January 02, 2008
by findingDulcinea Staff
Lao People’s Democratic Republic, more commonly known to Americans as Laos, is a Southeast Asian country roughly the size of Utah. With several close neighbors—it borders Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, Thailand to the west, and Burma and China to the north—and 50 years of French colonization, Lao culture has many influences and attracts visitors from around the world. It’s also full of young people: the country's median age is 19 years.

Backpackers’ destination

Laos is one of the least densely populated countries in the region, according to its embassy, and those who have visited say the country has a less touristy feel than Thailand, but it also lacks some basic elements of infrastructure, such as around-the-clock electricity in smaller towns. For a more detailed picture of Laos through the eyes of a visitor, read about Jenny Chu’s backpacking trip through the country; it starts with crossing the Mekong from Thailand through Luang Prabang and the capital, Vientiane, to the 4,000 Islands and into Cambodia.

One popular destination for tourists is the Bokeo Nature Reserve in northern Laos. The Gibbon Experience is a resort that uses funds from tourism to protect the reserve. Watch a group of backpackers visit the Gibbon Experience in this 13-minute video shot in 2007, which includes traveling by zip lines through the forest and cuddling with a rescued black bear. With the exception of the gibbons, the two backpackers who shot this video visited the same destinations Chu did, including tubing on the Mekong and staying in a bungalow in Don Det. Click on “Laos” on the right side of the screen to see the video.

Audrey Scott and Daniel Noll’s travels are a bit more food-oriented. At their site, they have a page describing Lao cuisine, with a video they shot of one of the markets.

History and Culture

Lao’s embassy in Washington, DC, has a brief history of the country, which was founded in the 1300s when townships were united under King Fa Ngoum. Vientiane became the capital in 1560, and France colonized the country in 1893. Laos reclaimed its independence 50 years later.

Lao Music has videos and downloads of some of the country’s current artists, such as Alexandra Bouxouei and Nalin. For more traditional music, visit the Archive of Traditional Music and Songs in Laos,  part of Northern Illinois University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

NIU’s Southeast Asian Studies program has an extensive site devoted to Laotian culture that includes music clips, Laotian literature, videos, and a photo gallery.

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