Destination Laos

THIS EVENT HAS BEEN POSTPONED! Please stay tuned for the rescheduled date & sorry for any inconvenience.

Join Go Eat Give on a culinary and cultural journey to the Southeast Asian country of Laos. Enjoy an authentic menu at Pattaya Café (under new management) including Laos cuisine – one that displays a blend of flavors and textures unique to the region and its roots. Family style dinner will include a Spicy Papaya Salad, Laos Sausage, Beef Jerky, Pad Lao, Soop Pak (vegetable salad), Bamboo Soup, Nam Khao (Laotian Crispy Rice Salad), Jasmine and Sticky Rice, and Nom Van for dessert.

Meiling Arounnarath, the 2016 President of the Laotian American Society will speak about Laotian culture, immigration and Laos-US relations. Arounnarath has been a writer and editor for the national Lao Roots Magazine, North Carolina chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA). She received her Bachelor of Arts in Print Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of Georgia, and Master of Business Administration from Georgia State University.

Entertainment for the evening will be led by Elizabeth Bee Vichathep, who at the age of 14, was one of the first few students to dance as a LAS Natasinh dancer before the dance program became formally known. She has performed at more than 50 performances for LAS and for other events. Vichathep has been involved with the Laotian American Society (LAS) since 2004 and is currently the LAS Treasurer and Dance Instructor.

Tickets at www.destinationlaos.eventbrite.com

An Introduction to Laos

Home to the beautiful Khone Papeng Falls (largest in southeast Asia), ornate temples, while being the “World’s Most Bombed Country” from the Vietnam War, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic has endured a long history of hardships.  Like most countries in Southeast Asia, Laos has been a target for colonialism from France, as well as Japan. Laos gained independence as a constitutional monarchy in 1953 from the French but with the impact of Vietnam War, they faced their own arduous civil war (1953-1975) that resulted in the establishment of a communist government in 1975. Laos

Currently, Laos struggles to develop as a nation, however it does not stop their people from being known for their honesty and simplicity, often attributed to their Buddhist roots. A large part of Lao culture is derived from the influences of Theravada Buddhism. Even with the invasions from foreign nations, Laos was able to maintain their Buddhist religious culture from the eighth century.  Buddhism is a vital part of the people in Laos. Every village has a Wat (temple) where the people worship daily in the morning and the evening. The most revered Buddhist stupa is thought to be established since the third century, the Pha That Luang is covered in gold, and shines bright in their capital city of Vientiane. Although Buddhist influences dictate an important part of Laotian culture, there are influences far before the establishment of Buddhism.

muangngoi-laos-women-rice field workersMusic and food have been two consistent aspects of Laotian culture that have prehistoric origins. The khene is their national instrument created from bamboo pipes which is traditionally used to play folk music. The khene has uniquely Lao origins and is still used in ritual ceremonies and festivals to courting women.  Stick rice is another staple of prehistoric Lao traditions which has more meaning to their culture than one may think. They consume the most sticky-rice per person than any other country in the world.  Yet, it is more than a tasty part of their everyday meals. They see it as a vital part of their culture, some groups of Laotian people plant a unique khao kam rice near their home in reverence to their dead parents or they will plant it on the edge of their rice fields to indicate that their parents are still alive.

Laos-Khon Phapheng WaterfallThroughout their history of annexation and occupation, they are still able to maintain their culture and thrive in their agricultural industry.  Eighty-percent of their exports is surprisingly not rice! Laos is especially known in the southeast Asian region for their coffee production. They have ambitions to expand their market in beer production and have started creating a buzz around the world.  Laos still encounters many challenges as any other developing country but being able to preserve their culture over the past thousand years has been a remarkable accomplishment for a country that has been constantly exposed to foreign influences.

To learn more about Laos, attend Go Eat Give Destination Laos on March 19, 2016 at Pattaya Cafe in Atlanta, GA. Click here to learn more. 

~ By guest blogger, Lilly Iijima. Lilly is a student at Oglethorpe University pursuing a major in International Studies with a minor in Japanese. Growing up in a multi-cultural household, she has seen first-hand the power of personally experiencing a different culture to eliminate previous misconceptions. Through this work, Lilly is committed to educating others about different countries and regions while learning about them herself.

The Lovely Laos Lifestyle

I enter Laos (pronounced Lao) at one of the less frequented border crossings from Thailand and arrive at the town of Pakse. With just one strip of hotels and restaurants, Pakse usually serves as a launching pad to other destinations in southern Laos. I immediately decide to take a bus to the 4000 islands. In an hours time, I find myself on a “minibus”, or rather, a large enclosed wooden crate on the back of a truck packed with 26 Laotians and me. Over the course of 3 hours we travel down a two-lane dirt road. The driver stops sporadically to let some passengers off, as others get on. Sometimes, the stop is merely to pass packages, food and animals through the crate. We are held up often because of traffic jams caused by cow crossings and pigs napping. Finally, we arrive at the “port” for the islands, which is a muddy pit with a rickety wooden boat attached by rope.

Workers planting seeds in the rice fields after the monsoon rains.

The islands get their nickname “4000” due to the innumerable sand islets that appear and disappear with the water levels, according to rainy and dry seasons. At one time, they served as an important link for supply lines between Saigon and Laos during the French Colonial Era. I settle on the north side of Don Det in one of the many guest houses offering hammocks that swing over the water. The Mekong isn’t swimmable, but that’s not why the islands attract visitors. It is the laid back atmosphere, the authentic view of Laos culture and the beautiful scenery that make the most southern destination in Laos desirable.

Buddhist Temple in Laos

Don Det is a fascinating place, I discover, as I ride my bike around the island. The path leads me along the river through small village communities where naked children run around in the mud with chickens clucking about. Buddhist temples are scattered through the villages, spotted by their brightly tiled images on white plastered walls. And all of a sudden, I find that I am completely surrounded by bright green rice fields for miles on either side. The monsoons have arrived, flooding the fields and filling the rice paddies with water. Workers bend over planting seeds or plowing oxen through the mud.

Guesthouses that line Don Det

I cross over a bridge linking Don Det with Don Khon. I end my bike ride at the Tat Somphamit and Khone Phapheng, the largest (by volume) waterfall in southeast Asia. The incredible sheer force of the water over large boulders and the expansive size of the river is breathtaking. If you continue on down Don Khon to the southern tip, there will be a view of Cambodia in the distance. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see the rare Irrawaddy Dolphin, unique to the Mekong, swimming through the water.

On my way back, I am stopped by a group of villagers. An older man explains to me, in French, that several trees have fallen over the road and no one will be able to pass until they gather enough men to lift them. They invite me to come sit with them and drink Laos Laos, an illegal rice whiskey used in small villages to welcome outsiders. So I sit on this fallen tree, on an island in the Mekong, with a group of Laos villagers, drinking whiskey, and marveling at my long day.

Tat Somphamit, largest waterfall, by volume, in Southeast Asia.

~ A San Francisco native at heart, Tess developed wanderlust at a very young age. Although she’s traveled extensively through America, Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, she continues to look for new adventures to blog about and now resides back in San Francisco. Follow her musings at http://tess-murphy.com and on Twitter at @Tesstravels.  

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