Laos // Vientiane and the northwest //

Lao National Museum

Just north of Nam Phou, on Samsenthai Road, the Lao National Museum is housed in the former mansion of the French résident supérieur and set in overgrown grounds with a hideous fountain and plumeria (frangipani) trees, the delicate blossoms of which are the national flower of Laos. Previously known as the Lao Revolutionary Museum, the institution deals primarily with the events, both ancient and recent, that led to the “inevitable victory” of the proletariat in 1975. Inside, Laos’s ancient past is crudely depicted on canvas, with scenes such as crimson-clad Lao patriots of yore liberating the motherland from Thai and Burmese “feudalists”. Upstairs there are more crude oils: “French colonialists” are depicted as hair-faced ogres bullwhipping tightly trussed Lao villagers or tossing Lao tots down a well. Black-and-white photographs take over to tell the story of the struggle against “the Japanese fascists” and “American imperialists”. Most of the best artefacts on display, including a wonderfully detailed Khmer sculpture of Ganesh and a bronze frog-drum, possibly used in ancient rain-making rituals, didn’t fit neatly into the official socialist story line, and were, until recently, very neglected. Some of the exhibits are currently only labelled in Lao, but a project is underway to ensure English translations are made available.

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