Laos is a landlocked Southeast Asian country with half of its populace being ethnic Lao. Others include Khmou and Hmong, with Chinese and Vietnamese maintaining a sizeable presence in cities. With only a third of its people urbanized, Laos has one of the lowest population densities in Asia.
Contrasting a stereotypical Asian city, Laos is slower and quieter; everything seems to take twice the time to do, from communication to social and commercial activities. The proportion of leisure to work, in particular, appears to be inverted compared to Western norms.
Surveying its landscape, one sees small villages and wats scattered alongside the long stretch of its delicate mountain range, the Annamese Cordillera. Rivers flow down like hairline cracks into the Mekong, invigorating the rice paddies along the way, providing the livelihood that villagers depend so much on.
With the abundance of rice fields, it is not surprising that rice is the staple in Laos, supporting those who live around the mountains. Rural villages cluster around a temple with buildings built in a mixture of traditional Lao and Buddhist wood houses.
It is a common knowledge amongst perfume connoisseurs that oud essence derives from one of the rarest woods in the world, the agarwood. But most are perhaps not aware that this “black gold,” as is known in the Middle East, can also be found in its top-quality form in Laotian forests.
This is different than in the cities, where an interesting mix of French colonial, Buddhist, monarchic, and communist influence reveal themselves through temples, palaces, deteriorated street signs, row houses, and French bakeries lining the streets.
Filled with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, these cities, particularly in Vientiane and Luang Prabang, are where tourists concentrate; one can find decent Western (especially French) food after a day of exploration – a true relief for those over-saturated with cultural shock.
On nature’s front, Laos is covered mostly by forests. The lack of manufacturing and middle-class knowledge workers means that commodities like timber are important sources of economic activities.
It is a common knowledge amongst perfume connoisseurs that oud essence is a sought-after fragrance ingredient derived from one of the rarest woods in the world, the agarwood. But most are perhaps not aware that this “black gold,” as is known in the Middle East, can also be found in top-quality in Laotian forests.
Contrasting a stereotypical Asian city, Laos gives an impression of being much slower and quieter; everything seems to take twice the time to do, from communication to commercial activities.
Those exotic woods are harvested in Laos, extracted into essence, and shipped to Grasse for perfumery. Because of the value those woods command on the global market (up to $13,000 USD per pound), theft and smuggling have been serious problems with ever-increasing measures being implemented to counter those threats.
It is interesting how a country so out of sight in the global arena could claim such an important role in this luxury niche market that people seldom heard of. And this is what makes Laos so exotic – tranquil villages juxtaposed with wats and boulangeries and backdropped by its enigmatic forests and hundreds of rare woods.