Lao. It's pronounced Lao. Not Laossss.
Lao, cool? Okay, now we can al-Lao this episode to begin properly.
Sorry, I'm just, I'm so used to getting punched or hit or whatever whenever that happens, just um I guess I'm off the hook.
Sorry I'm late, traffic was ridiculous out there.
Oh, okay? Ready for this? Yeah OK.
Everybody I'm your host Barb's.
Today, we cover one of the least understood Asian countries on the planet, Laos.
You know, Vietnam and Thailand get all the attention but across the Mekong,
you'll find yourself in a unique place of rustic traditions driven by history, spirits, bombshells and spice.
If I could describe Laos location in two words, I'd probably say: "beautifully unfortunate."
First of all, Laos is landlocked in Southeast Asia bordered by all the other mainland Peninsular Indochina nations
as well as China to the North. The country is divided into 17 provinces and one prefecture, Kampheng Nakhon
Which includes the capital Vientiane or Vien-Chyen.
I've heard Lao people pronounce it both ways. I don't know exactly which one is correct.
I'm more inclined to say Vien-Chyen though because I don't trust that T but eh, whatever.
Oh and the shape of the country looks like a palm tree. Anyway.
The largest cities after the capital are Pakse in the South and Savannakhet, a little further North
and the busiest and only international airports are Vientiane's two twins,
Wattay International and the smaller Luang Prabang International
as well as Pakse International in the South.
Otherwise, Laos doesn't really have any border disputes or territorial anomalies except for maybe the
Kings Romans Casino right at the tri-point border with Thailand and Myanmar.
This place is located on what is known as the "Golden Triangle Zone",
a controversial area in which most of Asia's opium is grown and distributed mostly headed to China.
The Casino lies right at the heart of the triangle and is kind of like a Chinese enclaves lease out to China for
99 years since 2007 and even has the Chinese army stationed there.
It's kind of like a 'lawless free zone' where controversial practices like exotic animal breeding and harvesting can happen.
Look, China. We know it's not a secret.
Do you said the second consecutive episode where you criticize China?
I mean do you have something against them, or what's going on there? I mean you want to explain them...
No! I don't. It's just they kind of have a lot of controversial undertones when it comes to the research when I write these scripts
Like what research?
Well for one, the actual subscribers that are from these countries that have emailed us at
GeographyLater@gmail.com that have mentioned these things so I kinda have to take the info that they give and analyze it.
Okay, well we don't want this channel to seem like it's working towards some kind of agenda.
Oh trust me, I'm about to throw my own country under the bus in about three two one
One thing you have to understand is that in Laos, bombshells are everywhere
and they came mostly from the USA during the Vietnam War.
Even though Laos was theoretically neutral, as a tactic the U.S
sought to destroy the Truong song supply routes or the Ho Chi Minh Trail that passed through Laos.
With minimal warnings to the people before starting, they dropped 260 million tons of bombs
making Laos the most bombed country per capita in history.
About a third of the bombs did not explode and so to this day,
there's still a potential danger in certain areas and the entire country is littered with metallic shells.
They even made their own little economy of recycled shell casing and war memorabillia such as
the fuel tank boats of Tha Bak and bullet shell necklaces like this one
that was sent to me from geography Nicole who lived in Laos!
Speaking of which, some places of interest might include:
The Plain of Jars (at Xiangkhouang Plateau)
Xien Khan Buddha Park (at Vientiane)
Golden Stupa of Pha That Luang
The Lao National Museum
Tham Sakkarin Savannakuha Cave Temple (at Luang Prabang)
Craters Restaurant, surrounded by bomb fragments
Royal palace of Luang Prabang
The Ancient Hindu temple of Vat Phou
Patuxai War Memorial Arch
Chao Anouvong Statue
And so many Wat in temple, like:
Wat Dane Soung, in the jungle
Wat Si Saket (at Vientiane)
Wat Xien Thong (at Luang Prabang)
And Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham (at Luang Prabang)
Depry Tourist: Wat?
Derpy Tourist: Wat?
Look, I'm not gonna do Cambodia episode thing again (What?)
Alright, well that just about covers it. Let's venture into the jungles now shall we?
You know what I love about Southeast Asia? The colors, the biodiversity, the immeasurable
varieties of fruit and vegetables that I've never even heard of
The downside, the humidity.
Laos is just like you'd expect
Located in the hot humid jungle zone of the Annamite Mountain Range to the Southeast of Asia,
fed by the mighty Mekong River, the longest in the country.
The tallest peak, Phou Bia, lies in the central part of the country, nearby Vientiane.
And is actually restricted to climb due to the high number of unexploded bombs that still lay at the area.
Yeah, we're back on the bomb thing. It's like a reoccurring theme here in Laos.
Laos was a nation of very notable waterfalls like the:
Kuang Si (at Luang Prabang)
and Khone Phapheng (at Don Phapeng)
as well as the cave like Pak Ou (at Luang Prabang)
and Kong Lor
yeah, I know Southeast Asian languages aren't really my forte.
Animals are abundant. The national animal being the Asian Elephant
Here you can find way too many species of animals like
Even a few Javan Rhinoceri.
Aah, The physical geography part is always like the most boring because it leaves a little room for witty comments or skits.
I feel like you guys are getting bored. Ken! Get over here do something interesting
Okay, I get it you're talented. That's good. That's whatever.
One of the weirdest things that would probably be the "Naga Fireballs", a strange natural phenomena that
supposedly occurs on the Mekong River in which strange fireballs arise from the water
Scientists say if it is real, it might be caused by Phosphine gases admitted by bacteria that combust
But so far nobody is completely sure as to how it happens.
Either way, It's fun and people gather around to watch it
but yeah, can you imagine just crossing the river during a fireball show?
Yeah, that was the only skit I could write for this segment.
FOOD! Over 80% of the population works in agriculture
and Lao food is quite delicious, similar to other regions around them
But noticeably 'spicy'. You have things like:
Papaya Salad (or Tha mak Houng),
The national dish, Larb, Bamboo shoot soup, Mok,
Sour Sausage and Khao lam, which is sticky rice made in a bamboo pipe.
Ohh, and They have this rice whiskey thing called Laolao. That stuff is weird like, sometimes they ferment it with snakes.
Okay, so I'm part Asian so I can say this. Asians, why do we do that? Why do we ferment whole animals in our drinks?
What's the appeal? Power? Stamina? Dude, it's a rotting corpse extracting decompose carcinogens. Stop doing it!
But you know that's none of my business...
Every so often though, you might find the baguette or
croissant on the menu in many restaurants.
The reason why has a little something to do with something called the 19th century, which we will explain in,
Now Laos is funny because it's like an "alternate universe Thailand"
that got thrashed around in a completely different upbringing in history.
First of all, the country is made up of about 8 million people and has 47 recognized ethnic groups
divided into a 160 subgroups and tribes. Of these groups,
the ethnic Lao people make up the majority and a little over half of the population.
Next are the hill tribes of the Khmu, the Hmong and the rest are numerous other tribes
as well as an incredibly small community of Europeans mostly French in origin.
They also use the Lao Kip as their currency but also accept Thai Baht And US Dollars,
they use the type-c outlet, and they drive on the right side of the road
which makes things interesting when they're cousins in Thailand visit.
And remember, not everyone in Laos is Lao. The tribal people like the Hmong and
The Mien speak their own language, virtually unintelligible to the Lao language.
And this is why there's a distinction between the terms Lao and Laotian
Lao is ethnically 'Lao' whereas Laotian is just someone from Laos
but might not necessarily identify as ethnically Lao. Got it?
It's like that whole thing we had to explain with 'Bengali versus Bangladeshi' or
'Azeris versus Azerbaijani'. You get the picture
So anyway. ethnic Lao people (no shocker) speak Lao.
I love how simple this word is it's like an adjective pronoun and noun all in one, Lao.
Lao is a language that is almost completely intelligible to Thai
although Thai people might have a little bit more difficulty understanding Lao.
Even their alphabets are similar based off the same ancient brahmic source.
However interestingly enough, because of the former french colonial days,
Laos is actually part of La Francophonie the second largest in Southeast Asia
and possibly the largest French-speaking population per capita in the area
more than Vietnam or Cambodia as over a third of the students study French in school
And they actually use it sometimes in business and tourism.
No but seriously, Norman Lewis once interviewed a French officer who was quoted for saying:
Faith-wise, Laos is interesting because about half the population considers themselves kind of Buddhist to varying degrees.
However traditionally prior to the spread of Buddhism, Laos is actually heavily Animist
and to this day, the remaining half still practices traditional spirit worship
especially the hill tribes, which has rituals that have synchronized into mainstream Lao Buddhism.
For example, most people even Buddhists still believe in the 32 Guardian Khwan Spirits that balance life.
According to the belief, sickness can be caused if one of the spirits strays away
so they tie cotton strings around their wrists to keep them around.
Laos also celebrates a different new year for the beginning of the monsoon season in April called Songkran.
Prior to 1975, Laos was under a kingdom until the Communist Party came in and deposed them.
There's actually a living descendant of the last king, this guy, who lives in exile in Paris.
Today, Laos is under a one-party Socialist Republic, the Laos People's Revolutionary Party that supposedly exposes Marxism and Leninism
until 2012 when Obama was like:
Laos: So, you visited our country so the cool stuff gave you the meat,
dumplings and papaya salad. What do you think Obama?
Obama: Yeah? I guess you're not that communist. Let's open up trade deals.
Laos: Sweet. I'll get the paperwork!
Wait so just cuz Noah was black, I was gonna make him play Obama?
Okay here at GN, We are colorblind. Plus,
You know we'd probably get some complaints from the Diversity Commission.
Anyway, speaking of government, history. In the quickest way I can put it, here's how Laos, went down:
Ancient agricultural societies, Laos Bronze Age, Tai tribes move in probably from the areas of South China,
This guy comes in he makes Buddhism the state religion, three kingdoms period, the kingdom of Lan Xang comes in.
By the way, the name means "millions of elephants with white parasols"...
Fights with the Burmese, this guy gets the throne, Golden Age begins, the kingdom collapses to the Siamese,
The Chinese try to attack but France was like: "Nope!", they agreed to become a French protectorate,
the French kind of leave them alone and don't really care because they just want to buffer with Thailand,
World War Two, the Thai, Chinese, and Japanese all try to grab at them,
They break free and declare independence, but France was like haha JK, you're still mine!
But Laos was like: "Mmm mmm"
and then France gives them autonomy and finally 1953 independence,
the monarchy is deposed and exiled, the Communist Party takes over,
tons of Lao leave the country especially the hilltribe minorities like the Hmong.
Economy and population steadily increase but not substantially, and here we are today.
Speaking of which, outside of Asia, the US has the largest Hmong community in the world
taking in refugees since the 1970s with more Hmong people than there are in Laos.
The largest concentration being in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
So much that they even have public signs written in the Hmong language.
You want to learn more about Hmong people, just watch the movie, Gran Torino
with Clint Eastwood and the barbershop scene.
Anyway, some famous people from Laos or of Lao descent might include people like:
Vang Pao, Ken Lo, Boun Oum, Chloe Dao,
Choummaly Sayasone, Jerry Yang, Kaysone Phoumvihane, Prince Souphanouvong,
Sisavang Vatthana, Sisavang Vong, Souvanna Phouma and Thongsing Thammavong.
So many other things we could have talked about like how the national sports,
Sepak Takraw, which is incredibly difficult to play
and Muay Lao which is like Muay Thai but a little bit crazier.
You have the monks with the morning alms, the traditional hill tribe clothing looks pretty cool,
Bamboo mouth organs are like the most popular instrument,
home theater looks cool, Animist shrines and all those taboo rituals are found all over.
Yes, there are some controversies with persecution against certain people groups
but we really don't have time to get into that.
Oooo, are you sidestepping it because you're avoiding a potential argument that could be discussed?
I literally just talked about the bombings of the Vietnam War. Trust me, we literally just don't have time to get into it.
Oh, and do not touch someone on the top of the head!
It's considered sacred, and you know what else is sacred? Friendship. Okay time to move on to our last segment,
Laos is interesting because technically it's one of the last remaining Communist countries in the world
but they operate different from what you would typically assume a Communist country acts like.
Despite the colonial past, they still get along pretty well with France since France didn't really do too much
And they kind of left them alone during the French Indochina years. The French left marks on architecture and food
and today, they make up the largest EU tourist group.
Laos kinda takes political cues from Vietnam.
However recently, Laos has been shying away from dependence and has been looking to outside investors when Vietnam isn't looking.
Surprisingly Laos is one of the 37 states that recognizes the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic.
They have diplomatic relations and even a non-resident embassy hosted in India.
When it comes to the best friends however, most Lao people I've talked to have said Thailand
and believe it or not, the Philippines, kind of. The Philippines sent doctors and volunteers during war times
and the heads of state have repeatedly visited each other over the past 20 years.
Filipinos are known for being the English teachers to Lao people and they hold the most teaching positions in the country.
Thailand not only gives them access to the sea and is their biggest trading partner
but is also their big brother that understands them the best culturally.
Most Lao people watch Thai TV shows and movies on a regular basis and are fairly familiar with their brother's culture .
Even though most Thai people probably couldn't say the same about Laos but still they generally love each other.
In conclusion, what do you get when you mix Communism with a splash of Buddhism
mixed with some French buildings and 32 guardian spirits, you get Laos.
Latvia is coming up next.