There are rarely people in the Western World that decide to spend their holidays in Laos only. Laos is still a country that most people add on to their travels in Thailand, Vietnam or combine it with Cambodia. And most of them spend not enough time to get to know the real Laos, away from the tourism hotspots of Luang Prabang or Vang Vieng. But 2 or 3 weeks are easily spent in Laos if you want to experience more than just the “so called” highlights.
Many people like to indulge into the history and culture of the destinations they get to visit. While it is easy to find plenty of literature about the neighbor countries which are more popular to travelers, Laos was locked to foreigners until the beginning of the 1990’s and thus books dealing with Laos are limited in comparison.
But there are fantastic books related to Laos, novels, non-fiction books, history books, travel guides, travel reports or illustrated books. Here are a few that we would like to recommend:
In Laos it will get you very far if you learn a few words and phrases in the Lao Language. Locals will be very supportive and appreciate the effort you made to learn parts of a language that is hardly spoken anywhere besides Laos and some parts of the world, Lao refugees made their home. It is rather similar to the Thai Language with approx. 70% of the same vocabulary but there are many differences between these two languages. There are many dictionaries and learning books and one that we recommend is “Laos Basics: An Introduction to the Lao language”. It is very helpful for beginners as well as for people studying Lao long term. It is a thin book and comes with a CD that has all of the Lao spoken by a native to help with the pronunciations. Step by step you are introduced to the consonants and vowels and along the way you learn new words that you can use right away.
Now that you can make yourself more or less understandable it is time to indulge into the culture and daily life of the Laotians. For many Laos can be a contradictory place and has some very unique customs. If you want to be prepared you should get “Culture Shock! Laos: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette”.
In this book the author covers all the necessary areas to help understand Lao people and culture. If you have read this you will be as well prepared as you can be. But no worries, there will be still things that are going to amaze you, it never stops.
Food is one of the most important parts of Lao culture and people will ask you if you have eaten many more often than asking you how you feel. The first thing you need to know about Lao food that it is usually very spicy. There are a few dishes which you can find anywhere in Laos and that will be served to you often. Most famous is for example a very spicy Papaya Salad or Laab, which is also a kind of salad which can be made of meat or fish, cooked or raw, with lime juice, shallots, herbs, chili powder and served with the famous Lao sticky rice. If you want to learn more about Lao cuisine we recommend “Ant Egg Soup” which is the story of a French traveler exploring the diverse culture and cuisine of Laos by traveling and trekking through the country. On her trip she meets many interesting people and even more interesting dishes.
Last but not least, you should not miss to meet Dr. Siri Paiboun. The fictional doctor, appointed to be national coroner of post-revolutionary Laos set in 1975, works to investigate suspicious deaths. Often funny and suspenseful there are 14 novels in this series created by Colin Cotterill. The first book “The Coroner’s Lunch” was published in 2005, with the latest book “The Second Biggest Nothing” been published just last year.