This landlocked country in Southeast Asia has in recent years seen its allure as a tourist destination grow rapidly. Laos is brimming with cultural attractions including the ancient Khmer temple Vat Phou, a UNESCO World Heritage site. However Laos is still one of the most impoverished countries in South East Asia. It is one of the few remaining Communist states in the world and has largely rejected the economic liberalisation which occurred in China, therefore halting any economic progress it could make.
The contemporary culture of Laos is severely infringed by the repressive policies of the Laotian government, who limit the freedom of expression granted to the Laotian people. Therefore much of the culture of Laos looks back to the ancient traditions and conventions of Laotian society. Many of these conventions are derived from Theravada Buddhism, which still has a dominant influence in Laos. Other cultural influences include the French, who ruled the country for over fifty years in the later 20th and early 19th centuries.
The literature of Laos remains largely un-translated, however some writers, such as Outhine Bounyavong, have managed to garner some attention outside of Laos. Bounyavong’s Mother's Beloved is representative of both Laotian literature and society. Sanda Simms’ The Kingdoms of Laos documents the history of Laos, including the various kingdoms that made up the territory before its eventual colonisation by the French. The Mekong, which flows through Laos and is the source of much of the country’s industry, is explored in John Keay’s Mad About the Mekong which retraces the voyage of a 19th century French explorer.
Laos: Legacy of a Secret by Lou McGrath documents how Laos become embroiled in the Vietnam war in the 1960s and 70s, since the North Vietnamese laid the Ho Chi Minh Trail through its western neighbour. Laos therefore became a target for the Americans who relentlessly bombed the Laotian countryside for several years, and contributed to many of the political and social problems which have blighted Laos since.