Culture and politics forum

Isaan and Laos - what's the difference?

  • MADMAC

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    I've cut all the following messages out of a different thread and pasted into this one. Initial comment in this comment also removed. - Somtam2000

    You've been to Laos before, so obviously you must like it. I prefer Thailand, as I find Laos is just a run down version of Thailand, and not any cheaper either. But some people do prefer Laos.

    #1 Posted: 8/6/2009 - 00:46

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  • Rufus

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    Well Madmac, I much prefer Laos. The present government in Thailand couldn't run a bar on a free day. I find your comment that Laos is a run down version of Thailand peculiar indeed.

    #2 Posted: 12/6/2009 - 13:08

  • MADMAC

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    Rufus
    Culturally Isaan (where I live) and Laos are the same. The same people, same language, same food... But Isaan is richer than Laos, so the roads are better, the power and water supplies more reliable, bus services are superior, etc. So yeah, I find them to be the same but Thailand is just more modern.

    And it's true the Thai government isn't run by geniuses, but neither is the Laos government. It's run by fascists.

    #3 Posted: 12/6/2009 - 19:15

  • somsai

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    madmac I think you should take a closer look around Laos, and then even Thailand.

    Isaan and Laos are similar and have similar orgins but I can tell in a half a second where someone comes from by language alone. The food is different and the culture is different.

    If you dislike Laos so much perhaps stay in Thailand.

    #4 Posted: 13/6/2009 - 07:35

  • wanderingcat

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    there are regions of Laos that are more similar to northern Thailand or Yunnan in terms of language & culture, than they are to Isaan. Laos is a lot more diverse than Isaan.

    #5 Posted: 13/6/2009 - 10:16

  • MADMAC

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    Wandering
    You make a good point. The majority of the Isaan population are low land Lao. So they are very similar to the Low Land Lao of the Panhandle (as oppossed to one of the smaller ethnic groups such as the Bru).

    "madmac I think you should take a closer look around Laos, and then even Thailand."

    Somsai
    Clearly we are talking in generalizations here - which is all one can do when talking about any region.

    "Isaan and Laos are similar and have similar orgins but I can tell in a half a second where someone comes from by language alone. The food is different and the culture is different."

    I have found Isaan cuisine and Laos cuisine from Savanakhet to be the same. Now, like in any country, you go to different areas, you will find different idiosyncracies (OK, perhaps Lichtenstein is an exception) in food and language. But in general, Isaan and Lao share much the same culture and the langauge. They are mutually intelligeable. My wife is from Isaan, and she can watch Lao TV and understand it no problem - she can also read it, although the writing systems are obviously different.

    "If you dislike Laos so much perhaps stay in Thailand."

    For the most part I do.

    #6 Posted: 13/6/2009 - 13:04

  • Rufus

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    Agree with Somsai. there are quite a few cultural differences between Isaan and Laos and not just the written language. The food has some differences and attitudes certainly differ. There are also a number of different words in pasaa isaan and pasaa Lao.

    #7 Posted: 13/6/2009 - 14:27

  • MADMAC

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    Rufus
    Isaan is a dialect of Lao. They are mutually intelligeable languages. Three are some vocabulary differences, and doubtless some cuisine diffences, but they are minor, not significant. In general these are the same peoples. Whereas Thais from central Thailand can not understand Isaan. It is not a dialect of Thai (although both these languages come from common roots). Isaan has more in common with Laos than it does with central Thailand.

    #8 Posted: 13/6/2009 - 23:37

  • Rufus

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    Actually Mac, there are quite a lot of cuisine differences, especially if you go up Luang Prabang way and further. By the way I have a pretty fair understanding of the origins of Thai and Laos.

    "Whereas Thais from central Thailand can not understand Isaan."
    Only because they don't want to mac and they regard their northern cousins as country bumpkins. Did you note that fool Kasit's comment that people form Isaan exist to provide the labour in his garden?

    #9 Posted: 15/6/2009 - 07:36

  • wanderingcat

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    Thai & Lao writing systems used to be much more similar before 1975. at present in Laos, it's only the more highly educated monks pursuing Pali studies at college level & some scholars who still learn the 'old Lao' writing system that has (all?) the alphabets & spelling rules that have been eliminated from the 'modern Lao' writing system. far easier for a Thai to figure out Lao writing than the converse - many Lao who head to Thailand for further studies have to spend time boning up on their Thai & struggle with spelling & writing essays initially.

    that said, there are still many Lao citizens who can't speak/write their national language, & it's not just smaller ethnic groups but large ones like Hmong. even the Tai Lue (whose language is a lot more similar to Lao & also kham meuang/northern Thai) university & college students i know screw up their Lao grammar.

    the use of Savannakhet as a basis for comparison - how representative is this province of Laos as a whole, when it's one of the provinces that has had an 'above average' degree of cross-border exposure/interaction/intermarriage with Isaan? out of the 16 provinces of Laos, more than half do not border Isaan at all...

    #10 Posted: 15/6/2009 - 11:53

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  • MADMAC

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    Rufus
    Well, they don't want to learn Isaan vocbulary - they don't feel a need for it, and yes they consider people from Isaan basically of lower status. There relationship with the people of Isaan is like ours with Mexicans, only deeper because of their very class conscious society.

    But the bottom line remains - the majority of the people of Isaan are Low Land Lao. And that is the largest ethnic group in Laos.

    So yes, we have various other ethnic groups to be sure, but we are talking generalities here. Food in the southern US is also somewhat different from that in Boston, but we can still talk about US cuisine in general - or not?

    Wanderingcat
    And I sure wish the Thais had done this as well. Their writing system is an abortion - albeit I like the stylistics. Missing vowels, seeking the final consonant because they don't seperate words, classifying consonants instead of just relying on tonal marks... could they have made it any more complicated? I have learned three languages in my lifetime, and this one is KILLING ME! At least the grammar is easy.

    The larger ethnic groups are treated like pond scum by the Laotian government. This is typical of communist regimes (as well as other dictatorial regimes) in multi ethnic states since the governments are controlled by one ethnic group at the expense of the others. Hence in some cases (like with the Hmong) they are actively suppressed because of residue from the war. On other cases, the government just doesn't care about them. There are only so many bread crumbs to spread around, and they are not going to be wasted on inferior tribes. That's the way it always is in states with such governance, and Laos is no exception. Vietnam is the same way.

    And in emerging democracies, like Thailand, this conflict of power between ethnic groups often creates a lot of tension until all the players are willing to accept the principals of the process. When there is no history of doing that, the acceptance of that process is difficult when your group is on the losing end. The conflict between the Reds and Yellows here in Thailand is indicative of that.

    #11 Posted: 15/6/2009 - 12:21

  • BruceMoon

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    MADMAC, rufus, wanderingcat...

    Important though it is, may I suggest that much of the 'discussion' on culture / politics / administration / etc., that has graced Travelfish isn't necessarily going to help the traveller seeking to enjoy SE Asia.

    Maybe SomTam might set up a 'CULTURE thread to address these ponderings.

    Cheers

    #12 Posted: 16/6/2009 - 08:41

  • Archmichael

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    Good Grief....MadMac and Rufus at it again! Perhaps you two should meet up in a public square somewhere and duke it out. This isn't the only Travelfish thread that's become snared in whatever this on-going snarly/snarky thing is you two have.

    Some may find some of this back and forth edifying, but I find that hard to believe. C'mon guys......

    #13 Posted: 16/6/2009 - 10:05

  • Rufus

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    "whatever this on-going snarly/snarky thing is you two have."

    Snarky? Snarly? I don't think so, and i bet mac doesn't either. I find the discussion interesting, clearly as does Bruce as he has alos posed a number of questions. If you don't like it, don't read it - simple.

    #14 Posted: 16/6/2009 - 10:34

  • BruceMoon

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    Rufus

    The point I was trying to make is that the 'newbie' reading a thread on a travel topic ought not have to wade through the culture / politics / administration / etc., material to get travel related info.

    Maybe if someone doesn't like a post by another on a culture / politics / administration / etc., subject, they could agree to discuss it on Idle Banter.

    I suggest that would greatly assist the travel focussed reader looking for travel related info.

    ...and, I'm not trying to be a blog cop, rather, suggesting that we 'elders' help others by practising self regulation and courtesy.

    Cheers

    #15 Posted: 16/6/2009 - 10:46

  • Archmichael

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    Wahtever, Rufus.........

    #16 Posted: 16/6/2009 - 10:59

  • Archmichael

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    Wahtever, Rufus.........

    #17 Posted: 16/6/2009 - 10:59

  • MADMAC

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    OK, I agree with Rufus - differences of opinion don't mean personal dislike. I enjoy the conversations.

    I also agree with Bruce - A separate category for culture and politics would is an excellent idea for those who want to delve into those aspects before they travel someplace.

    And I agree with Michael that these discussions can be annoying in threads that started as something else. Which leaves us back with Bruce.

    #18 Posted: 16/6/2009 - 16:24

  • BruceMoon

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    I think I now want to be out of here... :)

    Bye

    #19 Posted: 16/6/2009 - 18:34

  • Archmichael

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    And I agree with MadMac :)

    BTW, my earlier "snarky" comment may have been a bit harsh (apologies offered). Yes, some of these debates (which is really what they are) have interest. But, I go to a particular thread to find out more infomation about the putative topic, which sometimes does get lost, I think we can all agree.

    So, Somtam: a debate page, perhaps? ;)

    #20 Posted: 16/6/2009 - 21:50

  • somtam2000

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    I've patched this thread across from a thread in Laos, that actually brought about the creation of this group in the first place.

    #21 Posted: 17/6/2009 - 07:57

  • BruceMoon

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    Hey, SomTam, great..

    Now, to the amended first posting...

    You've been to Laos before, so obviously you must like it. I prefer Thailand, as I find Laos is just a run down version of Thailand, and not any cheaper either. But some people do prefer Laos

    and in reply...

    Well Madmac, I much prefer Laos. The present government in Thailand couldn't run a bar on a free day. I find your comment that Laos is a run down version of Thailand peculiar indeed.

    - - - - -

    I like the relaxedness of Laos. I also enjoy the 'spaciness' of Isan.

    But, as a tourist, as for the politics of how the places are conducted...

    Mmmmmm!!!

    What part does corruption play in 'preferring' one side or the other?

    Cheers

    #22 Posted: 17/6/2009 - 09:48

  • MADMAC

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    "But, as a tourist, as for the politics of how the places are conducted..."


    For Rufus and I the difference is we are not tourists. So the politics are, of course, more important to us.

    Bu otherwise I agree - why he thought that would be relevent I am not sure, have to ask him.

    But yeah, I basically find Laos a run down version of Isaan. My wife hates Laos, and won't go. If I need to go for a visa run, I have to go aone.

    But obviously some people like it, I just never really got the attraction. I can understand some unique historical sites, like the PDJ (which I would like to visit myself to study the old battlefields there are further east) but otherwise, I really don't get it.

    #23 Posted: 18/6/2009 - 14:28

  • Rufus

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    Jeez Somtam, took me ages to find this. I must be getting old.
    Mac, western food is 100% better here. The only restauranst equivalent to say Chez Phillipe or L'Adresse d'Tinay are to be found in Krungthep at double the price.
    Wine is about 1/3 the price you pay in Thailand, and believe it or not, cheaper than in Oz. There is an excellent range here as well. The people are nicer. The grasping mentality of the Thais has not permeated here yet....give it time though. The pace of life is very relaxed. I lived in Thailand for quite a while, so I have a basis for comparison.
    Further, i can't stand the present Thai Govt, and do not have a lot of time for Voldemort, "he who must not be named". Email me privately and I will tell you why.


    Corruption? Yes, I see it, but as yet it has not affected me too badly. A 50k kip contribution to Plod for turning right at a T intersection where they had installed a "do not turn" sign the day before! Well the fine would have been 100k kip.

    The Naiban in my village is fine and really cool. I dance with her at local weddings, so she leaves us alone and if there is some strife, the result is always fair.

    Interestingly, most westerners with whom I am friends think the same. Many have lived in both Thailand and Laos. Wasn't it Epicius who said "De gustibus non est disputandum"?

    #24 Posted: 18/6/2009 - 17:47

  • somtam2000

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    I think mac's description of it as a "run down version of Isaan" holds some water, but, well, that was what I liked so much about it! I love the food, as Rufus says the booze is cheap (believe me a hell of a lot cheaper than here, says I who just turned down the opportunity to spend A$70 on a bottle of Gordons) and the people are great.

    As Rufus says though, it's fingers in the dike material holding off the Thai "cultural wave" I remember sitting in a shack at a bus station in Salavan and there was Thai pop on the tv and the kids -- little kids -- were absolutely mesmerised.

    It's a funny place, I think it's not quite in the clutches of the development community in the same way that Cambodia is, and it sits in the odd middle ground between Thailand and it's neighbours - in the north -- say Udomxai for example, or better still Phongsali, you may as well be in China, while somewhere like Attapeu has a more Vn vibe to it.

    I've never been to Burma, but friends who have have described it as "perfectly explaining the transition between India and Thailand" and I think, at least in some ways, Laos has a similar feel to it, though in this case between China or Vn to Thailand.

    They're both fascinating countries, but I think Thailand is a bit of an "easy please" -- you don't have to try hard to enjoy it -- but Laos, the more you work at it, the richer the experience becomes.

    Anyway, enough waffle for now!

    #25 Posted: 18/6/2009 - 18:24

  • MADMAC

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    "Mac, western food is 100% better here. The only restauranst equivalent to say Chez Phillipe or L'Adresse d'Tinay are to be found in Krungthep at double the price."

    OK, I got to give you that. Western food in Isaan is slim pickings.

    "Wine is about 1/3 the price you pay in Thailand, and believe it or not, cheaper than in Oz. There is an excellent range here as well."

    Got to give you that too. When I'm in Lao I always pick up a couple of bottles of good wine.

    "The people are nicer. The grasping mentality of the Thais has not permeated here yet....give it time though. The pace of life is very relaxed. I lived in Thailand for quite a while, so I have a basis for comparison."

    Can't say I agree with that. Pace of life is pretty slow here where I am - Bangkok is very different of course. I don't find much difference between Thais and Laotians.

    "Further, i can't stand the present Thai Govt, and do not have a lot of time for Voldemort, "he who must not be named". Email me privately and I will tell you why."

    I can't stand the present Lao government. I depise communist governance in all it's variations. I understand the issues with the current Thai government, but I still find it preferable to Laos.


    Corruption? Yes, I see it, but as yet it has not affected me too badly. A 50k kip contribution to Plod for turning right at a T intersection where they had installed a "do not turn" sign the day before! Well the fine would have been 100k kip.

    The Naiban in my village is fine and really cool. I dance with her at local weddings, so she leaves us alone and if there is some strife, the result is always fair.

    Interestingly, most westerners with whom I am friends think the same. Many have lived in both Thailand and Laos. Wasn't it Epicius who said "De gustibus non est disputandum"?

    #26 Posted: 18/6/2009 - 23:30

  • somsai

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    Back to Isaan being the same as Laos.

    Besides the obvious differences in Language such as the names of vegetables and fruit, a lot of central Thai gets thrown into Laotian as spoken in Isaan and a lot of pasa Lao as spoken in Laos is foreign to Isaan. The two are more similar than say Vientiane and Luang Prabang Language but there is more than just language.

    I'll limit myself to comparing the Lao Isaan with the Laotians of the Mekong flood plain. Sam Nua, Phongsali, Muang Sing are extremely different even to the casual observer.

    The two sides of the river have been under the influence of different powers for more than 150 years and it shows.

    I've never seen pho or pate for sale in Isaan, even in Nong Khai or Udonthani. They use more kapi and less padek. Never seen insects cooked right, only overdone and deep fried. More factory chicken on the grill, and less inards of pig.

    In Isaan people dress Thai, they are not "ban nock" if you know the expresion. They are deeply loyal to the God/King. Laotians consider King worship to be peculiar.

    People in Isaan might well be Lao but they are not Laotian, they are Thai and it's obvious.

    #27 Posted: 3/7/2009 - 10:36

  • MADMAC

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    Somsai
    The difference between Laotians and Isaan Low Land Lao is roughly the same as the difference between Bavarians and Austrians - that is to say - not much.

    To wit:

    "Besides the obvious differences in Language such as the names of vegetables and fruit, a lot of central Thai gets thrown into Laotian as spoken in Isaan and a lot of pasa Lao as spoken in Laos is foreign to Isaan. The two are more similar than say Vientiane and Luang Prabang Language but there is more than just language."

    Lao and the Isaan dialect are mutually intelligeable. That's the bottom line. Mutually intelligeable means the same language. If you go to the Germany, you will find that Bavarians use a lot of different expressions and vocabulary than Berliners - but they speak the same language with different variations. Linguistically that's what we're talking about here, only the difference is less. My wife watches Laos TV and understands it without a problem.

    "I'll limit myself to comparing the Lao Isaan with the Laotians of the Mekong flood plain. Sam Nua, Phongsali, Muang Sing are extremely different even to the casual observer."

    Yeah, they are run down and atrophying.

    "The two sides of the river have been under the influence of different powers for more than 150 years and it shows."

    Of course it does. But not in meaningful ways. If you want to get bent around the axle on nuance, fine. But the bottom line is these are two very, very similar cultures and peoples. What differentiates them - besides money - is minor.

    "I've never seen pho or pate for sale in Isaan, even in Nong Khai or Udonthani."

    Come to Mukdahan and you will see Pate for sale in Isaan.

    "They use more kapi and less padek."

    So what? In the southern US they cook a few different things too - it's still the same country. Most of the cuisine is the same.

    "Never seen insects cooked right, only overdone and deep fried."

    Is this a joke? You've never see insects cooked right? What the hell is right? Right is when you are not cooking or eating them at all.

    "More factory chicken on the grill, and less inards of pig."

    Less inards of pig? What a bummer. I guess I need to move to Laos post with. Are you trying to gross me out here?

    "In Isaan people dress Thai, they are not "ban nock" if you know the expresion."

    There are plenty of "ban nock" in Isaan villages. And there are plenty of normal dressing Laotians in Laos.

    "They are deeply loyal to the God/King. Laotians consider King worship to be peculiar."

    Laos didn't consider that abnormal until the communists came along. Now older Laotians are not going to tell you what they think on this subject, because that would be dangerous for them.

    "People in Isaan might well be Lao but they are not Laotian, they are Thai and it's obvious."

    The ethnic Thais don't think so.

    #28 Posted: 3/7/2009 - 12:56

  • Rufus

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    Himmel Hergot Sakrament, Mac, wen I Bairisch red, den versteast du nix. Da honi recht, nitta?

    "They are deeply loyal to the God/King. Laotians consider King worship to be peculiar."
    They have always considered worship of the Thai Kings as peculiar.

    Anyway, what Lao are you talking abou - Lao Loom, Tai Dam, Hmong? etc etc. It has been estimated that there are about 90 different ethnicities here.

    #29 Posted: 3/7/2009 - 16:03

  • MADMAC

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    Rufus
    "Himmel Hergot Sakrament, Mac, wen I Bairisch red, den versteast du nix. Da honi recht, nitta?"

    No, you are incorrect. I lived in Bavaria for 10 of my sixteen years in Germany (and right on the border for three of the other six years years). My son is Bavarian. I hate the dialect, but I can understand all German dialects. I minored in German in college and my first German girlfriend, with whom I lived for 10 years, couldn't speak English. Gave me a big edge in mastering German. I recently worked as a translator in Mukdahan Court to translate for a Swiss man who was being charged with a nasty little crime.

    "They have always considered worship of the Thai Kings as peculiar."

    They worhsipped their own to a very similar degree.

    "Anyway, what Lao are you talking abou - Lao Loom, Tai Dam, Hmong? etc etc. It has been estimated that there are about 90 different ethnicities here."

    I thought I was specific here - Low Land Lao, or Lao Loum, which makes up the bulk of the population of the country. I thought I was already quite specific on this point.

    In both Isaan and Laos you have a large number of other ethnic groups, but the Low Land Lao are the dominant ethnic group for both places.

    My position concerning this comparison is not based on ignorance, so please spare the crude attempts at teaching me. I've lived here long enough to establish some opinions based on personal observation and my own readings on the subjects and history of Laos and Isaan. If you don't agree, that's fine. But my wife (and most of her friends as well), who knows more about this area that you or I ever will (she was born and raised here) shares my position as do most of her Isaan friends. When I suggested recently a vacation to Laos to go see the Gibbons with my daughter, my wief and her friends were horrified, describing Laos as backwards and primative.

    #30 Posted: 3/7/2009 - 19:24

  • somsai

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    I'm going to be kind, and not comment on your and your wife's knowledge of Thailand and Laos Madmac, your statements speak for themselves. Oh heck, maybe I will, you seem ignorant of the food, language, history and culture but you sure do have opinions. The Thais are also ignorant of their own culture having traded it for 7 elevens and sex tourists. I've no doubt your wife knows about ban nock, she after all comes from there. But it's Ban Nock Thailand not Laos, same language, different place.

    The counting of ethnic minorities in Laos is a mixed bag. The Lao government broadly classifies them in 3 groups. Lowland Laotians make up a minority within their own country if you don't count the Thai Lue. Tai Dam and Tai Daeng are also somethimes counted with their wet rice growing brethren.

    The last King of Laos was starved to death two generations ago and is now only a quaint memory in old photos. Good ridance.

    #31 Posted: 3/7/2009 - 21:36

  • MADMAC

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    "I'm going to be kind, and not comment on your and your wife's knowledge of Thailand and Laos Madmac, your statements speak for themselves. Oh heck, maybe I will, you seem ignorant of the food, language, history and culture but you sure do have opinions. The Thais are also ignorant of their own culture having traded it for 7 elevens and sex tourists."

    Here we go, another know it all expat. He even knows more about Thai culture than the Thais. But of course.

    I am contemptuous of the food, but not ignorant of it. I've been eating it for two years straight, with steady exposure the eight years previous to that. My wife doesn't know anything about Isaan and Laos food - nope. She only grew up here.

    The Thais most certainly did not trade in their culture for seven elevents and sex tourists. Sex tourism is a miniscule part of the sex trade in Thailand, and prostitution in Thailand goes back over 150 years as a common theme (you can thank the Chinese for mainstreaming it). You seem to think that culture is a stagnant thing or something. That because Laos remains poor and backwards, therefore it is more pure. Should the US have stayed in the horse and wagon era - or perhaps you think it shouldn't exist at all, that America has no culture, because it was destroyed and therefore what remains is a cultural void. But then what of Germany which also has fast food restaraunts and convenience stores (and prostitution - legalized)? I guess the Germans traded in their culture too.

    Ban Nock is an expression here used to describe someone who's a hillbilly (or Bauerntrampel in German).

    "The counting of ethnic minorities in Laos is a mixed bag. The Lao government broadly classifies them in 3 groups. Lowland Laotians make up a minority within their own country if you don't count the Thai Lue. Tai Dam and Tai Daeng are also somethimes counted with their wet rice growing brethren."

    Obviously any census numbers in Laos are not going to be spot on. The government there has motivations and means to skewer numbers as it sees fit. But the bottom line is this: The Low Land Lao are the dominant ethnic group (note the usage of the word dominant, whether or not you accept majority or simple plurality) of Laos. It is irrelevent to our discussion unless you are trying to make the arguement that Laos doesn't have any general cultural characteristics because it has so many ethnic groups. Is that your assertion?

    "The last King of Laos was starved to death two generations ago and is now only a quaint memory in old photos. Good ridance."

    Did you really just write that? Sick.

    #32 Posted: 3/7/2009 - 23:32

  • MADMAC

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    "Interestingly, most westerners with whom I am friends think the same. Many have lived in both Thailand and Laos."

    And I am sure that most of the westerners who have lived in both places but now live in Thailand would tend to agree with me... the location of settlement would be the give away.

    #33 Posted: 4/7/2009 - 00:30

  • MADMAC

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    Somtam wrote: "I think mac's description of it as a "run down version of Isaan" holds some water, but, well, that was what I liked so much about it!"

    Like me you must be ignorant too. They obviously have nothing in common. Ask Somsai.

    #34 Posted: 4/7/2009 - 00:32

  • Rufus

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    "But my wife (and most of her friends as well), who knows more about this area that you or I ever will (she was born and raised here)"

    Mac, has and does your wife lecture in Lao culture at a university in Thailand?

    "go see the Gibbons with my daughter, my wief and her friends were horrified, describing Laos as backwards and primative."

    roflmao. Primative and gibbons - this is the best pun I have read in years. Was it intentional?
    Btw someone from Mukdahan calling Lao primitive is very amusing.

    #35 Posted: 4/7/2009 - 07:49

  • wanderingcat

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    "I am contemptuous of the food, but not ignorant of it. I've been eating it for two years straight, with steady exposure the eight years previous to that. My wife doesn't know anything about Isaan and Laos food - nope. She only grew up here."

    think somsai does cook Lao food, even in his home country.

    so most khon Isaan think that they are culturally, linguistically, etc the same as khon Lao, at least according to MADMAC...but does the converse hold true - do most khon Lao think the same too? (or do their opinions not matter at all to the economically more powerful?)

    think this thread could do with a little less contempt...btw there are not only Westerners with Thai partners posting here, but Westerners with Lao partners too, & also non-Westerners.

    #36 Posted: 4/7/2009 - 11:44

  • MADMAC

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    "roflmao. Primative and gibbons - this is the best pun I have read in years. Was it intentional?"

    It was not.

    "Btw someone from Mukdahan calling Lao primitive is very amusing."

    She isn't actually from Muk, she's from Yaso - and I'll admit Yaso is pretty primative in its own right (which is why we don't live there. But Muk is OK. It's pretty modern in most respects. Witness Laotians who can afford it shop here (they love Lotus), go to the hospital and dentist here. Really, the only thing about Muk that I find a drawback is the food. If you aren't into southeast Asian food (in this case Thai, Laos and Vietnamese) then pickings get mighty slim. There are just limits on the food out here. But otherwise Muk is pretty modern for the most part - albeit it's small.

    "Mac, has and does your wife lecture in Lao culture at a university in Thailand?"

    You are a lecturer in a Thai univeristy on Lao culture? So let me ask you something, do you think that Isaan and Low Land Lao have more in common than not? Think about it. What seperates them is very little - it's nuance.

    "think somsai does cook Lao food, even in his home country"

    Somsai is not being honest here. He is trying to paint small differences into substance. Let me put it in anglo terms: The cultural difference between someone who lives in Kington Ontario and Cape Vincent New York is miniscule. There is a slight difference in accent - but they speak the same language. There are some slight differences in cuisine, but they are miniscule. Now that border has existed for well over 200 years - so what? The things that seperate anglo Canagians from their brethren to the south are DWARFED by their commonalities. Same on the two sides of the Mekong.

    Now I have no rub with the Lao people or, for the most part any other people (OK, the Russians and the Amharic can be difficult). We're not discussing whether or not Laotians are nice or rude. The genesis of this post was the question of, from a WESTERN TOURIST PERSPECTIVE if Laos was ESSENTIALLY a run down version of Isaan. I maintain that it is.

    #37 Posted: 4/7/2009 - 15:14

  • Rufus

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    Mac - primate means monkey, you meant "primitive", not "primative", hence the reason i thought you punned.

    I repeat what i said earlier - there are certainly similarities, but there are enough differences to make them two distict groups.

    #38 Posted: 4/7/2009 - 17:00

  • MADMAC

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    "Mac - primate means monkey, you meant "primitive", not "primative", hence the reason i thought you punned."

    No, it was just a spelling mistake. I didn't even notice it until you pointed it out. But now it's pretty funny.

    "I repeat what i said earlier - there are certainly similarities, but there are enough differences to make them two distict groups."

    If you consider the Bavrians and Austrians to be "two distinct groups" then yes, I would agree with you (I don't and frankly don't think Austria should be a seperate political entity).

    Again, for a tourist who comes to visit, I doubt he will see notice very many differences. What he (or she) will notice is that the infrastructure of one is crumbling, and the buildings are largely atrophying. This is especially true if he gets away from tourist places.

    #39 Posted: 4/7/2009 - 17:52

  • BruceMoon

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    Hey guys

    The comments of late on this post are neither culture nor politics - more like exasperated tedium.

    Cheers

    #40 Posted: 4/7/2009 - 18:10

  • exacto

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    If the question really is from a Western Tourist Perspective, then I have to respectfully disagree with MADMAC that Laos is essentially a run-down version of Isan.

    I grew up in the United States, for example, but have been lucky enough to travel quite a bit in Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. Those countries share essentially the same language, culture, values, and heritage as my own. But even so I think each one is unique. It has been quite a bit of fun exploring their similarities and their differences.

    I think the same is true of Laos and Thailand/Isan. I've lived and worked in Thailand for over six years, but each trip to Laos was like a visit to a very different place than Thailand. Sure, there are lots of common threads that made it familiar and comfortable, but there were also many differences that made it fresh and exciting.

    The language difference, both in writing and speaking, the residual colonial influence, and the slower, more laid-back and charming atmosphere of Laos are particularly welcome. I think that is true in places like Luang Prabang , which felt nothing like the Isan to me, and the Plain of Jars, which seemed more like Vietnam than Mukdahan.

    Perhaps that is why I've met so many Thai tourists on my trips to Laos. They've told me that they are seeking their roots, or perhaps just seeking the way things used to be in Thailand before runaway development.

    I think MADMAC's observations are largely true, but that they are just one part of the puzzle, and that the conclusion that Laos is the same as the Isan is oversimplified. Plus, run down isn't a fair description anyway. Less developed for sure, but I didn't find Luang Prabang or the new and improved Vientiane all that rundown compared to many places in Thailand.

    Different isn't necessarily worse. It isn't necessarily better either. But they do make Beer Lao on that side of the river. Cheers.

    #41 Posted: 5/7/2009 - 01:24

  • BruceMoon

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    exacto

    I like the way you present your perspective on this topic, which in many regards has (in the later posts) become bogged in comparative superiority. You (rightly, in my view) return the discussion to what is (or at least should be) essentially a relativistic matter.

    - - - -

    Your comparison of culture within some affluent English speaking nations immediately related to me.

    As Australians, my wife & I often visit New Zealand. We often remark to friends and acquaintances "Kiwiland is like going going back 25 years". And, the comment isn't degradational, rather, it's a reflection on that part of our culture we perceive has been lost in Australia.

    Cheers

    #42 Posted: 5/7/2009 - 05:08

  • MADMAC

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    To be fair, I have only been on the panhandle (and given my wife's attitude, not likely to explore much more than that - although my cousin lives in Vientiane so I will get there eventually).

    #43 Posted: 5/7/2009 - 11:36

  • BruceMoon

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    Hey guys, thought I'd add some chilli powder to the 'discussion'...

    Elsewhere, there's a post that, while great, appears a copy from another website. The apparent owner puts his hand up, so I suppose it's OK to refer to here:

    http://www.travelfish.org/board/post/tripreports/4141_following-the-mekong-on-a-bicycle

    The writer makes the following comment:

    "I noticed that the road from the Friendship Bridge into Vientiane is more developed than last time. It is similar to Thailand. Except I think the Lao people have more style when it comes to their houses than the Thais do".

    True? If so, interesting comment about a 'run down' place.

    Cheers

    #44 Posted: 8/7/2009 - 09:15

  • MADMAC

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    Well Bruce, you've spent plenty of time in Laos and Thailand... which place appears more run down to you?

    A friend of mine runs lives here and runs a tour company in Laos (mostly around laung Prabang, but other locations too). His wife is Thai, but her father was born in Laos and she has deep affinity for the place. Both agree with my position, both say that the tourist draw in Laos is the slow pace of life and it's natural beauty. But both would consider Isaan to be more developed with better infrastructure and better schools and hospitals.

    #45 Posted: 8/7/2009 - 13:45

  • BruceMoon

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    John

    The bus between Muang Khua & DBP was loaded with female Lao going to DBP hospital. While the fees they paid were minimal (for Lao standards), they perceived the quality of care in the worst hospital in Vietnam warranted the effort. Clearly, they voted on the subject of social/medical infrastructure with their feet.

    I was told that Thailand isn't so accommodating regarding Lao seeking social/medical support.

    Cheers

    #46 Posted: 8/7/2009 - 13:54

  • somtam2000

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    Bruce,
    I wouldn't be at all surprised if the medical care in Dien Bien Phu was better than that available in Muang Khua! When we lived in Phnom Penh, regularly Khmer friends would go to Saigon for medical treatment -- in most cases these people could easily have gone to Thailand instead, but the main driving force (which I would guess was the case with the Lao people you say) was the standard of care verse the cost. Generally speaking, medical care in Thailand is more expensive than in Vietnam.

    #47 Posted: 8/7/2009 - 14:01

  • Rufus

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    "But both would consider Isaan to be more developed with better infrastructure and better schools and hospitals."

    Mac - better hospitals in Thailand? I would definitely have to agree with you on that point. Laos medical care is still fairly primitive, though it is getting better.

    Better schools? Yes, if you are talking about private schools. ((Though Vientiane International School is as good as any school in Thailand, and Kittiesak is ok). If you are are talking about local schools I would disagree and say there is not much difference. I have taught in schools in both countries.

    Housing style? Not much difference, though there are some pretty speccy houses on the road to the Friendship Bridge, (Thaksin's cousin lives there).

    Restaurants? No comparison. Laos wins hands down!

    #48 Posted: 8/7/2009 - 17:20

  • MADMAC

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    My cousin has lived in Vientiane since 1992 and she (and her family) do ALL of their dental and medical treatment in Thailand. Her son had appendicitus and they brought him across to Nong Khai for the emergency appendectomy.

    Again, I think the roads and general infrastructure in Isaan is superior. Maybe if I travel more of Laos I'll change my mind. But that hasn't happened yet.

    #49 Posted: 8/7/2009 - 18:39

  • vily

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    MADMAC AND RUFUS.

    you guys are bunch of dick heads.

    #50 Posted: 8/7/2009 - 19:36

  • BruceMoon

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    vily

    It is possible to agree with your assertion.

    But, it would be helpful if you could articulate your reasons.

    The alternative is that your assertion floats into nevernever land.

    So, please provide evidence to support your assertion


    Cheers

    ps. I always thought 2 = a pair, while 'bunch' = more than 2.

    #51 Posted: 8/7/2009 - 19:51

  • Rufus

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    Vily, "dickhead" happens to be one word, not two. as you are obviously challenged in your use of the English language, perhaps calling you a pusillanimous cretin would be lost on someone of your limited intellectual abilities.

    #52 Posted: 8/7/2009 - 21:05

  • Rufus

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    By the way, Mac, I did say that I AGREE with your assertion about medical infrastructure.

    #53 Posted: 8/7/2009 - 21:07

  • exacto

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    hey. i looked it up. dickhead is one word. who knew?
    see: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=dickhead

    #54 Posted: 9/7/2009 - 10:09

  • BruceMoon

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    yep

    Its even in Wiktionary...

    http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/dickhead

    And, the plural ain't two words either.

    Cheers

    #55 Posted: 9/7/2009 - 11:27

  • Rufus

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    You see the advantages of being a teacher of English, Bruce. You even get to insult other posters who, in their ignorance, have no idea what you are talking about. :-)

    #56 Posted: 9/7/2009 - 15:58

  • BruceMoon

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    Rufus

    hehehehehe

    Cheers

    #57 Posted: 9/7/2009 - 16:38

  • MADMAC

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    Vily
    Now I am not asserting that I am not a dickhead (I really don't like using double negatives), but I do think that any such claim on your part requires a little substantiation.

    See what you started Rufus? I'm sure this is somehow all your fault!

    #58 Posted: 12/7/2009 - 12:48

  • Rufus

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    "See what you started Rufus? I'm sure this is somehow all your fault!"

    Probably. My wife blames me for everything as well. Vily hasn't been back by the way.

    #59 Posted: 12/7/2009 - 13:48

  • BruceMoon

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    Rufus

    And, you married your wife because she has a great handle on the world...

    :)

    Cheers

    #60 Posted: 12/7/2009 - 14:13

  • MADMAC

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    I married my wife because she's HOT! (sorry, couldn't help that)

    Anyway, Rufus, if it makes you feel better I sispect this discussion on who's a "dickhead" is all Vily's fault. He's probably some idealitic backpacker who doesn't know shit about anything and thinks he knows everything about everything.

    #61 Posted: 12/7/2009 - 18:34

  • Jon_Mak_Mak

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    "Culturally Isaan (where I live) and Laos are the same. The same people, same language, same food... But Isaan is richer than Laos, so the roads are better, the power and water supplies more reliable, bus services are superior, etc. So yeah, I find them to be the same but Thailand is just more modern"

    I think my wife (Issan) would have something to say about that! lol

    Thailand is much more developed than Loas tho, I went to Vientian for my honeymoon. Loved it! Its true Laos and Issan are simmiler but they are not the same at all.

    #62 Posted: 9/8/2009 - 15:46

  • Jon_Mak_Mak

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    "Culturally Isaan (where I live) and Laos are the same. The same people, same language, same food... But Isaan is richer than Laos, so the roads are better, the power and water supplies more reliable, bus services are superior, etc. So yeah, I find them to be the same but Thailand is just more modern"

    I think my wife (Issan) would have something to say about that! lol

    Thailand is much more developed than Loas tho, I went to Vientian for my honeymoon. Loved it! Its true Laos and Issan are simmiler but they are not the same at all.

    #63 Posted: 9/8/2009 - 15:54

  • Rufus

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    We can empathise with that Jon; my wife and many other Laos really dislike being thought of as Thai.

    #64 Posted: 9/8/2009 - 17:11

  • MADMAC

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    "my wife and many other Laos really dislike being thought of as Thai."

    Don't they though? The same way that Canadians hate being thought of as American lite. But that's what they are.

    #65 Posted: 9/8/2009 - 20:29

  • Jon_Mak_Mak

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    Exactly.

    #66 Posted: 9/8/2009 - 23:02

  • Rufus

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    Given that there are something like about 60 ethnic groups in Laos, I don't think thats what they are. Try telling a Hmong that he is Thai!

    #67 Posted: 10/8/2009 - 10:14

  • MADMAC

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    "Given that there are something like about 60 ethnic groups in Laos, I don't think thats what they are. Try telling a Hmong that he is Thai!"

    Rufus
    I said this before, you have to remember we are talking generalities here. Thailand has a boatload of ethnic minorities too. What I have been saying is that the dominant cultural traits of Laos are very, very similar to the dominant cultural traits of Isaan. Just as the dominant cultural traits of anglo-Canada are very, very similar to the dominant cultural traits of Anglo-US. Obviously French Canadian and Mexican Americans have far less in common. Just as Malay Thais from Pattani and the Hmong would have far less in common. But that's just trying to obfuscate the obvious in this discussion - something academics love to do.

    #68 Posted: 10/8/2009 - 18:24

  • BruceMoon

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    I'm getting the very strong feeling this what we call in Australia a 'bbq stopper', in other words, a conversational topic amongst husbands (here farang husbands) to which all engage.

    If I went to the kitchen where all the wives were gathered, i wonder what they'd say on this topic.

    Interested, but Cheers

    #69 Posted: 10/8/2009 - 18:32

  • MADMAC

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    "If I went to the kitchen where all the wives were gathered, i wonder what they'd say on this topic."

    If you think I am a harsh judge of Laos, you should see my wife. She won't go there.

    #70 Posted: 10/8/2009 - 19:17

  • Tevita

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    Isaan and Laos - what's the difference?

    For me its the French architecture. Laos is a bit grubbier, the ubiquitous plastic bags along the river banks, the dusty streets and broken footpaths...but it maintains a slow, sleepy charm and somewhat idealisitc aura that is lacking in Isaan. Plus the lights all go out after dark, the smell of burning stoves permeates and the traffic noise dies completely.

    A standard Isaan town has well paved wide streets, lit roads, but instead of tung plastic it is the brightly coloured plastic chairs and motorcycle shops that blight the landscape. The flat lands of Isaan in summer are possibly a little less scenic than Laos, but maybe not much between them.

    Standard caveat, I've only been back to Lao once since my first visit in '99 so much might have changed.

    #71 Posted: 10/8/2009 - 21:02

  • Rufus

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    "Standard caveat, I've only been back to Lao once since my first visit in '99 so much might have changed."

    Has it ever. It has changed drastically in the last 4 years.

    #72 Posted: 10/8/2009 - 21:19

  • somsai

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    Madmac I don't think either you or your wife are harsh judges of Laos. Just ignorant as a lump of buffalo poop.

    How someone can make judgements about a place when they've made a grand total of a couple visa runs to a border town is beyond me, but that's ok. I meat tons of ignorant opinionated racist people in my everyday life, a couple more online is no big deal.

    What irks me is when you offer opinions based on conversations with an uninformed Thai Isaan. Why not get off your keyboard and like go somewhere.

    Perhaps the attitude towards those different from oneselves is a big glaring difference between those on the East and West side of the river. The government of Laos and the people differentiate between being Lao and Laotian, the first being an ethnic division and the second being citizenship. A Hmong can be Laotian, as can an Akha and everyone in the whole country recognises the fact.

    The Isaan people have been discriminated against for so long they in turn do the same to others, kind of like white southerners in the USA. The attitude is "they might call me Lao, but at least I'm not Meao"

    I'm sorry your wife refuses to visit Laos, but not real sorry. Maybe it's for other reasons than the country or the people. Maybe tone it down a little for her sake. All women and the whole country aren't for sale despite whatever experiences you might have had other places.

    #73 Posted: 10/8/2009 - 21:32

  • MADMAC

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    "How someone can make judgements about a place when they've made a grand total of a couple visa runs to a border town is beyond me, but that's ok. I meat tons of ignorant opinionated racist people in my everyday life, a couple more online is no big deal."

    I am definitely opinionated - definitely not racist.

    And it's way more than a couple.

    And I can read.

    Are you saying you can't dislike Laos and not be a racist? A rather ridiculous statement, don't you think?

    "What irks me is when you offer opinions based on conversations with an uninformed Thai Isaan. Why not get off your keyboard and like go somewhere."

    I've been to a large number of places - some I wanted to go to, some I didn't. I am sure Laos has some charming elements, but who's kidding who here? Laos is a pretty poor country, and I've seen and lived in enough of those so that my short stays in Laos gave me plenty of feel for the place. Those are reinforced by the things I read right here.

    "Perhaps the attitude towards those different from oneselves is a big glaring difference between those on the East and West side of the river. The government of Laos and the people differentiate between being Lao and Laotian, the first being an ethnic division and the second being citizenship. A Hmong can be Laotian, as can an Akha and everyone in the whole country recognises the fact."

    Hmmmm, you think so? How many Hmong are senior members of the Laotian government?

    "The Isaan people have been discriminated against for so long they in turn do the same to others, kind of like white southerners in the USA. The attitude is "they might call me Lao, but at least I'm not Meao""

    Neither my wife nor I have a problem with Laotians. There you are missing the boat completely. She doesn't like the country for practical reasons. She can barely stand Thailand. She prefers Western Europe. Given that she was born and raised here, and she is a Thai citizen, I don't think we can label her racist in her views towards other Thais, can we?

    "I'm sorry your wife refuses to visit Laos, but not real sorry. Maybe it's for other reasons than the country or the people. Maybe tone it down a little for her sake. All women and the whole country aren't for sale despite whatever experiences you might have had other places."

    All women aren't for sale... this is a complex subject that goes well beyond this forum. Let's just say that the principals of women being for sale apply across the board, no matter where in the world you are. How you recognize those principals, and how you apply them, is largely socially driven.

    #74 Posted: 11/8/2009 - 00:05

  • MADMAC

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    Somsai
    One last point. There is nothing wrong with pointing out that you don't find certain locals all that interesting. How many times in my years in Germany have I heard from Germans that they just aren't interested in going to the US because it holds no appeal for them? Many. And it's not because they're ignorant, it's because US culture and the country in general didn't interest them.

    My personal observations are that Laos and Isaan are very similar in a lot of ways, and I don't find Laos particularly appealing. If you or others do, that's fine. But saying that I don't find it so does not make me ignorant. Not to be an expert on a location does not mean ignorance of same. There is space in the middle.

    #75 Posted: 11/8/2009 - 00:11

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 953

    "Hmmmm, you think so? How many Hmong are senior members of the Laotian government?"

    At least two that I know of. There may well be more.

    #76 Posted: 11/8/2009 - 09:31

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6291
    Total reviews: 10

    Rufus
    The Laotian government has brutally persecuted the Hmong since the war. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both verified this fact. They are a marginalized minority in Laos. They are in no way fairly represented in the government there.

    And please don't start with the "you don't live here" nonsense. I don't live in Tibet either, but I know the history there as well. Nor do I live in the DROC, but I know what is happening there as well.

    #77 Posted: 11/8/2009 - 13:22

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 953

    Mac, you asked a question and I answered it.
    Do they even want to be represented in Government? My guess is "no".

    #78 Posted: 13/8/2009 - 11:47

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6291
    Total reviews: 10

    "Do they even want to be represented in Government? My guess is "no"."

    And that, my friend, tells you all you need to know.

    #79 Posted: 13/8/2009 - 17:43

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 953

    "And that, my friend, tells you all you need to know."

    Mac, I don't understand your answer. The Hmong are largely subsistence farmers, concerned with the cultivation of their own lands and have no interest in taking part in the governmental process. Why does that "tell me all I need to know"?

    #80 Posted: 14/8/2009 - 07:42

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6291
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    The Hmong bled to death to have a say in their governmental process. They didn't fight and die (and then suffer brutal repression from those piece of shit a-holes who now run Laos) for nothing. You really think they don't care about how they are governed? Nobody has sacrificed more on the issue.

    They are not excluded from govrerning THEIR OWN AFFAIRS because they want to be, or because they don't care, but because they have been excluded.

    Do you realize that Laos is being governed by fascists?

    #81 Posted: 15/8/2009 - 01:27

  • Tevita

    Joined Travelfish
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    Location New Zealand
    Posts: 5
    Total reviews: 2

    Madmac,

    To be fair, while the Lao government doesn't conform to our ideals of liberal Western government (or even to the relatively low standard of Thai government for that matter), given the context of recent Lao history it would be a bit much to expect it to. Moreover, given the Hmong/Pathet Lao/US relationship of the 60s and 70s, to expect complete reconciliation with this particular ethnic minority is probably optimistic at best.

    By way of comparison, the US was unwilling to provide the render safe procedures for UXO in Lao until only recently. If an advanced, outwardly liberal and wealthy state still harbours such resentment to an under developed, bombed-out, South East Asian state, it is hardly surprising that the Lao state harbours similar resentment to those it considers its opponents or proxies to the US.

    I agree with your point that the Lao state is authoritarian, following some policies we would find abhorant. But it also carries nuances that similar developing states haven't cultivated (efforts in environmental policy for example). Its a bit hit and miss, but I wouldn't dismiss the Lao government as fascist outright, especially given the geographical and cold-war political context. Nor would I think its ruling class differs so markedly from the Thai ruling class. Lao and Thai come in many differing shades.

    #82 Posted: 15/8/2009 - 06:58

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 953

    Good post Tavita. I don't regard the Laos Government as fascist either. At least we don't have the Generals overseeing the government and staging a military coup every time they don't like the Prime Minister.

    #83 Posted: 15/8/2009 - 08:12

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 953

    "The Hmong bled to death to have a say in their governmental process."

    This is laughable. Do you really believe this nonsense, Mac, or are you trying to be provocative? The Hmong fought because they were paid and also because many of them were offered immigration to the US; a promise that the US renege on when they abandoned their allies.

    The fact is that the Hmong never felt and largely still do not feel any affiliation to a "Laos State". That is why they were so quick to join the US for money and empty promises, and that is why they are not really interested in represtentaion in government today.

    #84 Posted: 15/8/2009 - 08:21

  • somsai

    Joined Travelfish
    1st March, 2006
    Location United States
    Posts: 563

    Besides the two government ministers there are many provincial officials at all different levels in many different provinces. The minorities were actually the original recruits to fight in the Communist army against the Lao Royalist army. The close connection between many of the minorities and the central Lao communist government is long, Hmong, Yao, Lisu, Lanten, Akha, Lue, all the "Tais".

    I can't imagine a government in Phongsali without being predominantly Phou Noi People, just not possible and that's not how it is. Likewise Lue in upper Namtha, Hmong in Sam Nua etc.

    But of course to know this you'd have to actually go there. You'd have to actually talk to people, know their names and ask them what kind of name Xiong or Kong is. And that's the problem with thinking you know a place that you've never been to. I'd certainly draw the line at disliking a place I demonstably, unambiguously, embarassingly, knew absolutely nothing about.

    Human rights abuses yes, and I've blogged about them a few times. But then I'm shy because I come from a country that has murdered unknown thousands, displaced millions, and tortures people as a matter of policy. And all that in the past 8 years. Yup I try to be restrained in critiquing other countries about human rights.

    Besides being a one party communist government Laos also has individuals, many of them young, who believe in an ideology greater than corruption and profit. Not saying all govt officials aren't corrupt. But I certainly know some that aren't. I hear younger party members talking about hydro, and rubber and saying things like, "but is it really a benefit for the people" I never remember sitting around having those kinds of conversations with Thais. Attitudes toward governance are decidely different. Laos might have made mis stepps in collectivisation, (quickly ended) and as an economicaly closed country but they have moved beyond the monarchy.

    #85 Posted: 15/8/2009 - 08:38

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6291
    Total reviews: 10

    All of this is simply being apologist for a dictatorial state. Pointing the finger at US policy you disagree with is obfuscation of that fact. Pretending that the government of Laos is anything other than a question of the animals running the zoo is simply being intellectually dishonest. I live right on the border. I have heard plenty of stories of the behavior of that government - none of them good. Even were it a benign oligarchy (and it's not) it would still be a dictatorship.

    The chief of traffic police here is a friend of mine. A couple of weeks ago he and I had a pretty detailed discussion about the fundamental political problems facing Thailand. I was not concerned in the least that my criticisms concerning the Yellow / Red fractures here would lead me to being jailed or imprisoned. When I was in the Army, I was not even slightly concerned that my cirticisms of Bush policy with my peers would lead me to being imprisoned or cashiered (though as a professional soldier of course those are curtailed vis-a-vis the press).

    The government of Laos is an oppressive government - period. There are no "buts", there are no "nuances"... it's not a legitimate form of government.

    #86 Posted: 15/8/2009 - 12:09

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 953

    "Besides being a one party communist government Laos also has individuals, many of them young, who believe in an ideology greater than corruption and profit. Not saying all govt officials aren't corrupt. But I certainly know some that aren't. I hear younger party members talking about hydro, and rubber and saying things like, "but is it really a benefit for the people" "

    I also know many of these Somsai. I work with them, talk to them and teach them. Unfortunately, I think Mac's innate conservatism has led to him to sprout meaningless statements such as "The government of Laos is an oppressive government - period. There are no "buts", there are no "nuances"... it's not a legitimate form of government" which are just slogans backed up by no evidence. He won't change.

    I know I would far rather live here than in Thailand, which according to Forbes is more corrupt than Laos, by the way. There are many reasons for this, some of which I cannot post here as Somtam would delete my post. In general, however, I find the Lao far more honest in most areas than the Thai. This is my last post on this topic as it is becomiing tiresome.

    #87 Posted: 15/8/2009 - 17:58

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6291
    Total reviews: 10

    "Unfortunately, I think Mac's innate conservatism has led to him to sprout meaningless statements such as "The government of Laos is an oppressive government - period. There are no "buts", there are no "nuances"... it's not a legitimate form of government" which are just slogans backed up by no evidence. He won't change."

    Again, you can't be legitimate and be a single part state. Those two things are mutually exlcusive.

    "I know I would far rather live here than in Thailand, which according to Forbes is more corrupt than Laos, by the way. There are many reasons for this, some of which I cannot post here as Somtam would delete my post. In general, however, I find the Lao far more honest in most areas than the Thai. This is my last post on this topic as it is becomiing tiresome."

    You are not Laotian. Like me, you have the advantage of being an outsider which is extremely exploitable in both locations.

    Whether the Lao people are more honest than the Thai (and given their very close cultural norms I find this suspect) is totally irrelevent to the question of whether or not single party states are legitimate or not. Even if that state is working with ZERO corruption and even if it is completely benign, it's not legitimate.

    #88 Posted: 15/8/2009 - 23:09

  • Tevita

    Joined Travelfish
    8th December, 2008
    Location New Zealand
    Posts: 5
    Total reviews: 2

    Madmac, as recent events in Thailand illustrate, even multi-party states can be illegitimate. Consider also that certain 'elephant in the room' with regard to what we can even discuss about Thailand politics, the Thaksin war on drugs and dirty dealings with the Burmese junta and in South Thailand.

    I love Thailand dearly, but to declare Laos a pariah state in relation to Thailand is pushing a comparison a little far.

    #89 Posted: 16/8/2009 - 05:27

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
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    Posts: 6291
    Total reviews: 10

    Tevita
    Thailand has it's warts, I am not saying it doesn't. In fact, states are run by humans, so they all have their warts. That's not the issue here. Laos is a single party state that brooks no political opposition. That is illegitimate and any effort to paint it as legitimate is simply not being honest. This is like the Cuban comparison. Cuba has done well in terms of health care, but any system of government in which one man can rule without tolerance of opposition (and where that opposition gets jailed) is wrong - regardless of any specific accomplishments it has.

    On the issue of the post in it's larger sense, I am not saying there is anything wrong with the Laotian people. Culturally they are very similar to the people I live with now. Two of my dance students are Lao and the rest are Vietnamese or Isaan people. Lao is economically and politically deprived - not ethnically.

    I have lived all over the world. I left the US in 1984 and have been back for a total of three years since. In my experience, people are pretty much people. There are good people and bad people everywhere you go. The Saudis, the Somalis, The Yemenis, The Germans, The Bosnians, The Thais... OK the environmentalists and the Saudis were total assholes. But everyone else is pretty much OK.

    My point here has nothing to do with the Laotian people. Any interpretations as such are inacurrate.

    #90 Posted: 16/8/2009 - 12:18

  • Tevita

    Joined Travelfish
    8th December, 2008
    Location New Zealand
    Posts: 5
    Total reviews: 2

    Madmac, all that is noted. But in a broader sense, a veneer of multi-party politics can obscure injustices as deep seated as those found in a one-party state. The potential for real minority representation is probably equally absent in Thailand.

    I would be wary of blaming Laos' (or Cuba's) ills on a political model when their recent histories haven't exactly blessed them with the smoothest of childhoods. State system often mirrors social and economic development, and not all economic development is positive.

    I do worry, coming from the development industry, that economic goals and GDP measured advances over-shadow equal or greater losses to society as a whole. Thailand has seemingly experienced this and Laos could well too. Fortunately both societies seem culturally resiliant but I do beleive Thailand has lost something substantial over the last 10 years.

    #91 Posted: 16/8/2009 - 16:29

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6291
    Total reviews: 10

    "Madmac, all that is noted. But in a broader sense, a veneer of multi-party politics can obscure injustices as deep seated as those found in a one-party state."

    Again, not relevent. It is how you get there that counts - not where you are. I don't care if Laos offered free health care, free education, and the best social services in the world. It's still a one party state that brooks no opposition. Of course, those kinds of states don't offer those services in quality at all. Never have, never will. Can't, because they stifle.

    "The potential for real minority representation is probably equally absent in Thailand."

    The people of Isaan are not Thai, yet they are represented. Probably not fairly, but then, that is what the conflict is all about. They still do have a voice.

    "I would be wary of blaming Laos' (or Cuba's) ills on a political model when their recent histories haven't exactly blessed them with the smoothest of childhoods. State system often mirrors social and economic development, and not all economic development is positive."

    It is the political model (which has never had success anywhere, and never will) that I object to. That's the point that's being glossed over here. I am not blaming their ills on the political model (though it doesn't help) I am attacking the model itself. It's not legitimate.

    "I do worry, coming from the development industry, that economic goals and GDP measured advances over-shadow equal or greater losses to society as a whole. Thailand has seemingly experienced this and Laos could well too. Fortunately both societies seem culturally resiliant but I do beleive Thailand has lost something substantial over the last 10 years."

    Let me tell you what they've gained:

    Paved roads
    Decent Schools
    Vastly improved medical care
    Communications infrastructure
    Vastly improved community water supplies
    Vastly improved food security
    Vastly improved physical security
    Ubiquitous electric supplies

    When I first went to my wife's village I thought it would be much more primative than it was. It had public water and public electricity. The school was clean and every child had a desk. There was a computer room to teach basic computer skills. There was a clinic with an X ray machine and well stocked with pharmaceuticals. I had just come from Africa, and I was very pleasantly surprised at how modern it was.

    I asked my mother in law what the village was like 30 years previous when my wife was born. They had none of this. In the "good old days" you got really sick - you just died. Schooling was more problematic. Nobody had a car and getting around was difficult. Well was collected (by my wife when she was a child) from a well and carried home. Washing was done by hand. Everything was a struggle.

    With modernity comes a loss of some cultural behavior and cultural norms. Good riddance. This was true in America, true in Europe, and true everywhere else. Where would you rather live, Germany 2009 or Germany 1909? Or Thailand or wherever.

    Of course as Laos modernizes it's going to lose some cultural aspects of it's society. What are they special or something? Happens to everyone. Given the benefits, it should not be lamented.

    #92 Posted: 16/8/2009 - 23:26

  • somsai

    Joined Travelfish
    1st March, 2006
    Location United States
    Posts: 563

    Get off that keyboard and get out a little Madmac you are writing about a place and a government you know nothing about. My big question is why?

    The Lao government does condone the voicing of contrary views within it's system. Of course you'd have to know some people in the government to know that, and you can't get to know some Lao people by sitting behind a keyboard in Thailand.

    I'd ask the people in Isaan if they consider themselves Thai or watch what happens at the train station at 6PM. No less Thai than those in Chang Mai or anywhere else. It's the minority peoples that are discriminated against. Can they even get passports yet? Most of the minorities of Laos are in Thailand but veiewed differntly. Look who's picture is on Lao money and who is on Thai.

    Funny how there is one topic about one country that we are unable to discuss here? And for very good reason too. I don't feel like being arrested at the airport. Hint. It has nothing to do with Laos.

    My question still remains. Why write about a country when you have only visited a border town on a visa run? Why not read one of the excellent Histories of it at least. Start here.

    http://www.amazon.com/Short-History-Laos-Land-Between/dp/1864489979

    #93 Posted: 17/8/2009 - 01:06

  • Tevita

    Joined Travelfish
    8th December, 2008
    Location New Zealand
    Posts: 5
    Total reviews: 2

    Madmac,

    I understand you sentiment and I'm only too happy to see people vouch for Thailand. But I have to differ in you judgement of Laos.

    You say what matters is how you 'get there' but at the same time, health care, education and services don't matter. Maybe it is my social-democratic background, but to me that is a contradiction.
    How a state 'gets there' is largely dependant on its ability to care for society and guide market as much as its ability to mobilise economic, and cultural/social resources.

    By way of comparison to Laos, Thailand in the 70s and 80s was itself far from a pleasant state system even though Thai society then would perhaps be hard to discern from Lao today. It seems a little unfair to hold the Lao state to the same standards as a modern Thai state...especially when the Thai state and popular participation in multi-party democracy falls so far short of any ideal measure, and for so long has barely qualified as a functioning democracy. Democracy is not an ideal or concept I would use to judge Thailand by, and certainly not a measure I would use to favourably compare its political system to that of another country.

    Most importantly, you cannnot so easily overlook the differing historical contexts of both countries. Laos has had the misfortune of wartime devastation with negligible outside reconstruction, while Thailand was during the same period, a sink hole for US finance. Those roads, hospitals, schools and services were very much the result of falling on the right side of a great power struggle that paid no attention to the societies living amongst its carnage. Communications networks and roads? In the 70s and 80s these were sold as pacification tools to keep a rural population in order.

    This has led both countries on entirely divergent trajectories. Given the circumstances, it could fairly be argued that Thailand should be a functioning state on par with Singapore and Laos a third world state pariah state in line with North Korea or Afghanistan. That they aren't poses awkward questions for Thailand and reflects well on Laos.

    I look forward to seeing where both stand in tens years time, as Lao, like Bhutan, is somewhat of a blank slate for theorists and practicioners. I do hope it doesn't use Thailand as its model.

    #94 Posted: 17/8/2009 - 05:46

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6291
    Total reviews: 10

    Somsai
    I have to go see my cousin eventually in Vientiane, and another friend of mine who runs a travel buisiness in Laos insists I visit him as well in Laung Prabang - so I'll get there soon enough. Nevertheless, I have read a lot about Laos. Do you have opinions about what's happening in Darfur? Have you been there? I have very strong objections to the single party state.

    "You say what matters is how you 'get there' but at the same time, health care, education and services don't matter. Maybe it is my social-democratic background, but to me that is a contradiction."

    To me it's not. I look at political freedom like I look at health. It all starts there. Take a rich guy who is always sick, and he'd trade it all to be healthy. Take away someone's political freedom and everything after that isn't counting for much.

    As I said to Somsai, I take great umbrage with the single party state.

    #95 Posted: 17/8/2009 - 12:04

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6291
    Total reviews: 10

    "You say what matters is how you 'get there' but at the same time, health care, education and services don't matter. Maybe it is my social-democratic background, but to me that is a contradiction."

    Tevita
    What I was saying here is that in a state where you are not free to speak your mind or worse, then those other state provisions start losing value rapidly.

    I am not beating down on Laos too hard - I'm just not on the "Laos is great" bandwagon, that's all. I'm sure it has some positive qualities. It's just that the "isn't it wonderful" seems over the top and ignores a lot of realities that the Laotians themselves don't like about the place.

    #96 Posted: 3/1/2010 - 11:09

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