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10 interesting facts about Laos

10 interesting facts about Laos

We knew absolutely nothing about Laos before planning our trip here. It’s often compared to Thailand because of its tied history, when the former Thai Siam Empire ruled not so long ago.

Yet, through our travels in this little known country, we discovered several quite distinctive and remarkable facts about Laos.

#1 The highest consumers of sticky rice (“khao niaow”)

The Laotians are the highest consumers of sticky rice (khao niaow) in the world. They refer to themselves as luk khao niaow meaning, “children of sticky rice”.

Stefan with a Laotian family

Stefan posing with the luk khao niaow (children of the sticky rice)!

A few hundred years ago when rice-farming methods changed, the Laotians stuck to their roots and continued farming the glutinous sticky rice. This has prevailed and so sticky rice remains a fundamental aspect of every meal in Laos.

Facts about Laos: Stefan with buffalo laap and sticky rice

Stefan showing off his freshly made buffalo laap with of course sticky rice

#2 Laos is the most heavily bombed place in the world

Laos is the most heavily bombed place by capital as a result of US bombings during the Vietnam War. For 9 years (1964-1973), the US dropped over 2 million tons of bombs across Laos and around 30% of them didn’t explode.

This has today left Laos with a high number of unexploded bombs, rendering most of the land unusable for farming. There are frequent sad stories of village children discovering what looks like a toy metal object near their school and without knowing better, play with it and it explodes in their face, killing them and those around.

We highly advise all travellers to Laos to visit the COPE centre in Vientiane and the UXO Laos Information Centre in Luang Prabang to understand more about this harrowing aspect of the country.

Statue at the COPE centre in Vientiane

This sculpture at the COPE centre’s entrance is made from 500kg of UXO, including cluster bombs in memory of those who have been injured and lost their lives from UXOs

#3 Beerlao: one of the best beers in Asia: Beerlao

Beerlao is the award winning national beer of Laos made from Jasmine rice and yeast imported from Germany.

Beerlao won the Monde Selection gold quality awards in 2006 and 2010, and received silver in 2003. Beerlao also won the Russian Osiris Beer Festival in June 2005, beating 40 other brews to take silver prize.

Beerlao has also been reported quite extensively in publications like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. It is popular outside of Laos, particularly in Cambodia and Thailand.

So, a good excuse to have a few to wash down all the laaps and other yummy foods in Laos.

Sebastien enjoying a Beerlao

Sebastien enjoying a Beerlao in Vang Vieng

#4 Pounding my (ahem!) KHOK!

(This just appealed to our childish toilet humour more than anything else…) In Laos, a pestle and mortar is called a khok (!) and a khok is a staple utensil in every kitchen.

During our cooking class at the Tamarind Cooking School in Luang Prabang, we had to place the relevant ingredients into the khoks and pound them into a paste in order to produce most of the dishes we were aiming to prepare, such as the yummy jeow spice sauce.

Stefan took to pounding his khok rather enthusiastically!

#5 Laotian coffee (kaa-feh Lao) served in a plastic bag

Lao coffee is delicious and not as internationally famous as it should be. It is what tea is to Sri Lanka and is in fact Laos’ biggest agricultural export.

A traditional Laotian iced coffee from the street stalls is served with a large dollop of condensed milk at the bottom, in a plastic bag with lots of ice and a straw:

Iced coffee in a plastic bag

Stefan tucking into a refreshing iced Laotian coffee in Vientiane served in a plastic bag of ice cubes

#6 The Lao People’s Democratic Republic: a Communist state

Laos is one of the world’s 5 remaining ‘communist’ countries (alongside North Korea, China, Cuba and Vietnam). After the civil war ended in 1975, the communist government over threw the monarchy and has been ruling since.

The official name became the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and the red communist flag with hammer and sickle can usually be seen flying alongside the blue & red flag of Laos:

The communist flag flying high in Luang Prabang

The communist flag can usually be seen flying alongside the main flag of Laos

#7 The nationwide midnight curfew

In Laos there is an official nationwide midnight curfew: another sign of it being ruled by a ‘communist’ government. In practice, this is not enforced on the people but more on businesses.

We met gay local called Somphorn, who owns Lao Lao Garden in Luang Prabang who explained to us that the midnight curfew is most strictly enforced against business in Luang Prabang to help it retain its UNESCO status.

Businesses open past the midnight curfew have usually obtained a ‘special licence’ (ie bribed the police enough to let them stay open).

The midnight curfew in Laos

The midnight curfew in Laos is more strictly enforced in Luang Prabang

#8 The biggest papayas ever!

We love papayas. We went papaya crazy on the beach on Thoddoo island in the Maldives and again in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar. But nowhere were they as big as the ones we encountered in Laos.

Every fruit seller we in Laos seemed to sell the largest papayas we’ve ever seen. And we loved it!

Stefan astonished by the gigantic papayas in Laos

Stefan astonished by the gigantic papayas in Laos: the biggest we’ve encountered anywhere!

#9 Champa: the national flower of Laos

The champa is the white national flower of Laos. It is considered sacred and respected by the Laotians. We noticed it just after crossing the Fourth Friendship Bridge on the “Welcome to Laos” sign as you cross over from Thailand:

Welcome to Laos sign after one of the Thai/Laos Friendship Bridges

Notice the white champa flowers on this Welcome to Laos sign

In Laos, a lot of places are named with the name Champa. For example, in Vientiane, we stayed at the Moonlight Champa Guesthouse and nearby, we noticed this cute sign outside a school:

A cute champa sign in Vientiane

A cute champa sign outside a school in Vientiane

#10 The most expensive postage stamps!

We like to send postcards to our family back home from each country we visit. From all the countries we’ve visited to date, the stamps in Laos were the most expensive.

One stamp for a postcard to Europe cost 13,000 kips (around £1 / $1.60).

An expensive Laotian postage stamp

The postage stamps in Laos were the most expensive we’ve encountered on our travels to date

You can read more about our experiences discovering food in Laos and watch our Laos travel video.

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10 Comments

  1. Got to Love the Iced coffee in Asia. We think it’s the best in the world and still dream of it to this day. Oh, and Love your expertise with the Khok! You used it so effectively! 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks Chelsea! Totally agree about the Asian coffee. Glad you enjoyed my pounding – I still blush!

      Reply
  2. Wait, coffee from a bag?! Haha! I’ve just browsed to a few of your Laos articles and it seems to be an extremely fascinating country!

    Reply
    • Yes yes – Lao coffee is very special! As is the rest of this lovely country 🙂

      Reply
  3. I actually randomly made a friend from there. Very nice people.

    Reply
    • Nice to hear!

      Reply
  4. Hi, guys! Thanks for interesting blogs. Could you advice me with a nice tour operator in Laos,?

    Reply
    • Unfortunately not. We travelled in Laos independently. But would definitely check out Tripadvisor for best ones based on reviews if we were to use a tour operator.

      Reply
      • Thanks Stefan,

        did you drive yourself?
        Tripad I.ve checked, but not so promising…

        Pepi

        Reply
        • Lol – no! We not brave enough to drive in Asia!!!

          Reply

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