the mountain people got a school education.

After Laos' independence in 1953 these living circumstances didn't change. The new 'Royal Lao Government' continued the politics of the French, promoting a small elite and completely neglecting the vast majority of the people, particularly the hill tribes. The by the French established Vietnamese officials had to leave the country and were replaced by Laotians who lacked any experience and qualification for the jobs.

The situation changed in the 1960s due to the interference of the Americans in their preparations for and the execution of the Second Indochina War (American Vietnam War). The Americans erected a number of air bases in north Laos (Long Cheng and Vang Vieng as only two examples), the US Air Force became long-term present in camps and trained and equipped the Hmong People as their allies against the Phatet Lao (the communist revolutionary fighters) and for purposes to rescue downed American bombardiers out of the forests. In an attempt to gain influence in Laos, the USAID (United States Agency for Internatinal Development) built some 300 elementary schools, 9 junior high schools, 2 senior high schools and a teacher training school. The Hmong were over-proportionally represented in the American introduced school system.

Another significant educational impact came from missionaries from the 1950s on. American christian missionary circles targeted the Hmong and invited a Romanized Popular Alphabet (RPA), a writing system designed for the Hmong language. That enabled them to spread out translated bibles, prayer books, hymnals and more religious materials. The RPA remains the most widely used writing system for the Hmong People.

The Pathet Lao were also very active in promoting education. In the mountainous regions of Laos, what was widely not under control of the Royal Lao Government, the communists trained the people reading and writing skills. For 1964 the Phatet Laos claimed to maintain more than 36,000 pupils in 'liberated' elementary schools and 250 pupils in secondary schools. They also claimed to run four teacher training schools and two adult education schools and having published 380,000 textbooks. They also invited an own writing system for the Hmong language.

A school in Vang Vieng, Laos, by Asienreisender

A primary school in Vang Vieng; at the right the schoolyard with the mandatory flagmast (left); at the left a glance into a classroom with three schoolgirls next their teacher.

Images and composition by Asienreisender, 2013

The Hmong are one of the most significant hill tribes in the greater Golden Triangle. An interesting side idea about the Hmong is that there are indications in their tales and sagas that the Hmong once ruled a significant kingdom much further north in China. They lived settled there (not nomadic) in the plains and had an own script. Later they were fought by an upcoming Chinese empire. The after the following war(s) remaining Hmongs retreated into the mountains of Yunnan and from around 1800 CE on into north Laos, north Thailand, north Vietnam, changed their lifestyle much, adapted now to live in an altitude of around 1,500m and gave up their script. But they once had an own script and they appear very gifted to learn reading and writing.

For more on the 'hill tribes' or mountain people, click the link and read the main article on them.

Propaganda Poster in Laos by Asienreisender

A political propaganda poster in Laos as seen several times in many places. It appeares in different variations; all have in common the strict combination of education and the military.

Image by Asienreisender, Phongsali, 2010

The intentions of all the different interest groups to ideologically indoctrinate the people of Laos are shining through all of this very clearly. If you, reader, are from a 'developed' country, particularly from one of the western industrial core countries (USA, Britain, Germany, France, the Netherlands and a very few others, smaller countries), you might realize that easily, because you look from a more advanced point of view down on the affair. But don't forget that we all are living in societies where ideological indoctrination is common and more and more omnipresent and penetrating everything into our most private affairs. The here depicted process of education (which comes almost always together with state indoctrination) ist just the beginning in a society which is in transition from a medieval state to a semi-modern free-market society.


Laos' Culture

That's a short chapter. There didn't that much cultural history happen in Laos. Tribal history of many different people, yes, including cultural traditions and customs; but they transfer their history orally and when their tribal culture dies for becomming absorbed into modern society, their historical record disappears into oblivion. Not seldom ending up in refugee camps for years, the kids don't learn there the skills they would learn in the mountains. The old life vanishes and the people will never find it back. Alienation and deprivation follow in many cases.

Most remarkable are on the first glance the sophisticated clothes many tribal people wear. There is much of it to see in places like Phongsali and Muang Sing.

The lowland Laotians didn't bring up a sophisticated literature, architecture or any advancter technology. The had an early development centuries ago but they came to a halt in further development and stick now back in time what would be comparable with the 13th century in the west.

Traditional Women in Laos by Asienreisender

Laotian women in traditional dresses.

Image by Asienreisender, Luang Prabang, 2013

That's why the Laotian culture is reduced to some old temples and ancient temple pictures as they are to see in Luang Prabangs oldest temple, Wat Xieng Thong. There are also old dances and pieces of music, played with unique instruments of the region.

Monks and nuns chanting in Wat Phol Phao, a bit north of Luang Prabang. Audio by Asienreisender, 2013

Monks (and few nuns) chanting inside a temple in Luang Prabang. Both chantings are evening chantings, held around 6pm. Audio by Asienreisender, 2013

A piece of classical Laotian music, played in the theater near the Royal Palace (now the National Museum) in Luang Prabang. Audio by Asienreisender, 2013


Human Rights

Well, officially the Laotian constitution of 1991 grants all the basic human rights as the freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion and gender equality and so forth and so forth. Paper is patiently.

Human right organizations criticize serious injuries of these human rights. Bad prison conditions, severe limitation of freedom of speech when it comes to political affairs and the treatment of the Hmong People in Laos are concerning. The Laotian government has been accused to commit genocide against the Hmong population. The death penalty is in force; alone in 2010 fifty people were sentenced to death, although the last execution dates back to 1989.

Imprison Camp in Thakek, Laos by Asienreisender

The entrance to an prison camp 'temporary discipline', in Thakek.

Image by Asienreisender, 2010

It's claimed that many (if not the majority) of examinations of accused is just superficially, with a verdict already made up behind. In some instances the police overrules court decisions. Prisoners suffer torture. Human Rights Watch reports on it's website that the government encourages denunciators to report homeless people and other 'suspects', who were sent then to Somsanga, a 'rehabilitation center' in Vientiane. They are kept in prison-like conditions, suffer harsh treatments, getting beaten-up by the wards and don't get a trial (trial for what? Being poor? Being homeless?). Among the arrested are drug users and children. The arrest conditions are so bad, that a number of prisoners try to commit suicide - hanging themselves or eating glass shards.

Denunciation might play a role explaining in general part of the strange feelings an open mind might have in Laos. There is a certain atmosphere in the air what makes feeling alerted. It reminds a bit to the atmosphere I witnessed in the 1980s in east Germany, what was also a communist dictatorship in this time. Denunciation was big there, nobody could trust even best friends or family members. A third of the population was working at least 'informal', as 'hint-givers', for the secret service (Staatssicherheitsdienst, short: Stasi). And it didn't matter, if they wanted to do that or not. They had to, or to suffer unforeseen consequences for her lifes or that of their families...




One of Laos political leaders presented on a very huge poster in Sanyabury. Image by Asienreisender, 2011

Officially the Laotion state is named as 'Lao Peoples Democratic Republic'. Since the end of the American Vietnam War in 1975, the Laotion state is organized as a one party state. The very party is called the 'Laotion Revolutionary Peoples Party'. Until 1991 there was not even a formal constitution and a parliament existing. Since then there are regularly elections for the national assembly. Candidates are chosen by the party and are almost exclusively party members - what for a surprise!

The national assembly elects then the president, who is the highest representative and decision maker of the state, the vice president, the president of the supreme court and a few other big guys in power. The president appoints the primeminister.



The in 1975 introduced planned economy in the pattern of the easter block failed as it did there. The Laotion government reacted on that already in 1986, implementing elements of a free market economy (by the way, the Chinese 'opening' started already in 1978). Since the 1990s the Latotian economy grows by around 6% annually. Sounds much, but considered the originating level it's not much in total volume.

The Laotian currency is the 'Kip'. Here and there it's possible to pay in Thai baht or in US dollars. Some of the higher priced hotels in Luang Prabang or Vientiane price out in dollars.


Import and Export Economy

Laos is an export country for wood, coffee, electricity, tin, gold, copper, fur, leather and some other agricultural products. It imports petrol (expensive, makes a country dependent and vulnerable), chemical products, cars, busses, agricultural vehicles and trucks, machinery, electrical devices, steel and cotton. China, Thailand, Japan and partially Singapore are the most important foreign trade partners.

So, Laos exports mostly simple, agricultural products (who are cheap on the world market) and is depending on the import of highly advanced industrial products (who are expensive on the world market).

That's why Laos suffers an annual trade gap. Trade gap means, the country as a whole spends more money for buying foreign goods than gaining money for selling goods. That's desastrous for any national economy and leads in long-term to severe problems (shortages, inflation, economic downbreaks). Although there is some compensation in the Laotian case for there is foreign investment into the country and development aids from western countries. In fact the country is sold out to foreign investors.



Rice in Laos by Asienreisender

Rice plays the most basic role as a food resource in all Southeast Asian countries.

Image by Asienreisender, 2010, Vang Vieng.

So the focus of the economy is still on the agricultural sector. Around 80% of the population are peasants. They make up together around half of the domestic product of the country. A great deal of their products fall in the sector of subsistence economy. Some 40 percent of the agricultural production is rice. Therefore it's interesting to see that there is an immense variety of different rice species cultivated - estimated 3,000 to 4,000 different kinds! Most of them are sticky rice species.

Besides rice there is corn, potatoes, peanuts, soybeans, cotton, sugar, coffee, tea and a number of other crops grown. Except of the plain regions along the Mekong River there is no industrial agriculture maintained and the usage of chemicals and fertilizer is still low. That's a reason why the production in Laos is lower than in the neighbouring countries.

The 'meat production' is also relatively low in Laos, for there are few vets, the vets are not good and the peasants loose a considerable part of it's cattle to diseases. By the way, after all what I saw in Laos I generally avoid to eat meat here. It's ways too unhygienic. And you never know, what ends up in the noodle soup - snake, worm, cat, rat, dog...



Tourism in Laos is the fastest growing economic sector at the moment, although particularly package tours are rare and target almost exclusively Luang Prabang. There were 80,000 international visitors in Laos in 1990, the number increased up to 1,876,000 in 2010 and, unbeliveable, overpassed in 2012 the 3 million mark up to 3,110,000. Most of them were Chinese, followed by south Koreans. 2,8 million of the international visitors came from the Asia-Pacific region.

Plain of Jars by Asienreisender

The 'Plain of Jars' with it's mysterious huge stone jars.

Image by Asienreisender, 2006

Tourists from the ASEAN countries as well as Russians, Koreans, Japanese and Swiss do not need to pay for a tourist visa. All the other nations have to pay a visa fee. The amount differs from country to country, mostly from 30 to 35 US dollars. On weekends and holidays the officials charge one dollar extra (for their hard work cashing visitors for putting useless stamps in their passports). They always appear to me as charming as crocodiles in uniforms. Besides they demand a passport photo. There is absolutely no need for that, particularly for they make themselves photos of the arrivals. But they want to have it. Keeps them busy, makes them happy. Great collectors they are.

The national tourist industries promote cultural and eco tourism. Hahaha! That's a good one! Where they destroy their natural resources in turbo speed.

Tourism is important for bringing foreign currencies into the country, reducing the trade gap.



A Brickburner in Laos by Asienreisender

A brickburner in Muang Sing. The clay-made bricks are stored in a cave inside a hill. On top of the bricks is a fire chamber. The bricks are burned for 48 hours, as the brickburner explained me. The construction sector needs enormous amounts of building materials in the Laos of our time. And still, much of it is small business. I have seen a tiny, simple cement factory as well, which makes cement bricks in Nong Khiaw.

Image by Asienreisender, 2010

There are almost no advanced industries developed. The low educational standard of the population makes the country completely dependent from foreign investment. That reflects also in the hydropower sector, which is the most important emerging industry for Laos. There are countless dams planned along the Mekong River and it's tributaries to produce electricity for export. The investment for that inclusive the construction companies are coming from abroad. A precedent case is the notorious Sanyabury Dam at the Mekong River, financed and constructed by Thai banks and companies.

So, here we can clearly see how an underdeveloped country is coming under foreign domination. The high party functionaries, actually the national ruling class, is selling out concessions for foreign companies and make their fortune with it. The foreign companies have a free hand at what they do, and the local population suffers the consequences as pollution and land grabbing and can only hope on the general 'trickle down' effect, means, that the growing industries around give them here and there a possibility to make a few dollars - or kips, in this case.

The electric sector is exclusively in the hand of the state owned company 'Electricite du Laos'.

The rest of the industries are mainly textile industries and wood industries. 90 percent of the industries are actually family business. The few bigger companies were until recently state-owned companies or run by the military. Military-run companies are common in all the Southeast Asian states. Normally the military is the biggest power (in the background) in the politics and economy of these countries.



Crossing the Mekong on Ferry by Asienreisender

After crossing the Mekong River on a ferry behind Pak Lai on the road to Sanakam the bus lost it's bumper. It was just removed then (and probably never replaced again).

Image by Asienreisender, 2011

That does not look good here. The roadnet is thin and the roads are mostly in a bad state. The vehicles are even worse than the roads and travelling in Laos is quite a punishment. Breakdowns of busses happens frequently. Even the few 'better' busses, called 'VIP', are an annoyance, lets say when the air con is streaming directly on ones head and cooling one's brain down like in a fridge - of course there is no possibility to individually control the crappy thing. It's not only an annoyance, but sometimes causes a very bad cough. Or when the retarded driver plays his favorite music in highest volume (and full basses) for his fun.

The few better roads are the national road 13, leading from Boten at the Chinese border via Luang Prabang, Vientiane, Savannakhet to Pakse and further along the Mekong River into Cambodia. The even better one is the brandnew road between Boten and the Laotian/Thai border at Houayxay and Chiang Khong, where a new Bridge over the Mekong River has opened in December 2013.

Well, traditionally the waterways were always of main importance in Laos, and they still are very important. The Mekong River is passable in Laos over 1,300 kilometers. A natural barrier are the Mekong Falls close to the Cambodian border. Other rivers like the Nam Ou, the Nam Tha and more offer more possibilities to travel around on boat. For a tourist or traveller the slowboat trip 'On the Mekong' is highly recommendable. One can go down from Chiang Khong/Houayxay via Ban Pak Beng until Luang Prabang. Meanwhile the boat connection further down to Vientiane is merely rudimentary. The speedboats therefore are pretty dangerous and there are many reports of accidents with them.

Lao Airlines is not better than the rest of the infrastructure. Security standards are under dispute. The flights are not reliable and can be cancelled shortly before departure. That's a problem for every passenger, particularly for a traveller/tourist when his visa is running out.

I remember that for a flight from Luang Prabang to Cambodia foreigners had to pay the double price than the Laotian passengers.

Nam Ou River by Asienreisender

The Nam Ou (River) in the north of Laos at Nong Khiaw. The Nam Ou is, as all the rivers are, used as a transport way. Some villages upstream have no road access, as Muang Ngoi for example.

Image by Asienreisender, 2006

There has never been a longer railway line in Laos. In the early 20th century a French company run a few kilometers of a railway to overcome the Mekong Falls at the 4000 Islands. Since 2009 there is an access to the Thai railway system. The railway to Nong Khai is prolongued over the friendship bridge there for 3.5 kilometers into Laos near Vientiane. That's it.

That the telephone net is bad seems rather a favour, for that reduces noise pollution caused by mobile phone users, but that the internet connections are much too rare, and, if there is internet, it's always slow and there are many interruptions (a typical statement: "Today no have internet...") is a bit pity for internet addicts. The center of internet connections is Vientiane, and most of the Laotians who use internet (the few ones, all the computer stuff for the illiterates is widely useless) go to internet cafes.

The Laotion post services are inefficient and slow.



Opium Bag

A bag of opium, for sale in Vang Vieng, the notorious party-center of Laos.

Image by Asienreisender, 2010

Laos is traditionally known for it's huge opium production. Opium was introduced in the 18th century and for a time promoted by the colonial powers. A considerable part of the population (up to 2%) was opium addicted in the 19th century and the mid 20th century. Opium played an important role in the two Indochina Wars, when the French and the Americans both promoted opium growth to finance their military logistics with the revenues of it. The Americans even promoted grand-style heroin production in Laos, while the Nixon administration in the same time declared the 'war on drugs' in 1971, with an annually budget of US$ 40 million at the time. Well, opium still plays a role in Laos, but it's loosing importance. The new, upcoming drug in the greater Golden Triangle are amphetamins.


The good, old joint. Prerolled and ready to be sold in one of Vang Vieng's bars.

Image by Asienreisender, 2011

Another traditional drug is marihuana, which is illegal as well but doesn't cause serious social problems. In the last years amphetamines replace more and more the traditional drugs, for they are easy and cheap to produce (in hidden laboratories, no farming necessary). Therefore they are much more dangerous for the health. The most famous amphetamines in the Golden Triangle and around are 'yaba' and 'ice'. Amphetamines are a serious threat for the consumers health. The worst but cheapest thing is the consumption of glue as a drug. It's severely damaging the brain, and I saw an addicted person in Penang/Malaysia declining severely within only two years due to glue consumption.

Lao Lao with Snake by Asienreisender

Lao lao, the national booze, with a cobra snake inside. Sometimes it comes also with a scorpion. Many Asians are so silly to believe that the attributes of the animal have impact on their health, strength or sexual potency. That leads to a severe threat of many species - I mention only the three examples elephant (tusks), rhinoceros horn and tigers.

Image by Asienreisender, Luang Prabang, 2010

By the way, the Laotion laws for drug users are draconic. Smoking a joint can already be punished with jail and a high fine (of the equivalence of 500 Euro). It's said that even being in company with somebody who smokes a joint, without smoking oneself, can be punished. Blackmailing drug users is not seldom. Laotions take their advantage from the restrictive laws, particularly policemen. Coming in jail means a lot of trouble. The jails have an awful recommendation, the trials are probably ridiculously stupid (as the whole laws including the involved officials are anyway) and the procedure might take a long time (maybe years).

Concider at this point: Drug usage is not a crime, it's merely a disorder or in some cases a form of self-medication. The states with their mismatching laws only severe the problem, if there was a problem anyway. A 'war on drugs' is state criminal action, nothing less. At the end it might be only of advantage for the pharmaceutical industries, selling their pills and antidepressiva. Very unhealthy but legal, because then it's good business with a strong lobby behind.

And, well, do I need to mention alcohol? It's legal and taxed and consumed in a great deal everywhere. There is one monopolized brewery in Laos which produces 'Beerlao', what is not too bad a beer. A bit to sour, so it quickly hurts the stomach. Laotions drink as they want to come into the Guiness Book of records with it. I have seen piles of empty beer bottles in many places as nowhere else.

Drinking beer is not seldom accompanied by drinking rice whiskey. Most of the rice whiskey is self-made. Therefore it's cheap and of questionable quality.

Drinking Laotion People do usually not act agressively in public. But drinking comes frequently together with heavy noise pollution (in this case called 'music') and the notorious karaoke. When the drunken fools then also drive cars, lorries or motorbikes after (or while) drinking it can be very dangerous as well. They drive bad enough when being sober...

Opium Market in Muang Sing by Asienreisender

The old market (Laotian: talat nyai) in Muang Sing. In the colonial times it was the biggest opium market in Indochina. Although the use of opium was abolished in France itself, the colonial administration promoted opium in east Asia for gaining revenues.

Image by Asienreisender, 2010


Censorship and Media

There is a strict censorship on medias in Laos. Most of the media are owned by the 'Revolutionary Peoples Party'. An English newspaper is the 'Vientiane Times' (in the internet www.vientianetimes.com).

There are four issued daily newspapers per 1,000 people.

Laotian TV is running since 1983 and is up to three channels now. Close to the border to Thailand it's possible to receive Thai TV (in it's way as same bad, and strictly censored by the Thai authorities). Since Laotion and Thai languages are so similar, it's for the Laotians possible to understand the Thai broadcasting. That makes one hearing the Thai national anthem not seldom in Laos. But nobody stands up here for that...

There is no critics allowed referring to the very 'Revolutionary Party' and the very political leaders. We remember the constitutional guaranteed right of 'freedom of speech', mentioned above...

Surprisingly the German foreign ministry claims that the internet is not under censorship in Laos (http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de /DE/Aussenpolitik/Laender/Laenderinfos/ 01-Nodes_Uebersichtsseiten/ Laos_node.html). I can hardly believe that, except the Laotian authorities are technically unable to maintain a censorship.


Safety for Travellers

Petty crime is on the rise in Laos tourist centers Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. Pickpocketing and hit-and-run raids are reported more and more. Sometimes there are violent incidents.

Missing Person by Asienreisender

A poster at the American embassy in Vientiane, with a 'missing person' on it. A young American backpacker disappeared traceless in Xieng Kok, north Laos, a small place where the Mekong River marks the border between Laos and Burma/Myanmar. The young man was seemingly never found, because one year later I still saw the poster in Vientiane. The border area at Xieng Kok is among the most dangerous areas in Laos, for the activities of drug Lords around.

Image by Asienreisender, 2010

In former years great parts of north Laos weren't safe for there was still the civil war between the government and the Hmong People going on. Busses were raided and passengers robbed. The road between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang for example wasn't fully safe. In 2006 there was still on every bus a gunman sitting on the rear bench, wich an army rifle for protection.

The situation improved in the following years and the situation seems to be stable in verymost parts of the country. Though, in early 2011 there were repetedly raids on the national road 5. The situation between Phoukhoun and the Vietnamese border on the national road 7 is risky as well.

Leaving roads and paths in the mountainous east of the country is still highly risky because of the unexploded ordnance (UXO) there. Tourists also get lost sometimes in the nature by not finding their way back. When it comes to injuries or diseases there is hardly a sufficient health service available. One has to go then all the way to neighbouring Thailand. In Bangkok are hospitals of international standard.

I mentioned already the bad roadnet and the rotten vehicles. There is to add that locals tend to drive drunken (particularly in the evenings and on holidays). They are generally bad drivers, and their driving skills do not enhance under the influence of alcohol. There is a high rate of traffic accidents, and many people die here every year due to that. And many more animals do.

Since years again and again I heard warnings to use the speedboats on the rivers (e.g. the ride from Houayxay to Luang Prabang). There are many accidents caused by the speedboats, running on rocks who are slightly below the water level etc.

Dengue fever is a serious matter. It appears all over the year, particularly in rainy season. There is no treatment for dengue and the health impact can be severe and long-term. Some cases end deadly. Dengue transfering mosquitoes are day-active.

Malaria mosquitoes are night-active. After an infection a malaria treatment is highly recommendable, because without one the death risk is much higher. The incubation time can last several months. The best mosquitoe protection are long clothes and a repellent.

Asienreisender Up to the top!

Published on March 5th, 2013


Last update on June 25th, 2014