Laos – an introduction

We visit Laos every October.  It is the start of our annual Indochina tour where we also visit Vietnam, and finish the tour in Cambodia.  We are often asked why we visit Laos.  Not too many photo tours do.  The answer is simple.  Classic Indochina images, Monks, simple lifestyles, kind people, great food, and the opportunity to capture people in their natural setting doing things they do every day.  We also contribute to the tourism industry and through our images bring Laos to the world.  Our guests are pleasantly surprised after the visit and often state “I would have never imaged such great images could be captured here.” and “The monks and local people and markets are the highlights of the visit.”

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS @ 82mm, 1/25 (handheld), f/4, ISO 5000, Lexar Digital Film, Tiffen UV filter, Black Rapid Sport strap, Clik Elite Pro Express backpack

Let us tell you a bit about Laos – modern-day Laos is a little bit larger than the state of Utah and has its roots in the ancient Lao kingdom of Lan Xang, established in the 14th Century under King FA NGUM.  For 300 years Lan Xang had influence reaching into present-day Cambodia and Thailand, as well as over all of what is now Laos.  After centuries of gradual decline, Laos came under the domination of Siam (Thailand) from the late 18th century until the late 19th century when it became part of French Indochina.  The Franco-Siamese Treaty of 1907 defined the current Lao border with Thailand.  In 1975, the Communist Pathet Lao took control of the government ending a six-century-old monarchy and instituting a strict socialist regime closely aligned to Vietnam.  A gradual, limited return to private enterprise and the liberalization of foreign investment laws began in 1988.  The country is landlocked and shares significant borders with Thailand to the west and Vietnam to the east.

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS @ 105mm, 1/200 f/4, ISO 4000, Lexar Digital Film, Tiffen UV filter, Black Rapid Sport strap, Clik Elite Pro Express backpack

The country consists of the following Ethnic groups: Lao 55%, Khmou 11%, Hmong 8%, other (over 100 minor ethnic groups) 26%.  We spend a lot of our time photographing the Hmong and many minor ethnic groups that inhabit the hills and countryside.  From a religious perspective Laos is made up of the following: Buddhist 67%, Christian 1.5%, other and unspecified 31.5%.  We also spend a lot of time photographing the monks of Laos and observing their daily rituals.  One of which is the daily procession of ‘Giving of The Alms’ where people line the streets to give food and other items to the Monks (and the poor children) to help them live.  It is an awesome expression of humility and peace.

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS @ 35mm, 1/320, f/5.6, ISO 400, Lexar Digital Film, Tiffen UV filter, Black Rapid Sport strap, Clik Elite Pro Express backpack

The government of Laos, one of the few remaining one-party communist states, began decentralizing control and encouraging private enterprise in 1986.  The results, starting from an extremely low base, were striking – growth averaged 6% per year from 1988-2008 except during the short-lived drop caused by the Asian financial crisis that began in 1997.  Lao’s growth exceeded 7% per year during 2008-11.  Despite this high growth rate, Laos remains a country with an underdeveloped infrastructure, particularly in rural areas.  It has a rudimentary, but improving, road system, and limited external and internal land-line telecommunications.  Electricity is available in urban areas and in many rural districts.  Subsistence agriculture, dominated by rice cultivation in lowland areas, accounts for about 30% of GDP and 75% of total employment.  Economic growth has reduced official poverty rates from 46% in 1992 to 26% in 2010.  The economy has benefited from high foreign investment in hydro-power, mining, and construction.  Laos gained Normal Trade Relations status with the US in 2004, and is taking steps required to join the World Trade Organization, such as reforming import licensing.  The GDP per capita was approximately $2800 in 2011 – as point of reference, in 2008 the US per capita GDP was approximately $48300.  Approximately 26% of Lao’s people live below the poverty line making Laos the world’s 49th poorest country.

Canon 5D Mark III, Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 OS @ 128mm, 1/100, f/3.5, ISO 1600, Lexar Digital Film, Tiffen UV filter, Black Rapid Sport strap, Clik Elite Pro Express backpack

Why give you this background?  Simple – for all the hardships Laos may face her people are happy, kind, and open.  The country is beautiful and offers excellent photographic opportunities.  As we bring guests here every year we notice that growth is taking place.  We like to get off the beaten path and that is easy in Laos.  It is one of the few places we visit where we get to ride the national symbol – the elephant – through the jungle.

Canon PowerShot G15 @ 28mm, 1/200, f/2.8, ISO 160, Lexar Digital Film, Black Rapid Sport strap, Clik Elite Pro Express backpack

In addition, you come into contact with budding business people like this young girl who was such a gracious host as we visited her as she worked her loom in her village a couple of hours outside Luang Prabang along the Mekong River.  She sold several handmade scarfs to our group.

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS @ 32mm, 1/100, f/5.6, ISO 400, Lexar Digital Film, Tiffen UV filter, Black Rapid Sport strap, Clik Elite Pro Express backpack

A recent guest from New York state gave a group she was speaking to the following feedback on her trip with us: ” This is a PHOTO TOUR…not a sightseeing, shopping, strolling, relaxing tour.  You’re up early shooting vistas at dawn and asleep late after shooting the night markets…you’re racing to catch planes, buses and trains that take you to non touristy, out of the way areas, you will see things you NEVER imagined and you will come home with the unbelievable photographs to prove it!  If NOTHING is more important to you than capturing the images you want…then call M&M PHOTO TOURS and book your next amazing photographic adventure today!  You will NOT be sorry!  I HIGHLY recommend them!!”

We hope you’ll join us in October 2013 as we head to Laos again.  For details please visit http://www.mmphototours.com/Store/tabid/80/CategoryID/39/List/1/Level/a/ProductID/46/Default.aspx?SortField=ProductName%2cProductName the simplicity of life and the images you come away with will amaze you.

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