Vientiane (3)

6 11 2009

Thursday 5th November 2009

As we conclude our last full day in Laos we are aware of the contradictions that abound here. On the one hand this languid laidback country is a mystical backwater of mountains, karst and emerald green of rice paddies, with friendly locals and laissez-faire attitude. To be fair we have only see glimpses of that side of Laos keeping, as we have, to Luang Prabang and Vientiane with their tourist oriented, markets, chichi restaurants, spa treatments, and boutique hotels which we have enjoyed immensely.

east meets west

East meets West

Up until recently the country has been a politically isolated backwater under a leadership that is today closer to a dictatorship than the Party governing leadership of Marxist –Lenin ideals that took government in 1976.

Mekong River Commission lawn

View from our 2 1/2 star hotel of immaculately coiffured lawn of the Mekong River Commission

Whilst the economy has begun to flourish with the encouragement of capitalist investment and entrepreneurial freedoms there is still a tight political reign on many things including religious choice. The official position of the governing regime is that Buddhism is much more an integral part of Lao culture than a religion (although many of the tribal minorities are Animist).  But even in this the LDPR controls Buddhism through the Department of Religious Affairs to ensure that the teaching of Buddhism is in accordance with Marxist principles. All monks have to undergo political indoctrination as part of their monastic training.

digging for shellfish

Digging for shellfish:riverfront, Vientiane

Christianity, on the other hand is forced underground with the current Laos constitution forbidding religious proselytising or the distribution of religious materials. Foreigners caught distributing religious materials may be arrested and held incommunicado or expelled from the country.

In our time here we have sensed the weight of spiritual darkness amongst these delightful people and we pray that the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ may rise on this beautiful place.

We fly to Siem Reap in Cambodia tomorrow.

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