Daily Archives: April 20, 2012

Laos: An Introduction


Laos Flag

Temples, caves, monks and waterfalls, Laos made for an interesting three weeks, though I must admit, a difficult three weeks.

I’m not going to lie, Laos was not my favorite country. Perhaps it’s the fact that I had food poisoning at least four times. Or maybe I just encountered too many obnoxious drunken tourists. Or maybe because I spent my last day in Laos stranded in the middle of nowhere with no money that I am in no rush to go back. 

Whatever the case, I did find some truly incredible moments in Laos, as well as some absolutely stunning scenery

Officially independent from France since 1953, Laos is a communist, agricultural country that has seen better days. And sadly, many of its current problems are the result of our decisions made during the Vietnam War.  

Though officially a neutral territory during the war, the United States dropped more than two million tons of bombs of Laos between 1964 and 1973, during what was called the “Secret War.” The bombardments were meant to prevent the Northern Vietnamese from using Laos to reach South Vietnam,  but sadly, about 30 percent of those bombs never exploded, littering much of the country with potential explosives that have killed and maimed countless people ever since. In fact, Laos is considered to be the most heavily bombed country in the world.

Laos is very poor, and since many of those bombs were dropped on farmland, it continues to be so. While efforts are being made to clear the land to make it safe again, the process is slow, and growing up with the constant threat of unexploded ordnances (UXOs) has become a way of life for Laos people. In fact, Laos children have to be taught not to play with “bombies,” the same way other children in the world are taught not to talk to strangers. Others have been interviewed saying things like they don’t think “that many” die every year from the UXOs, because to them, this is the norm.

Traveling throughout Laos is not easy. English and infrastructure are extremely limited. Trains are non-existent, so travel requires taking long, often bumpy and windey roads, where pit stops literally mean stopping by the bushes at the side of the road (no joke).  On one occasion, we had to stop twice on our six-hour journey from Luang Prabang to Phonsavan so the girl seated behind me could vomit. Though I generally have a strong stomach, I nearly joined her.

On the other hand, Laos has some of the coolest caves I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s unique French-influenced Buddhist culture also makes for some truly charming places as well, especially Luang Prabang. The following posts are a collection of photos and stories sharing my best and worst experiences in Laos.