Muong Kai, where we meet some French people, get on a boat, God tries to extort money and we leave for Luang Prabang

Muong Kai was our introduction to Laos, the first place we stopped, and it’s hard to understand what it’s doing there.
To call it a one horse town would be to bring a horse to mind and in all honesty I’m not sure it’s big enough for one.
The road to the hotel is down little dirt tracks that meander between houses and chickens and people and shops. Many shops.
The village is at the place where two rivers meet – one of them is the Nam Ou – and perhaps it serves as a market place for local villages. I can’t imagine why else this town would be here.
There are several cafes, with not a  Michelin star between them and several food shops and hardware shops selling pots and pans, motorbike parts, water pumps, paint, batteries, and incongruously, solar panels.
These shops and restaurants line what you might refer to as the main street, but that would imply that there is another street, a minor one and there isn’t, there’s just the one street and some mud tracks.
And the mud tracks are very muddy, due in a large part to the regularly beating down rain and to a lesser part on the fact that the drains empty out onto the ground. Not the toilets, but everything else do. 
The hotel homestay place was huts on stilts, with rain in the mornings, a storm in the evening and burning sun in between.

Laos people are so laid back they could reasonably accuse the prone position of being a bit stressy, and it wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. They barely lift their heads as you walk by and like in Vietnam, it’s hard to see how people make a living, hard to see what they do all day long.

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Muong Kai, somewhere in Lao

I was up early a couple of mornings ago looking out at the road bridge over the river Nam Ou thinking ‘I’m sure that pier is leaning’, then thinking ‘nah, it’s my imagination it can’t be’.
Later that day the hotel owner was telling me in between chuckles that the bridge is sinking, and the men down there with a digger were excavating a huge hole around the pier to try and push it back upright somehow and refill it with concrete.
Good luck with that.
The bridge is still in use, cars and bikes and lorries going ever it all day.

Whenever you go for food or spend a couple of hours in a cafe just drinking tea and looking around, they will have no idea what you’re doing there and will have to ask you to remember what you’ve had.
This morning I got up early and went over the road for tea and pancakes. The bloke took my order and then got absorbed by something on the tv (television) on the way to the kitchen. Ten minutes later I had to ask him again. Later on, when Nel came over I ordered two teas and they forgot one of them! How? How can you possibly mess up an order of two things, two cups of tea?

We arrived by boat in Nong Kiaw two days ago, a different town. We’re on the way to Luang Prabang but we’re not sure we want to go by boat now. Actually we don’t want to go by bus either, not really but that’s the choice we have, boat or bus.
We boarded the boat for Nong Kiaw at about 9.00 in the morning. Us and about fourteen others, and we were definitely overloaded with people and rucksacks.
The boat is about forty feet long or so, and about four foot wide with seats down the sides. We were among the first to board and we got a cushion. Most people didn’t so we considered ourselves lucky. The journey to Nong Kiaw was six hours or so, and we had one stop to get off for a pee-pee and stretch our legs.
All the way we were seated opposite somebody, all twenty eight of our legs in the way, mine more than most, and I can’t sit still for an hour. I was cramped, crushed, crammed and uncomfortable.
About ten minutes into the trip I was wanting to get out. Just about when we saw the first set of rapids in fact, but that was just the first of about twenty.
These weren’t the kind of rapids that you see people wearing orange ‘shooting’ in rafts in Colorado, not white water, but rapid enough to give us a soaking every twenty minutes or so.
The engine compartment was opened to help cooling. And it probably does, but it was noisy. God it was noisy. For six hours!
All along the way you see people fishing or washing or doing the laundry, or kids just swimming and laughing. It really is idyllic.

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The rapids aren’t that quick, more sluggishes really

Laos is made of mountains it seems. I don’t know if there is a flat part anywhere. Well I’m guessing the Plain of Jars is probably fla, it’s a plain after all, but since Sapa we haven’t seen a horizon, we’ve only seen mountains on all sides, and we’re still so high above sea, so high in fact that if you’re up early enough in the morning, you will see the clouds come rolling across the bridge.

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The view across the river from our hut

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The view of our hut from across the river

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The view straight down

…Well ok, not across the bridge, but the clouds ain’t very much above your head, maybe two or three feet. You can look across the river in the morning and see clouds falling down the mountainside. It’s beautiful. Truly beautiful, but we’ve become accustomed to this stunning landscape.
We just walked from the Hive Bar across the bridge.
The Hive Bar.
The only bar in town!  The owner comes to the restaurants giving out photocopied flyers with a crude drawing of a beehive on it and the words ‘The only place to bee’ on it.
I mean, it would be so easy to laugh, but these people are so lovely that all that cynicism leaves you.

I lost my phone last night. I will admit I’d had a couple of Beerlaos, and I did leave the bag in the bar, which is impossible, I mean I always keep the daypack with passports and camera and stuff really close, with the strap around my leg. I panic if I can’t feel it next to me, but I walked away without it and the manager chased us down the road to give it back.
I’d had a couple, and when we got back I couldn’t find my phone but I really wasn’t in the right frame of mind to worry about it, or even care really.
This morning I had a bit of a panic, but not much of one to be honest, I thought ‘ah well’, that’s lost then, and we went back to the bar we were in the night before but he hadn’t found it, and then for some reason came back to the hotel and asked.
I don’t know why we didn’t ask here first, seeing as how Nel said I’d had it back here and was using it to light the way down the steps.
Well they had it here and gave it back quite happily. I think if I’d have lost it in Vietnam there’s no way I’d have got it back, but I knew if someone had found it here in Laos they’d give it back to me. And we’ve only been here a few days to have got that impression of Lao people.

Right now it’s nearly one in the morning and we’re going to take another bus tomorrow to Luang Prabang at eleven, but right now there’s a power cut and I’m sat on the balcony over the river and the only light I can see apart from the phone here is far away lightning strikes that silhouette the mountains every three or four seconds. The storm is getting closer because ten minutes ago I couldn’t hear the thunder but now I can, and the wind is getting stronger. Maybe half an hour more and the rain will come, and when it does it will be pounding down.
There’s nothing, no light, just the wind and the flashes and the thunder, and just this second the rain has come, sooner than I’d expected.
The wind is warm and I’m sat here in just shorts under the hugeness of the mountains across the river. The power has been restored over the bridge because a few lights are on now but I still hear nothing but the thunder and the wind and now the rain on our corrugated steel roof.
I wish you could see it and hear it.

We’ve been eating and drinking with Willy and Fanny, the French people we met and I can’t remember whether I made a childish joke about their names in the last post or not. If I didn’t, you can probably imagine what I would probably have said. They have been excellent company for the last three or four days and I’m going to miss them.
They’re soo French. I imagine that Wilf reads Satre every night and talks philosophy. He probably would if I gave him the opportunity. And Fanny is soo lovely too. I really like them a lot.

Yesterday was hot. Hotter than the sun, and we decided that we were going to walk to the caves a couple of km down the road. Wilf and Fanny came with us.
Two km down the road in this heat past houses that look like they’ve probably not changed much in a hundred years, and bars with loud music. Always the huge speakers.

There’s a sign by the side of the road pointing the way to the caves and then there’s a little hut where you pay 5000 kips. I don’t know if it’s an official hut, but we all paid just over half a dollar and followed a path across a stream and up to the caves where apparently some people stayed, according to a young boy who appeared from nowhere to accompany us. That was more or less all he told us, apart from that he’s fifteen and his name. God.
‘Scuse me, did you say God?’ yes he did, God.
And then he asked for money, which we were expecting, so I found out a dollar and Fanny looked for a dollar too, eight thousand kips. He asked for fifty thousand. We pointed out to him that’s ten times the entrance fee so he came down to forty,  then thirty, then twenty. Fanny refused to give any because he was asking so much and I gave him a dollar. He wasn’t very happy, but if he gets away with that once a day he’s probably earning a lot more than his dad ever did.
So beware God trying to extort money from you if you’re ever down this way.

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Where God hangs out and tries to extort money

There’s a pretty good Indian restaurant in this little village owned by some Indians and an excellent moustache.
Only the older man, the daughters are clean shaven, and so we took the opportunity to eat western food again.
We’d gone there the night previously actually and had an interesting night with two Australians who weren’t particularly weird, unusually. That was the night when I lost my phone but last night we went out with Fanny and Willy to the same place again.
We’d stopped off on the way back from the cave earlier for an aperitif
‘you do not do zis in England?’ they asked.
They’re soo French.
Yes, we’d stopped off at a cafe on the way back for an aperitif. I had a Beerlao, not being French, and being very very hot and sweaty, and there were hundreds of insects flying about the lights. And their wings kept falling off and they turned into little anty things and mated on the table. I had to put my cigarette pack on my glass. You don’t want that sort of thing going on in your beer, do you?

We had an really good Indian and went back to the bungalow thing on stilts by the river with gaps between the planks.
I was sat outside on the balcony for a while smoking and watching the lightning, like I said earlier, and the power went out.
Well the lights I saw across the river must have been a generator because there was still no power this morning and hence no atm. And we really wanted to leave for Luang Prabang.
There was an atm on the other bank and by the time we’d paid our hotel bill we didn’t have enough money for the bus but we thought we’d try the one of the way to the bus station. That one was out too and the bank was shut for labour day.
We had about 50 thousand kips and no idea how much the fare is so we carried on anyway. The fare to Luang Prabang is forty thousand each, about five dollars and we borrowed the rest from a Kiwi, which is the only bird that has its nostrils on the end of its beak, my brother tells me. Nice one Kiwi. It was going the same way as us and we said we’d give him the money back first atm we got to.
We hung around and around and around and finally the bus left. Only it’s not a bus, it’s a songthaw, like they have in Thailand, a Hyundai pickup about the size of a Hilux with benches for about twelve people on the back. At least there would be a breeze.
Will and Fanny turned up heading for somewhere else and we all hugged and promised to stay in touch. It was about a four hour journey and not as bad as the boat I think.
I was sat opposite a Lao man of about sixty. Lao people like to laugh, I may have said that, and he had all of the other Lao people on the bus laughing. He spoke no English but he’d look at us and grin and say something that we didn’t understand, but everyone else laughed. He was including us I think. He may have been saying we”re ugly and smelly for all we know, but they really don’t seem to be at all unkind.
There were three young girls on the bus, and they were preening themselves.
The slightly chubby one had some make up and a little mirror and they all put lipstick on and then covered their faces with dust masks so only their eyes were showing. Weird.
The mischievous older man would pull on the chubby girls sleeve when she wasn’t looking, and then turn away like it wasn’t him that had done it and then grin at us and later, when one of the girls fell asleep somehow, he took some ice from a flask of fish someone had bought along for the trip and he was going to put it down her top. We were laughing and encouraging him to be naughty but in the end he put it in her hand, and then quickly turned away. Weren’t me!
People are the same same everywhere and we know people just like that back home.

A woman and two young children got on the bus.
The women wear their babies around their necks in a sling and this one can’t have been more than six months old if that.
I don’t know that much about babies, never having watched one grow up but Nel reckoned that it’s development was far more advanced than a western child, the way she was mimicking her when she waved to the little thing, and it was definitely a she, don’t know how you can tell because they only really look like babies but she was definitely a little girl.

The bus rattled and bumped into Luang Prabang station and we looked for an atm.
The tuk tuk drivers were asking us where we wanted to go, but in a nice way and they told us that the nearest atm is about six km in town, so not knowing any better we had no choice but to go with him. Us and another three blokes who were looking for a place to stay, and stop off on the way so we could pay the fare.
We walked around a few guesthouses and looked at a few rooms and we’ve got a really lovely place, all dark wood and a bathroom that flushes, that you don’t have to soup water in with a plastic saucepan like in Cambodia and the last two places in Lao and it doesn’t smell like Satan’s arse in there. It’s one hundred thousand a night. He did say one hundred and twenty, and we said too much, and then he said one hundred if we promise not to use the aircon, and laughed. We agreed.
Lao people are even more laid back than our hippie mates back home on the canal. I wish I could find out more about Lao but it’s really difficult to get internet here.

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13 thoughts on “Muong Kai, where we meet some French people, get on a boat, God tries to extort money and we leave for Luang Prabang

  1. From Wikip…Happy Reading xx Laos ((i/ˈlaʊs/, /ˈlɑː.ɒs/, /ˈlɑː.oʊs/, or /ˈleɪ.ɒs/)[4][5][6] Lao Language: ສາທາລະນະລັດ ປະຊາທິປະໄຕ ປະຊາຊົນລາວ, pronounced [sǎː.tʰáː.laʔ.naʔ.lat páʔ.sáː.tʰiʔ.páʔ.tàj páʔ.sáː.són.láːw] Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao), officially the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, and Thailand to the west. Its population was estimated to be around 6.5 million in 2012.[1]

    Laos traces its history to the kingdom of Lan Xang, which existed from the 14th to the 18th century when it split into three separate kingdoms. In 1893, it became a French protectorate, with the three kingdoms, Luang Phrabang, Vientiane and Champasak, uniting to form what is now known as Laos. It briefly gained independence in 1945 after Japanese occupation, but returned to French rule until it was granted autonomy in 1949. Laos became independent in 1953, with a constitutional monarchy under Sisavang Vong. Shortly after independence, a long civil war ended the monarchy, when the Communist Pathet Lao movement came to power in 1975.

    Laos is a single-party socialist republic. The capital city is Vientiane. Other large cities include Luang Prabang, Savannakhet, and Pakse. The official language is Lao. Laos is a multiethnic country with the politically and culturally dominant Lao people making up approximately sixty percent of the population, mostly in the lowlands. Various Mon-Khmer groups, the Hmong, and other indigenous hill tribes, accounting for forty percent of the population, live in the foothills and mountains. Laos’ “strategy for development is based on generating electricity from its rivers and selling the power to its neighbours”, namely Thailand, China, and Vietnam.[7] Its economy is accelerating rapidly with the demands for its metals.[8] It is a member of the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), East Asia Summit and La Francophonie. Laos applied for membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1997, and on February 2, 2013 it was granted full membership.[9]

    PrehistoryIn 2009 an ancient skull was recovered from a cave in the Annamite Mountains in northern Laos; the skull is at least 46,000 years old, making it the oldest modern human fossil found to date in Southeast Asia.[12] Archaeological evidence suggests agriculturist society developed during the 4th millennia B.C.. Burial jars and other kinds of sepulchers suggest a complex society in which bronze objects appeared around 1500 B.C., and iron tools were known from 700 B.C. The proto-historic period is characterized by contact with Chinese and Indian civilizations. From the fourth to the eighth century, communities along the Mekong River began to form into townships, or Muang as they were called.[13]

    [edit] Lan XangMain article: Lan Xang

    Statue of Fa Ngum, founder of the Lan Xang kingdomLaos traces its history to the kingdom of Lan Xang (Million Elephants), founded in the 14th century, by a Lao prince, Fa Ngum, who took over Vientiane with 10,000 Khmer troops. Ngum was descended from a long line of Lao kings, tracing back to Khoun Boulom. He made Theravada Buddhism the state religion and Lan Xang prospered. Within 20 years of its formation, the kingdom expanded eastward to Champa and along the Annamite mountains in Vietnam. His ministers, unable to tolerate his ruthlessness, forced him into exile to the present-day Thai province of Nan in 1373,[14] where he later died. Fa Ngum’s eldest son, Oun Heuan, came to the throne under the name Samsenthai and reigned for 43 years. During his reign, Lan Xang became an important trade center. After his death in 1421, Lan Xang collapsed into warring factions for the next 100 years.

    In 1520, Photisarath came to the throne and moved the capital from Luang Phrabang to Vientiane to avoid Burmese invasion. Setthathirat became king in 1548, after his father was killed, and ordered the construction of what would become the symbol of Laos, That Luang. Setthathirat disappeared in the mountains on his way back from a military expedition into Cambodia and Lan Xang began to rapidly decline. It was not until 1637, when Sourigna Vongsa ascended the throne, that Lan Xang would further expand its frontiers. His reign is often regarded as Laos’s golden age. When he died, leaving Lan Xang without an heir, the kingdom divided into three principalities. Between 1763 and 1769, Burmese armies overran northern Laos and annexed Luang Phrabang, while Champasak eventually came under Siamese suzerainty.

    Chao Anouvong was installed as a vassal king of Vientiane by the Siamese. He encouraged a renaissance of Lao fine arts and literature and improved relations with Luang Phrabang. Although he was pressured to pay tribute to the Vietnamese, he rebelled against the Siamese. The rebellion failed and Vientiane was ransacked.[15] Anouvong was taken to Bangkok as a prisoner, where he later died.

    [edit] French Laos
    Pha That Luang in Vientiane is the national symbol of Laos.In the late 19th century, Luang Prabang was ransacked by the Chinese Black Flag Army.[16] France rescued King Oun Kham and added Luang Phrabang to the ‘Protectorate’ of French Indochina. Shortly after, the Kingdom of Champasak and the territory of Vientiane were also added to the protectorate. King Sisavang Vong of Luang Phrabang became ruler of a unified Laos and Vientiane once again became the capital. Laos never had any importance for France[17] other than as a buffer state between British-influenced Thailand and the more economically important Annam and Tonkin. During their rule, the French introduced the corvee, a system that forced every male Lao to contribute 10 days of manual labor per year to the colonial government. Laos produced tin, rubber, and coffee, but never accounted for more than 1% of French Indochina’s exports. By 1940, only 600 French citizens lived in Laos.[18]

    Following a brief Japanese occupation during World War II, the country declared its independence on 12 October 1945, but the French under Charles de Gaulle re-asserted control. In 1950 Laos was granted semi-autonomy as an “associated state” within the French Union. France remained in de facto control until 22 October 1953, when Laos gained full independence as a constitutional monarchy.

    [edit] Independence
    King Sisavang Vong of LaosMain articles: Kingdom of Laos and Laotian Civil War
    This section requires expansion. (November 2012)
    This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (October 2011)

    Pathet Lao soldiers in VientianeIn 1955, the U.S. Department of Defense created a special Programs Evaluation Office to replace French support of the Royal Lao Army against the communist Pathet Lao as part of the U.S. containment policy.

    In 1960, amidst a series of rebellions, fighting broke out between the Royal Lao Army and the Pathet Lao. A second Provisional Government of National Unity formed by Prince Souvanna Phouma in 1962 proved to be unsuccessful, and the situation steadily deteriorated into large scale civil war between the Royal Laotian government and the Pathet Lao. The Pathet Lao were backed militarily by the NVA and Vietcong.

    Laos was also dragged into the Vietnam War since parts of Laos were invaded and occupied by North Vietnam for use as a supply route for its war against the South. In response, the United States initiated a bombing campaign against the North Vietnamese positions, supported regular and irregular anticommunist forces in Laos and supported South Vietnamese incursions into Laos.

    In 1968 the North Vietnamese Army launched a multi-division attack to help the Pathet Lao to fight the Royal Lao Army. The attack resulted in the army largely demobilizing, leaving the conflict to irregular forces raised by the United States and Thailand.

    Massive aerial bombardment against Pathet Lao and NVA forces was carried out by the United States in prevent the collapse of Lao’s central government and to prevent the use of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It has been reported that Laos was hit by an average of one B‑52 bombload every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, between 1964 and 1973. U.S. bombers dropped more ordnance on Laos in this period than was dropped during the whole of the World War II. Of the 260 million bombs that rained down, particularly on Xiangkhouang Province on the Plain of Jars, some 80 million failed to explode, leaving a deadly legacy.[19] Laos is the most heavily bombed country, per capita, in the world. Because it was particularly heavily affected by cluster bombs during this war, Laos was a strong advocate of the Convention on Cluster Munitions to ban the weapons and assist victims, and hosted the First Meeting of States Parties to the convention in November 2010.

    In 1975, the Pathet Lao, along with Vietnam People’s Army and backed by the Soviet Union, overthrew the royalist Lao government, forcing King Savang Vatthana to abdicate on 2 December 1975. He later died in captivity.

    On 2 December 1975, after taking control of the country, the Pathet Lao government under Kaysone Phomvihane renamed the country as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and signed agreements giving Vietnam the right to station armed forces and to appoint advisers to assist in overseeing the country. Laos was requested in 1979 by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to end relations with the People’s Republic of China, leading to isolation in trade by China, the United States, and other countries.

    The conflict between Hmong rebels and the Pathet Lao continued in isolated pockets. The government of Laos has been accused of committing genocide against the Hmong in collaboration with the Vietnamese army,[20][21] with up to 100,000 killed out of a population of 400,000.[22][23] From 1975 to 1996, the United States resettled some 250,000 Lao refugees from Thailand, including 130,000 Hmong.[24]

    [edit] GeographyMain article: Geography of Laos

    Mekong River flowing through Luang Prabang
    Rice fields in LaosLaos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, and it lies mostly between latitudes 14° and 23°N (a small area is south of 14°), and longitudes 100° and 108°E. Its thickly forested landscape consists mostly of rugged mountains, the highest of which is Phou Bia at 2,818 metres (9,245 ft), with some plains and plateaus. The Mekong River forms a large part of the western boundary with Thailand, whereas the mountains of the Annamite Range form most of the eastern border with Vietnam and the Luang Prabang Range the northwestern border with the Thai highlands. There are two plateaux, the Xiangkhoang in the north and the Bolaven Plateau at the southern end. The climate is tropical and influenced by the monsoon pattern.[25]

    There is a distinct rainy season from May to November, followed by a dry season from December to April. Local tradition holds that there are three seasons (rainy, cold and hot) as the latter two months of the climatologically defined dry season are noticeably hotter than the earlier four months. The capital and largest city of Laos is Vientiane and other major cities include Luang Prabang, Savannakhet, and Pakse.[citation needed]

    In 1993, the Laos government set aside 21% of the nation’s land area for habitat conservation preservation.[26] The country is one of four in the opium poppy growing region known as the “Golden Triangle”. According to the October 2007 UNODC fact book “Opium Poppy Cultivation in South East Asia,” the poppy cultivation area was 15 square kilometres (5.8 sq mi), down from 18 square kilometres (6.9 sq mi) in 2006.

    Laos can be considered to consist of three geographical areas: north, central, and south.[27]

    [edit] Administrative divisionsMain articles: Provinces of Laos and Districts of Laos
    Laos is divided into 16 provinces (khoueng) and one prefecture (kampheng nakhon) which includes the capital city Vientiane (Nakhon Louang Viangchan). Provinces are further divided into districts (muang) and then villages (ban). An ‘urban’ village is essentially a town.[27]

    № Subdivisions Capital Area (km²) Population
    1 Attapeu Attapeu (Samakkhixay District) 10,320 114,300
    2 Bokeo Ban Houayxay (Houayxay District) 6,196 149,700
    3 Bolikhamsai Paksan (Paksane District) 14,863 214,900
    4 Champasak Pakse (Pakse District) 15,415 575,600
    5 Hua Phan Xam Neua (Xamneua District) 16,500 322,200
    6 Khammouane Thakhek (Thakhek District) 16,315 358,800
    7 Luang Namtha Luang Namtha (Namtha District) 9,325 150,100
    8 Luang Prabang Luang Prabang (Louangprabang District) 16,875 408,800
    9 Oudomxay Muang Xay (Xay District) 15,370 275,300
    10 Phongsali Phongsali (Phongsaly District) 16,270 199,900
    11 Sayabouly Sayabouly (Xayabury District) 16,389 382,200
    12 Salavan Salavan (Salavan District) 10,691 336,600
    13 Savannakhet Savannakhet (Khanthabouly District) 21,774 721,500
    14 Sekong Sekong (Lamarm District) 7,665 83,600
    15 Vientiane Pref. Vientiane City 3,920 726,000
    16 Vientiane Prov. Muang Phon-Hong (Phonhong District) 15,927 373,700
    17 Xieng Khouang Phonsavan (Pek District) 15,880 229,521
    A clickable map of Laos exhibiting its provinces and prefecture.

    [edit] Environmental problemsLaos is increasingly suffering from environmental problems, with deforestation a particularly significant issue,[28] as expanding commercial exploitation of the forests, plans for additional hydroelectric facilities, foreign demand for wild animals and nonwood forest products for food and traditional medicines, and a growing population all create increasing pressure.

    The United Nations Development Programme warns that: “Protecting the environment and sustainable use of natural resources in Lao PDR is vital for poverty reduction and economic growth.”[29]

    In April 2011, The Independent newspaper reported that Laos had started work on the controversial Xayaburi Dam on the Mekong River without getting formal approval. Environmentalists say the dam will adversely affect 60 million people and Cambodia and Vietnam—concerned about the flow of water further downstream—are officially opposed to the project. The Mekong River Commission, a regional intergovernmental body designed to promote the “sustainable management” of the river, famed for its giant catfish, carried out a study that warned if Xayaburi and subsequent schemes went ahead, it would “fundamentally undermine the abundance, productivity and diversity of the Mekong fish resources”.[30] Neighbouring Vietnam warned that the dam would harm the Mekong Delta, which is the home to nearly 20 million people and supplies around 50% of Vietnam’s rice output and over 70% of both its seafood and fruit outputs.[31]

    Milton Osborne, Visiting Fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy who has written widely on the Mekong, warns: “The future scenario is of the Mekong ceasing to be a bounteous source of fish and guarantor of agricultural richness, with the great river below China becoming little more than a series of unproductive lakes.” [32]

    Illegal logging is also a major problem. Environmental groups estimate that 500,000 cubic metres (18,000,000 cu ft) of logs find their way from Laos to Vietnam every year, with most of the furniture eventually exported to western countries.[33]

    A 1992 government survey indicated that forests occupied about 48% of Laos’ land area. Forest coverage decreased to 41% in a 2002 survey. Lao authorities have said that, in reality, forest coverage might be no more than 35% because of various development projects such as dams, on top of the losses to illegal logging.[34]

    [edit] Government and politicsMain articles: Politics of Laos and Foreign relations of Laos

    Thongsing ThammavongThe Lao People’s Democratic Republic, along with China, Cuba, and Vietnam, is one of the world’s four remaining socialist states espousing communism. The only legal political party is the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP). The head of state is President Choummaly Sayasone, who is also the General Secretary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. The head of government is Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, who is also a senior member of the Politburo of Revolutionary Party. Government policies are determined by the party through the all-powerful eleven-member Political Bureau and the 61-member Central Committee. Important government decisions are vetted by the Council of Ministers.

    Laos’s first, French-written and monarchical constitution was promulgated on 11 May 1947 and declared Laos to be an independent state within the French Union. The revised constitution of 11 May 1957 omitted reference to the French Union, though close educational, health and technical ties with the former colonial power persisted. The 1957 document was abrogated on 3 December 1975, when a communist People’s Republic was proclaimed. A new constitution was adopted in 1991 and enshrined a “leading role” for the LPRP. In 1990, deputy minister for science & technology Thongsouk Saysangkhi resigned from the government and party, calling for political reform. He died in captivity in 1998.[35]

    In 1992, elections were held for a new 85-seat National Assembly with members elected by secret ballot to five-year terms. This National Assembly, which essentially acts as a rubber stamp for the LPRP, approves all new laws, although the executive branch retains authority to issue binding decrees. The most recent elections took place in April 2011. The assembly was expanded to 99 members in 1997, to 115 members in 2006 and finally to 132 members during the 2011 elections.[citation needed]

    [edit] Infrastructure
    Rivers are an important means of transport in Laos.Main articles: Transport in Laos and Telecommunications in Laos
    The main international airports are Vientiane’s Wattay International Airport and Luang Prabang International Airport with Pakse International Airport also having a few international flights. The national airline is Lao Airlines. Other carriers serving the country include Bangkok Airways, Vietnam Airlines, AirAsia, Thai Airways International and China Eastern Airlines.

    Much of the country lacks adequate infrastructure. Laos has no railways, except a short link to connect Vientiane with Thailand over the Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge. A short portage railway, the Don Det–Don Khon narrow-gauge railway was built by the French in Champasak Province but has been closed since the 1940s. In the late 1920s, work began on the Thakhek–Tan Ap railway that would have run between Thakhek, Khammuan Province and Tan Ap Railway Station, Quang Binh Province, Vietnam through the Mua Gia Pass. However, the scheme was aborted in the 1930s. The major roads connecting the major urban centres, in particular Route 13, have been significantly upgraded in recent years, but villages far from major roads can be reached only through unpaved roads that may not be accessible year-round.

    There is limited external and internal telecommunication, but mobile phones have become widespread in urban centres. In many rural areas electricity is at least partly available. Songthaews (pick-up trucks with benches) are used in the country for long-distance and local public transport.

    Wattay International Airport in VientianeLaos has made particularly noteworthy progress increasing access to sanitation and has already met its 2015 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target.[36] Laos’ predominantly rural (68%, source: Department of Statistics, Ministry of Planning and Investment, 2009) population makes investing in sanitation difficult. In 1990 only 8% of the rural population had access to improved sanitation.[36] Access rose rapidly from 10% in 1995 to 38% in 2008. Between 1995 and 2008 approximately 1,232,900 more people had access to improved sanitation in rural areas.[36] Laos’ progress is notable in comparison to similar developing countries.[36] This success is in part due to small-scale independent providers emerging in a spontaneous manner or having been promoted by public authorities. Laotian authorities have recently developed an innovative regulatory framework for Public-Private partnership contracts signed with small enterprises, in parallel with more conventional regulation of State-owned water enterprises.[37]

    [edit] MilitaryMain article: Lao People’s Army
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    This section is empty. You can help by adding to it. (November 2012)

    [edit] Hmong conflictThe government of Laos has been accused of committing genocide against that country’s Hmong ethnic minority.[20]

    Some Hmong groups fought as CIA-backed units on the Royalist side in the Laos civil war. After the Pathet Lao took over the country in 1975, the conflict continued in isolated pockets. In 1977, a communist newspaper promised the party would hunt down the “American collaborators” and their families “to the last root”.[38]

    As many as 200,000 Hmong went into exile in Thailand, with many ending up in the USA. A number of Hmong fighters hid out in mountains in Xiangkhouang Province for many years, with a remnant emerging from the jungle in 2003.[38]

    In 1989, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), with the support of the United States government, instituted the Comprehensive Plan of Action, a program to stem the tide of Indochinese refugees from Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Under the plan, the status of the refugees was to be evaluated through a screening process. Recognized asylum seekers were to be given resettlement opportunities, while the remaining refugees were to be repatriated under guarantee of safety.

    Hmong girls in Laos in 1973After talks with the UNHCR and the Thai government, Laos agreed to repatriate the 60,000 Lao refugees living in Thailand, including several thousand Hmong people. Very few of the Lao refugees, however, were willing to return voluntarily.[39] Pressure to resettle the refugees grew as the Thai government worked to close its remaining refugee camps. While some Hmong people returned to Laos voluntarily, with development assistance from UNHCR, allegations of forced repatriation surfaced.[40] Of those Hmong who did return to Laos, some quickly escaped back to Thailand, describing discrimination and brutal treatment at the hands of Lao authorities.[41]

    In 1993, Vue Mai, a former Hmong soldier who had been recruited by the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok to return to Laos as proof of the repatriation program’s success, disappeared in Vientiane. According to the U.S. Committee for Refugees, he was arrested by Lao security forces and was never seen again.

    Following the Vue Mai incident, debate over the Hmong’s planned repatriation to Laos intensified greatly, especially in the U.S., where it drew strong opposition from many American conservatives and some human rights advocates. In a 23 October 1995 National Review article, Michael Johns, the former Heritage Foundation foreign policy expert and Republican White House aide, labeled the Hmong’s repatriation a Clinton administration “betrayal”, describing the Hmong as a people “who have spilled their blood in defense of American geopolitical interests.”[42] Debate on the issue escalated quickly. In an effort to halt the planned repatriation, the Republican-led U.S. Senate and House of Representatives both appropriated funds for the remaining Thailand-based Hmong to be immediately resettled in the United States; Clinton, however, responded by promising a veto of the legislation.

    In their opposition of the repatriation plans, Republicans also challenged the Clinton administration’s position that the Laotian government was not systematically violating Hmong human rights. U.S. Representative Steve Gunderson (R-WI), for instance, told a Hmong gathering: “I do not enjoy standing up and saying to my government that you are not telling the truth, but if that is necessary to defend truth and justice, I will do that.”[42] Republicans also called several Congressional hearings on alleged persecution of the Hmong in Laos in an apparent attempt to generate further support for their opposition to the Hmong’s repatriation to Laos.

    Although some accusations of forced repatriation were denied,[43] thousands of Hmong people refused to return to Laos. In 1996 as the deadline for the closure of Thai refugee camps approached, and under mounting political pressure, the United States agreed to resettle Hmong refugees who passed a new screening process.[44] Around 5,000 Hmong people who were not resettled at the time of the camp closures sought asylum at Wat Tham Krabok, a Buddhist monastery in central Thailand where more than 10,000 Hmong refugees had already been living. The Thai government attempted to repatriate these refugees, but the Wat Tham Krabok Hmong refused to leave and the Lao government refused to accept them, claiming they were involved in the illegal drug trade and were of non-Lao origin.[45]

    In 2003, following threats of forcible removal by the Thai government, the United States, in a significant victory for the Hmong, agreed to accept 15,000 of the refugees.[46] Several thousand Hmong people, fearing forced repatriation to Laos if they were not accepted for resettlement in the United States, fled the camp to live elsewhere within Thailand where a sizable Hmong population has been present since the 19th century.[47]

    In 2004 and 2005, thousands of Hmong fled from the jungles of Laos to a temporary refugee camp in the Thai province of Phetchabun.[48] These Hmong refugees, many of whom are descendants of the former-CIA Secret Army and their relatives, claim that they have been attacked by both the Lao and Vietnamese military forces operating inside Laos as recently as June 2006. The refugees claim that attacks against them have continued almost unabated since the war officially ended in 1975, and have become more intense in recent years.

    Lending further support to earlier claims that the government of Laos was persecuting the Hmong, filmmaker Rebecca Sommer documented first-hand accounts in her documentary, Hunted Like Animals,[49] and in a comprehensive report which includes summaries of claims made by the refugees and was submitted to the UN in May 2006.[50]

    The European Union,[51] UNHCHR, and international groups have since spoken out about the forced repatriation.[51][52][53][54] The Thai foreign ministry has said that it will halt deportation of Hmong refugees held in Detention Centers Nong Khai, while talks are underway to resettle them in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and the United States.[55]

    For the time being, countries willing to resettle the refugees are hindered to proceed with immigration and settlement procedures because the Thai administration does not grant them access to the refugees. Plans to resettle additional Hmong refugees in the United States have been complicated by provisions of President George W. Bush’s Patriot Act and Real ID Act, under which Hmong veterans of the Secret War, who fought on the side of the United States, are classified as terrorists because of their historical involvement in armed conflict.[56]

    On 27 December 2009, The New York Times reported that the Thai military was preparing to forcibly return 4,000 Hmong asylum seekers to Laos by the end of the year:[57] the BBC later reported that repatriations had started.[58] Both United States and United Nations officials have protested this action. Outside government representatives have not been allowed to interview this group over the last three years. Médecins Sans Frontières has refused to assist the Hmong refugees because of what they have called “increasingly restrictive measures” taken by the Thai military.[59] The Thai military jammed all cellular phone reception and disallowed any foreign journalists from the Hmong camps.[58]

    [edit] Human rightsMain article: Human rights in Laos
    The Constitution that was promulgated in 1991 and amended in 2003 contains most key safeguards for human rights. For example, in Article 8 it makes it clear that Laos is a multiethnic state and is committed to equality between ethnic groups. The Constitution also has provisions for gender equality and freedom of religion, for freedom of speech, press and assembly. On 25 September 2009, Laos ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, nine years after signing the treaty. The stated policy objectives of both the Lao government and international donors remain focused toward achieving sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction.[60][61]

    However, Amnesty International has raised concerns about the ratification record of the Laos Government on human rights standards and its lack of cooperation with the UN human rights mechanisms and legislative measures which impact negatively on human rights. It has also raised concerns in relation to freedom of expression, poor prison conditions, restrictions on freedom of religions, protection of refugees and asylum-seekers and the death penalty.[62]

    In October 1999, 30 young people were arrested for attempting to display posters calling for peaceful economic, political and social change in Laos. Five of them were arrested and subsequently sentenced to up to 10 years imprisonment on charges of treason. One has since died due to his treatment by prison guards, while one has been released. The surviving three men should have been released by October 2009, but their whereabouts remains unknown.[62]

    Laos and Vietnamese troops were reported to have raped and killed four Christian Hmong women in Xieng Khouang province in 2011, according to US campaign group The Centre for Public Policy Analysis. CPPA also said other Christian and independent Buddhist and animist believers were being persecuted.[63][64]

    In December 2012, local activist Sombath Somphone was snatched from a street in Vientiane, prompting fears from NGOs and environmentalists of a government crackdown.[65]

    [edit] EconomyMain article: Economy of Laos

    About 80% of Laos population practices subsistence agriculture.The Lao economy depends heavily on investment and trade with its neighbours, Thailand, Vietnam, and, especially in the north, China. Pakxe has also experienced growth based on cross-border trade with Thailand and Vietnam. In 2011, the Lao Securities Exchange began trading. In 2012, the government initiated the creation of the Laos Trade Portal, a website incorporating all information traders need to import and export goods into the country.

    Subsistence agriculture still accounts for half of the GDP and provides 80% of employment. Only 4.01% of the country is arable land, and a mere 0.34% used as permanent crop land,[66] the lowest percentage in the Greater Mekong Subregion.[67] Rice dominates agriculture, with about 80% of the arable land area used for growing rice.[68] Approximately 77% of Lao farm households are self-sufficient in rice.[69]

    Through the development, release and widespread adoption of improved rice varieties, and through economic reforms, production has increased by an annual rate of 5% between 1990 and 2005,[70] and Lao PDR achieved a net balance of rice imports and exports for the first time in 1999.[71] Lao PDR may have the greatest number of rice varieties in the Greater Mekong Subregion. Since 1995 the Lao government has been working with the International Rice Research Institute of the Philippines to collect seed samples of each of the thousands of rice varieties found in Laos.[72]

    Morning market in VientianeThe economy receives development aid from the IMF, ADB and other international sources; and also foreign direct investment for development of the society, industry, hydropower and mining (most notably of copper and gold). Tourism is the fastest-growing industry in the country. Economic development in Laos has been hampered by brain drain, with a skilled emigration rate of 37.4% in 2000.[73]

    Laos is rich in mineral resources and imports petroleum and gas. Metallurgy is an important industry, and the government hopes to attract foreign investment to develop the substantial deposits of coal, gold, bauxite, tin, copper and other valuable metals. In addition, the country’s plentiful water resources and mountainous terrain enable it to produce and export large quantities of hydroelectric energy. Of the potential capacity of approximately 18,000 megawatts, around 8,000 megawatts have been committed for exporting to Thailand and Vietnam.[74]

    The country’s most widely recognised product may well be Beerlao which is exported to a number of countries including neighbours Cambodia and Vietnam. It is produced by the Lao Brewery Company.

    [edit] TourismMain article: Tourism in Laos

    View from near the sanctuary on the main upper level of Wat Phu, looking back towards the Mekong RiverThe tourism sector has grown rapidly, from 80,000 international visitors in 1990, to 1.876 million in 2010.[75] Tourism is expected to contribute US$679.1 million to gross national product in 2010, rising to US$1,585.7 million by 2020. In 2010, one in every 10.9 jobs was in the tourism sector. Export earnings from international visitors and tourism goods are expected to generate 15.5% of total exports or US$270.3 million in 2010, growing in nominal terms to US$484.2 million (12.5% of total) in 2020.[76]

    Hmong girls on the Plain of JarsLaos has become popular with tourists for its relaxed style of living and for retaining elements of the “original Asia” lost elsewhere. The official tourism slogan is “Simply Beautiful”. The main attractions for tourists include Buddhist culture and colonial architecture in Luang Prabang; gastronomy and ancient temples in the capital of Vientiane; backpacking in Muang Ngoi Neua and Vang Vieng; ancient and modern culture and history in The Plain of Jars region (main article: Phonsavan); Laos Civil War history in Sam Neua; Trekking and visiting hill tribes in a number of areas including Phongsaly and Luang Namtha; spotting tigers and other wildlife in Nam Et-Phou Louey; caves and waterfalls near Thakhek; relaxation, the Irrawaddy dolphin and Khone Phapheng Falls at Si Phan Don or, as they are known in English, the Four Thousand Islands; Wat Phu, an ancient Khmer temple complex; and the Bolaven Plateau for waterfalls and coffee.

    Luang Prabang and Wat Phu are both UNESCO World Heritage sites, with the Plain of Jars expected to join them once more work to clear UXO has been completed. Major festivals include Laos New Year which is celebrated around 13–15 April and involves a water festival similar but more subdued than that of Thailand and other South-East Asian countries.

    The Lao National Tourism Administration, related government agencies and the private sector are working together to realise the vision put forth in the country’s National Ecotourism Strategy and Action Plan. This includes decreasing the environmental and cultural impact of tourism; increasing awareness in the importance of ethnic groups and biological diversity; providing a source of income to conserve, sustain and manage the Lao protected area network and cultural heritage sites; and emphasising the need for tourism zoning and management plans for sites that will be developed as ecotourism destinations.[77] FruitFriends is a non-profit organisation promoting tourism through immersion programs and this with minimal impact on environment and culture.

    Laos is known for its silk and local handicraft product, both of which are on display in Luang Prabang’s night market, among other places. Another speciality is mulberry tea.

    [edit] DemographicsMain article: Demographics of Laos

    Buddhist monks collecting alms at dawn in Luang PrabangThe term “Laotian” does not necessarily refer to the Lao language, ethnic Lao people, language or customs, but is a political term that also includes the non-ethnic Lao groups within Laos and identifies them as “Laotian” because of their political citizenship. Laos has the youngest population of any country in Asia with a median age of 19.3 years.

    Laos’ population was estimated at 6.5 million in 2012, dispersed unevenly across the country. Most people live in valleys of the Mekong River and its tributaries. Vientiane prefecture, the capital and largest city, had about 740,010 residents in 2008. The country’s population density was 27/km2.[1]

    [edit] EthnicityMain article: Lao people
    The people of Laos are often considered by their altitudinal distribution (lowlands, midlands and highlands) as this approximates ethnic groups.

    [edit] Lao Loum (lowland people)60% of the country’s people are ethnic Lao, the principal lowland inhabitants and the politically and culturally dominant group. The Lao belong to the Tai linguistic group who began migrating southward from China in the first millennium AD. 10% belong to other “lowland” groups, which together with the Lao people make up the Lao Loum.

    [edit] Lao Theung (midland people)
    A Laotian woman and her childIn the central and southern mountains, Mon-Khmer tribes, known as Lao Theung or mid-slope Laotians, predominate. Other terms are Khmu, Khamu (Kammu) or Kha as the Lao Loum refer to them as indicating their Austroasiatic origins. However the latter is considered pejorative, meaning ‘slave’. They were the indigenous inhabitants of northern Laos. Some Vietnamese, Chinese and Thailand Thai minorities remain, particularly in the towns, but many left after independence in the late 1940s, many of whom relocated either to Vietnam, Hong Kong, or to France. Lao Theung constitute about 30% of the population.[78]

    [edit] Lao Soung (highland people)Hill people and minority cultures of Laos such as the Hmong, Yao (Mien), Dao, Shan, and several Tibeto-Burman speaking peoples have lived in isolated regions of Laos for many years. Mountain/hill tribes of mixed ethno/cultural-linguistic heritage are found in northern Laos which include the Lua and Khmu people who are indigenous to Laos. Today, the Lua people are considered endangered. Collectively, they are known as Lao Soung or highland Laotians. Lao Soung account for only about 10% of the population.[79]

    [edit] Leaders of ethnic minorities in LaosOng Keo
    Ong Kommandam
    Pa Chay Vue
    [edit] Languages
    Buddhist Monks in front of Wat Sen, Luang Prabang
    Buddhist shrine in VientianeThe official and dominant language is Lao, a tonal language of the Tai linguistic group. However only slightly more than half of the population can speak Lao, the remainder speaking various ethnic minority languages, particularly in rural areas. The written language is based on Khmer writing script. Languages like Khmu and Hmong are spoken by minorities, particularly in the midland and highland areas.

    French is still commonly used in government and commerce and over a third of Laos’ students are educated through the medium of French with French being compulsory for all other students. Throughout the country signage is bilingual in Laotian and French, with French being predominant. English, the language of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has become increasingly studied in recent years.[80]

    [edit] HealthMain article: Health in Laos
    Male life expectancy at birth was at 60.85 and female life expectancy was at 64.76 in 2012.[81] Healthy life expectancy was at 54 in 2006.[82] In 2008, 43% of the population did not have access to an improved water resource.[81] Government expenditure on health is at about 4% of the GDP.[82] Its amount was at US$ 18 (PPP) in 2006.[82]

    [edit] ReligionMain article: Religion in Laos
    Of the people of Laos 67% are Theravada Buddhist, 1.5% are Christian, and 31.5% are other or unspecified according to the 2005 census.[81] Buddhism has long been one of the most important social forces in Laos.

    Theravada Buddhism along with the common animism practiced among the mountain tribes, coexists peacefully with spirit worship. Christians live mainly in the Vientiane area, Christian missionary work is regulated by the government.

    Police in Savannakhet province have held three pastors since Feb. 5, 2012 on suspicion of “spreading Christianity” because the pastors made copies of a Christian movie at a local duplication shop.

    http://www.persecution.org/category/countries/asia/laos/

    [edit] EducationMain article: Education in Laos
    The adult literacy rate exceeds two thirds.[83] The male literacy rate exceeds the female literacy rate.[82] In 2004 the net primary enrollment rate was at 84%.[82] The National University of Laos is the Laos state’s public university. The total literacy rate is 73% (2010 estimate).

    [edit] CultureMain article: Culture of Laos
    See also: Lao art, Lao cuisine, Dance and theatre of Laos, List of festivals in Laos, and Music of Laos

    An example of Lao cuisine
    Lao dancers during New YearTheravada Buddhism is a dominant influence in Lao culture. It is reflected throughout the country from language to the temple and in art, literature, performing arts, etc. Many elements of Lao culture predate Buddhism, however. For example, Laotian music is dominated by its national instrument, the khaen, a type of bamboo pipe that has prehistoric origins. The khaen traditionally accompanied the singer in lam, the dominant style of folk music. Among the various lam styles, the lam saravane is probably the most popular.

    Sticky Rice is a characteristic staple food and has cultural and religious significance to the Lao people. Sticky rice is generally preferred over jasmine rice, and sticky rice cultivation and production is thought to have originated in Laos. There are many traditions and rituals associated with rice production in different environments, and among many ethnic groups. For example, Khammu farmers in Luang Prabang plant the rice variety Khao Kam in small quantities near the hut in memory of dead parents, or at the edge of the rice field to indicate that parents are still alive.[84]

    [edit] MarriagePolygamy is officially a crime in Laos, though the penalty is minor. The constitution and Family Code bars the legal recognition of polygamous marriages, stipulating that monogamy is to be the principal way to contract a marriage in the country. Polygamy, however, is still customary among some Hmong people.[85]

    [edit] MediaAll newspapers are published by the government, including two foreign language papers: the English-language daily Vientiane Times and the French-language weekly Le Rénovateur. Additionally, the Khao San Pathet Lao, the country’s official news agency, publishes English and French versions of its eponymous paper. Laos currently has nine daily newspapers, 90 magazines, 43 radio stations and 32 TV stations operating throughout the country.[86] Nhân Dân (The People) and the Xinhua News Agency are the only foreign media organisations permitted so far to open offices in Laos. Both opened bureaus in Vientiane in 2011.[87] Internet cafes are now common in the major urban centres and are popular especially with the younger generation.

    [edit] Sport
    The largest Stadium in Laos, New Laos National Stadium.The martial art of Muay Lao, the national sport,[citation needed] is a form of kickboxing similar to other styles of Southeast Asia such as Thai Muay Thai, Burmese Lethwei, Malaysian Tomoi and Cambodian Pradal Serey.

    Football in Laos has grown up to be the most popular sport for Lao people. The Lao League is now the professional league for association football clubs in Laos. Since the start of the League Lao Army FC (8 Titles) has been the most successful club with the highest championship wins

    • Thanks for your kind words, we’re back in the UK now so I won’t be writing any more of that trip but there’s another 67 posts there for you to read.
      When I get the chance I will edit and bind it into a diary. Many people have suggested that I try to publish it and maybe I will.
      Do pass it on if you have friends who might enjoy it.
      Thanks again.

      Andy

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      Thanks so much for your kind words. It has been a while now since we were in Asia, my wife and I but it is good to know that my observations are useful to you.
      Very warm regards to you from cold and damp England

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