This two-storey colonial mansion became the Lao National Museum in 1985 and houses enough relics of Lao history and culture, both ancient and modern, to make a visit worthwhile.
The first rooms after entering the museum are filled with a hodgepodge of ancient artefacts. You may be surprised to learn that dinosaur bones have been found in Laos. As well, there is evidence of early people from Neolithic, potentially Paleolithic times, with stone tools, pottery fragments and rock paintings found in Pha Faen cave and other rock shelter sights in Bolikhamxay province.
Unfortunately the displays are reminiscent of high school presentations in both scope and sophistication and some of the models are horrendously bad -- the painted mural of dinosaurs is worth the visit alone. But the museum does redeem itself as a mini-tour of Laos, and its worth the visit if you can’t make it in person to see the pre-Khmer temple Wat Phu in Champasak or the megalithic stone jars in Phonsavan.
The upstairs exhibits are better organised and presented, tracing the modern history of Laos from the Siamese invasions and the eventual colonisation by the French, through to revolution, the American war and communism. Interpretive signage is in Lao but detailed information can be gleaned from English captions that are available most of the time. There are some photographs of guillotines, old prisons and soldiers, the display a harsh reminder of the brutality the country faced during French colonisation, before it moves into heart wrenching and rare photos of the Secret War that would be of particular interest to history buffs.
The final room upstairs is a shrine to Kaysone Phomvihane, the first Prime Minister of Lao PDR from 1975 to 1991 (his image is featured on the country’s currency). All manner of his personal items are showcased, including a chest expander and spoon he once used.
The final room of the museum is the less than inspiring display chronicling modern Laos' agricultural achievements and ASEAN involvement. Don't miss the museum's guestbook near the exit; the comments from past guests are an amusing read and range from debates about the American War to random complaints about taxi rip-offs.
Signs say bags and cameras are not allowed, though we were waved through with ours. If you have to check them they provide small lockers at the entrance.
By Cindy Fan.