Laos Travel Books

Dr. Siri Paiboun series

Dr. Siri Paiboun series

Dr. Siri Paiboun, a French-trained physician, is the national coroner of Laos. The award-winning book of a series, nine in total, is set in the mid-1970s are mystery detective novels in the spirit of Poirot and a perfect balance between the modern mysteries of forensic science and the ancient secrets of the spirit world beliefs of the lao peoples.

The author, Colin Cotterill, is a stand-up chap. Fifteen years ago, Cotterill became involved in child protection in the region and set up an NGO in Phuket which he ran for the first two years. After two more years of study in child abuse issues, and one more stint in Phuket, he moved on to ECPAT, an international organization combating child prostitution and pornography. He established their training program for caregivers. He has also setup, Books for Laos to help provide reading materials for children of Laos.

Indochina Travel comments: There is a scarcity of any good books on Laos. Although not a fan of detective novels, Cotterill's books are not typical of the genre, bringing the landscapes, people, superstitions, and mood of Laos to life. Some stories, for example, had me recalling Night Stalker. Descriptions like this had me hooked from the first book I picked up (Thirty-Three Teeth): "Through the scratched window he could see the sun reflecting golden from half a dozen temple stupas, two rivers converging around the town, and a white shrine, like a delicious merangue, sitting on top of a hill overlooking the old royal palace." ~Patrick Morris

Another Quiet American by Brett Dakin

Another Quiet American

Princeton graduate Brett Dakin worked as a volunteer during the 90s in Vientiane documenting life in Laos just before the city and country underwent momentous and permanent changes. Set in Vientiane where he was working, his writing intelligently reflects on such subjects as French colonization, the American war, communism in Asia, immigration to America, growth if tourism, foreign aid programs, the drug trade.

There are also interesting facts we never knew. For example, the population density of Laos, one of the lowest in Asia, is less than 1/10th that of its neighbor, Vietnam (though if you pass through Hanoi on the way to Laos you may find this easy to believe).

Here are the stories of real people he met and worked with, the everyday life of Laotians and foreigners who reside in Laos in the forests of the north, along the Mekong River, and in the capital city of Vientiane.

If you take only two books on Indochina, we recommend you bring this and Vietnam Now by Martin Lamb.

The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down

The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down

A vivid, deeply felt, and meticulously researched account of the disastrous encounter between two disparate cultures: Western medicine and Eastern spirituality, in this case, of Hmong immigrants from Laos. Fadiman, a columnist for Civilization and the new editor of the American Scholar, met the Lees, a Hmong refugee family in Merced, Calif., in 1988, when their daughter Lia was already seven years old and, in the eyes of her American doctors, brain dead. In the Lees' view, Lia's soul had fled her body and become lost.

At age three months Lia had had her first epileptic seizure--as the Lees put it, "the spirit catches you and you fall down.'' Lia's treatment was complex--her anticonvulsant prescriptions changed 23 times in four years--and the Lees were sure the medicines were bad for their daughter. Believing that the family's failure to comply with his instructions constituted child abuse, Lia's doctor had her placed in foster care. A few months after returning home, Lia was hospitalized with a massive seizure that effectively destroyed her brain. With death believed to be imminent, the Lees were permitted to take her home.

Two years later, Fadiman found Lia being lovingly cared for by her parents. Still hoping to reunite her soul with her body, they arranged for a Hmong shaman to perform a healing ceremony featuring the sacrifice of a live pig in their apartment. Into this heart-wrenching story, Fadiman weaves an account of Hmong history from ancient times to the present, including their work for the CIA in Laos and their resettlement in the US, their culture, spiritual beliefs, ethics, and etiquette. [Amazon Link]

The Rocket (2013 Film)

The Rocket is a 2013 Australian drama film written and directed by Kim Mordaunt and was the seventh Australian film to be selected for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards.

A boy (Ahlo, 10), who is believed to bring bad luck, is blamed for a string of disasters. When his family loses their home and are forced to move, Ahlo meets the spirited orphan Kia (9) and her eccentric uncle Purple: an ex-soldier with a purple suit, a rice-wine habit and a fetish for James Brown. ​ Struggling to hang on to his father’s trust, Ahlo leads his family, Purple and Kia through a land scarred by war in search of a new home. In a last plea to try and prove he’s not cursed, Ahlo builds a giant explosive rocket to enter the most lucrative but dangerous competition of the year: the Rocket Festival. As the most bombed country in the world shoots back at the sky, a boy will reach to the heavens for forgiveness. 

Gripping yet heart-warming, The Rocket is a deeply personal story about the determination of a boy who has the odds stacked against him, set against the epic backdrop of a war-ravaged country on the brink of huge change. ​

The Rocket is one of the first feature films for international release set and shot in the intriguing and little-known country of Laos, rarely seen by the outside world since the end of the Vietnam War. With remarkable access to real rituals and festivities in the stunning mountains of Laos, The Rocket is a unique view into a world never seen on film before.


Betrayal (DVD)

Nominated for an Academy Award, this is an epic story of a family forced to emigrate from Laos after the chaos of the secret air war waged by the U.S. during the Vietnam War. Kuras spent 23 years chronicling the family's extraordinary journey in this deeply personal, poetic, and emotional film.

The Betrayal is the directorial debut of renowned cinematographer Ellen Kuras (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) in a remarkable collaboration with the film s subject and co-director Thavisouk Phrasavath. During the Vietnam War, the United States government waged its own secret war in the neighboring country of Laos. When the U.S. withdrew, thousands of Laotians who fought alongside American forces were left behind to face imprisonment or execution.

One family, the Phrasavaths, made the courageous decision to escape to America. Hoping to find safety, they discovered a different kind of war. Epic in scope yet devastatingly intimate, featuring an exquisite score by Academy Award winning composer Howard Shore, The Betrayal is a testament to the resilient bonds of family and an astonishing tale of survival.

Laos Travel Video

Movies, Video, and other DVDs

If you are an Amazon Prime member, there are a surprising number of free and inexpensive streaming videos (nearly 20) available on the company's Instant Video service.

Videos include an episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations set in Laos (during which he quickly falls madly and is humbled by the country and its people where there are no KFCs, McDonalds nor Burger Kings, "a place this beautiful won't stay hidden forever... but right now it remains mysterious and magical.").

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