Landlocked and the smallest of its many neighbors in every direction, Laos keeps a low profile today among nations in Asia. A single party Socialist party that espouses Communism since 1975, Loas went through a seemingly implausible fifty year long civil war after a brief time with a constitutional monarchy. Laos’ entire population of 6 million would fit easily in the city of Qingdao-one mid-size Chinese city.
Both the Japanese and the French controlled much of the country in the mid 20th century as it later unwillingly was drawn into the Vietnam War. See my earlier post on UXO regarding Laos’ 40 year struggle with unexploded bombs dropped during the war. Amid struggles by both the Soviet Union and the United States to influence and control Laos, the country has been considerably more peaceful for the past two decades and has opened up recently to tourism.
Among the sites in the capital Vientiane is Wat Si Saket, built in 1818 on the orders of King Anouvong, in the Siamese style of building. The wat is the oldest in Laos and features close to 7,000 images or statues of the Buddha in every material. Cloistered courtyards, leafy gardens, and a nearby residential monastery lend itself to the peaceful surroundings.
Just across the street from Si Saket is a former wat, now museum Hor Phakeo, that is more known for what used to be there: the famed Emerald Buddha, which was carted off to the Royal Palace in Bangkok in 1778 where it remains to this day. To be fair, the Emerald Buddha had always belonged to the Thais and they simply reclaimed it while burning the original 1565 royal temple to the ground in a return trip in 1828. The building was rebuilt twice since then, finally settling in as a tourist spot. The carved wooden doors and relics inside are worth the trip and the tiny 5,000 kip (65 cents US) admission fee.