The summer has gone quickly - and I am still completely unprepared for my trip to Laos. I leave on Wednesday night! I still have a list of things to do, not all holiday related but rather sorting out my life at home while I'm gone. I was going to write a blog post about the history and culture of Laos but haven't had the time. Instead, here are 11 random things you probably didn't know about Laos:
- Laos is a land-locked country, bordered by Cambodia, China, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand and Vietnam.
- Laos' original name is Lan Xang Hom Khao, literally meaning Million Elephants, White Parasol. Unfortunately these days there are only around 2000 elephants left. There are probably more white parasols...
- Laos is made up of many ethnic tribal groups - apparently anywhere between 94 and 134 different ethnic groups. Not bad, considering there are only about 5.6 million people in the country.
- Laos is the most bombed country in history - thanks mostly to Americans who dropped 2,093,100 tons of bombs during the Vietnam War (1964-73) in an effort to destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail and stop the flow of North Vietnamese forces. One of the main areas affected was the mysterious Plain of Jars.
- Laos used to be a French colony - the Lao kingdoms succumbed to French sovereignty in 1893 after spending decades forced to give tribute to Siam (now Thailand). Laos gained full independence from France in 1953.
- Communists seized power in Laos in 1975 and declared it the Lao People's Democratic Republic, as it still is today. Laos will probably remain communist as long as it has the support of communist regimes in Vietnam and China.
- The major religion in Laos is Theravada Buddhism, which is still practised by 60% of the population in spite of the communist regime. Spirit worship, or animism is officially banned but is apparently still strong among the many tribes.
- Lao people prefer to avoid stress in their lives - a common notion is "too much work is bad for your brain."
- Over 75% of Lao people live on less than 2USD a day.
- Laos has 20 National Protected Areas (like National Parks) covering 14% of the country, making it among the most protected countries on earth.
- In the capital Vientiane there is a monument reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe, called Patuxai. It is sometimes referred to as 'the vertical runway' because it was built with US-purchased cement meant for a new airport.
I might post about Laos whilst I'm on the road, but then again I might not. After all, I would rather spend my days enjoying the country not sitting in some dingy Internet cafe.
(Map from www.maps.com, plain of jars and waterfall photos from www.nomad4ever.com and patuxai photo from www.bugbog.com)