Duration: Every day

History of Laos

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It is believed Laos began as an agricultural society, especially around the 9th century. At this time most beliefs centred around animism and Shiva, with Buddhism arriving in Laos in the 16th century. Laos has seen many invasions from neighbouring nations and has been ruled by a series of kingdoms. In 1353 a kingdom was created under Fa Ngum, a warlord who declared himself the King of Lane Xang or the “Million Elephants,” and this was a Khmer state. Due to subsequent disputes Laos was split into three parts and was mainly governed by the Siamese. The first Europeans arrived in Laos during the 17th century. Although the Dutch were the first nation to arrive in Laos the French have had the most influence. This extended to Laos becoming a French colony in the 1800’s.
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During World war Two Laos was ruled by the Japanese. France then wanted to re take the colony but failed to do so and it gained independence in 1950 with full constitution granted in 1954 with a monarchy. Laos became a victim of the neighbouring Vietnam War in the 1960s when the Americans sought to eradicate the North Vietnamese training camps. This resulted in Laos earning its reputation as being the most bombed country in the world and even today there are problems with unexploded ordnance. In 1975 Laos became a communist nation with the monarch rescinding power to a president.

The 1970s subsequently saw many people leaving Laos as refugees to escape both the government and the intense poverty. Developments in the 1990’s resulted in free trade embargoes being lifted on Laos as the nation became a member of ASEAN. This has allowed industry and infrastructure to grow and whereas Laos was once a forgotten part of Asia it is changing fast.

Laos Cuisine

Laos has many combinations of Asian cuisine in its culinary repertoire but the stable food is sticky rice. The Lao people are renowned for eating more sticky rice than anywhere else in the world. Here are a few more typical dishes found on the menus in Laos.

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Look for Larb

The most famous food in Laos is Larb which is a dish of spicy marinated meat or fish served with herbs, green vegetables and spices. Sometimes the fish is raw, a little like ceviche. Larb is served with sticky rice and is a popular menu item both with visitors and locals alike. Another popular dish is a spicy papaya salad which is known as tam mak hoong or son tam.

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French influences

The influence of French colonialism can be seen in many places in Laos and especially in Vientiane. French restaurants are found in most neighbourhoods and baguettes are popular. French coffee is also a feature of many of the city restaurants. Other influences on the cuisine in Laos come from Vietnam and Thailand and many restaurants feature this style of cooking.

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Flavoursome Soup

Soup is a stable feature of the cooking in Laos and one of the dishes is Khao Poon which is a meat broth served with coconut milk, lime leaves, chilli, garlic, and rice noodles. This is popular in restaurants and is one of the signature dishes of Laos. In Laos there are local brands of beer and one of the most famous is Beerlao which is perfect with hot and spicy food.

As tourism develops in Laos the locals are keen to reinvent and develop a distinctive Laotian way of cooking and many restaurants are promoted as having Lao dishes. This is an exciting time to experience Lao cuisine as new and dynamic chefs create new styles of dishes.

Shopping in Laos

Laos is a wonderful place to go shopping as it is full of colourful and interesting markets and some lovely handicrafts. Do make sure you leave enough space in your bags for all the shopping. Here are some of the best buys when shopping in Laos.

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Saa Paper

One of the highlights of a shopping trip in Laos are the exquisite handcrafted paper items. These are made from the left overs of the silk industry and are also called mulberry paper. There are beautiful notebooks, paper decorations and much more to choose from in the markets and shops.

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Textiles

The weaving industry in Laos is mainly in cotton and silk and the quality and colours are superb. There are many items to choose from including clothing, scarves, bags, home furnishings and much more. It is also fascinating to see the weavers at work and many workshops are open to visitors. The Talat Sao Morning market in Vientiane is an excellent place to find quality silk.

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Laos Coffee

Grown in the Bolaven Plateau in Southern Laos the coffee produced locally is considered high quality. Look out for brands such as Sinouk Coffee or Laos Mountain Coffee which are good and make unusual souvenirs. Spices are also fun to buy for cooking back home.

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Hill tribe crafts

Many of the Laotian hill tribes produce beautiful handicrafts for sale in local markets. The Hmong in particular produce exquisitely embroidered bedcovers and clothing. There are also bags, dolls and much more to see in vibrant colours. Look out for carving and paintings by locals and take time to ask questions which will result in a few smiles.

Shopping in Laos is a fun and interesting experience with so many colours and crafts for sale and in a welcoming and friendly country.