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  • 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.

  • *Nope punch*

  • 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.

  • Let's begin.

  • 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.

  • Haha, analyze.

  • 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!

  • Thanks, Nicole!

  • 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?

  • Suwannaphumaham

  • 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

  • Monkeys

  • Sun Bears

  • Tigers

  • Monitor Lizards

  • Marble Cats

  • 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.

  • (French)

  • 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.