I had one of the best travel experiences in Laos, and I admit that I still miss the humble, quiet country. Although I was smitten by the country’s scenic mountains and lovely streams, the Laos National Museum somehow failed to blow me away.
I’m not saying that the museum was awful, but I expected a national museum like it to be more organised and comprehensive. Before I get on with my story, let me just share with you a bit about the museum and its historical background.
About the Laos National Museum
Built in 1925, the museum (with French colonial architecture) is significant to the Lao people as it was where the country’s independence was declared. Since then the building had been used for many different purposes: it used to be the Lao government’s headquarter and the prime minister’s office. It was also where the King stayed during his visit from Luang Prabang.
The building later became the Laos Exhibition Hall of the Revolution on 1st of December 1980. Then it was transformed into the Laos Museum of Revolution. And since early 2000, the building has served as the Laos National Museum where 8,000 artefacts from across the country are kept.
Exploring Laos National Museum
As mentioned earlier, I wasn’t blown away by the museum. I think it’s just okay. Although it wasn’t that great, I didn’t consider it to be disappointing either. It was still an enjoyable visit, and I spent more more than 2 hours in the museum. That’s not so bad, eyh?
The two-storey museum displays educational information, typically about the people’s resistance against foreign invasions. It also displays photos and artefacts related to paleontology, archaeology, history and ethnology, dating from prehistoric times to the modern day. On the building’s ground floor, there are displays of dinosaur bones, Khmer culture and Buddha statuary.
As you proceed to the upper floor, you’ll be taken through a history lesson where you’ll learn about the country’s involvement in multiple foreign invasions, such as the invasions of the Siamese, the French colonial period, the Vietnam War, and so on. The museum also puts a lot of focus on communism, and how (and why) it was introduced in the year 1975, which will explain to you why the museum was formerly known as the Lao Revolutionary Museum.
Just like the War Remnants Museum in Vietnam, the Laos National Museum emphasizes on the impacts of foreign invasions on the country and its people, especially the one about the unexploded bombs left by the American military in the countryside.
Some people dislike the museum as they find it to be overdone with anti-western propaganda. There are many photos and artefacts that display huge disliking of the United States of America at the museum. Looking at the country’s war history, I can understand why their artefacts are presented the way they are.
If someone came to your country, dropped about 80 million bombs that haven’t exploded, and have you and your loved ones live in danger every day, how can you not be upset? Negative sentiments towards foreign powers displayed through the museum’s artefacts aren’t as strong as the ones at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh, though. At least that’s what I think. I suppose it’s how the two countries’ historical information are displayed that made all the difference.
Many visitors find the information about the unexploded ordnance from the American war to be the most interesting. I feel the same way, too. The whole thing made me sad. The bombs had ruined so many innocent lives even till’ this day. Since jobs are scarce, many local women from the countryside make their livings from finding and deactivating bombs. Yes, it’s a risky business. But someone has got to do it. I unequivocally think that these women are mentally strong and brave.
It’s not just about the money. These local women do it for the sake of their country. Despite their efforts, many bombs are still lingering around paddy fields, hills and local jungles. Retrieving all the bombs could take awhile.
Surprisingly, the museum also showcases illegal drugs that were obtained by the local authorities, such as opium, cannabis, and so on. It’s funny that the information displayed was not even accurate. I found plenty of spelling errors (such as ‘Haloin’ instead of Heroin) and wrong labels. I certainly didn’t expect that from a national museum.
Many of the museum’s relics are dated. The building also looks run down. It’s obvious that the building isn’t well maintained. But hey, the museum has a complete skeleton of a dinosaur that once roamed in Laos. It died 4,000 years ago. Amazing, isn’t it?
Is the museum worth the visit?
For the price I paid, yes, it was worth a visit. The entrance fee is only USD1.20 (10,000 Kip). Just don’t expect it to be like The Louvre. Since not many people travel to Laos, it’s likely that the museum won’t be crowded. The museum staff may tell you cameras aren’t allowed in the museum. But seriously, you might get away with it. No one seemed to be monitoring around when I was there!
Will I go there again? I guess I won’t mind!
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