Firstly, Laohaus is a portmanteau – an original blending of Laos, the Southeast Asian country, and haus the German techno dance muzik. Half of that was correct, but before we ask the question: “What is haus?” we must answer the question at hand: “What is Laos?”

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Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, flanked on all sides by Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, and China. Stretching through Laos is the mighty and important Mekong River, the provider of fish, the fierce and natural border that has broken Southeast Asia up since the beginning. Laos retains many vestiges of Indian influence, practicing Theravada Buddhism, and using the Sanskrit alphabet in the languages written form. Its central inland position has made Laos a cultural confluence, but also has meant that it has been fraught with conflict as far back as it exists in the eyes of history.

The twentieth century alone saw Laos perpetually in turmoil, beset by colonial occupation, military occupation, and civil war. In the late 1800’s France added Laos to the French protectorate in the aftermath of the Franco-Siamese war – wherein Laos essentially traded being a vassal state of the Siamese Empire (Thailand) for being a strategically useful location for France to keep an eye on its other more economically important colonies in the region. During the Second World War, Laos was at some time or another occupied by Vichy France, Free France, Thailand, Japan, and Chinese nationalist armies.  After that ordeal, in 1953, Laos gained independence as a Constitutional Monarchy, but its problems were just gaining steam.

The United States began to take an interest in Laos around this time to keep an eye on what-the-Communism was going on in China, and then in Vietnam. To make things worse, the Pathet Lao, the Lao Communist resistance, originally formed in opposition to French colonialism, became substantially more active during this time. Containing an organized Communist army backed by the Vietcong, Laos received a different kind of attention from the United States during the Vietnam War. American Forces used Laos strategically to mobilize troops into Vietnam, as well as periodically attacking Pathet Lao forces. With the typical delicate approach the United States has taken toward military intervention and foreign affairs, Laos was mostly used as a place to empty munitions after bombing runs in Vietnam.  During this time, the U.S. dropped two million tonnes of explosives on Laos – almost equivalent to the amount of bombs dropped in Europe and Asia in the entire Second World War. Approximately 80 million of these bombs failed to explode, littering the country with live munitions that periodically explode into the present killing about 50 people per year.

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Ruins of Muang Khoun, the former capital of the Xiangkuoang Province, destroyed by American bombing in the late 1960s.

But wait, things get worse!

The tensions between the ruling Royalist government and the Pathet Lao Communists came to a head resulting in a full-scale civil war. The Pathet Lao were backed by the Vietnam People’s Army and the Soviet Union.  In 1975 King Savang Vatthana abdicated the throne and the Pathet Lao gained control of the government. Thus was born The Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the government that exists today, and one of four remaining capital-C Communist governments in the world.

Obviously, there is more to Laos than one of the saddest and most turbulent world histories.  It is one of the aims of Laohaus, the blog, to show and explore much of the rich culture of Laos. Yet, it’s important for the reader to understand where Laos is, and also, and more importantly, why there are Laos people everywhere. So much continual conflict has moved huge numbers of Lao people around the world as refugees. Lao people have settled in many European countries, Australia, Canada and the United States.

This brings us up to present-day, where we can begin to tell the story of the restaurant and food of our protagonists…

One thought on “What is Laos? Part 1

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