Education About Asia: Online Archives

Stalking the Elephant Kings: In Search of Laos

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Once drawn into the vortex of the Cold War and a key Southeast Asian “domino,” contested violently and vigorously by the U.S. and USSR superpowers, Laos later slipped into relative oblivion and became what journalist Stan Sesser describes as the “forgotten land.” The Australian Christopher Kremmer’s intriguing new volume draws attention to a “landscape as dramatic and beautiful as any, and people of great civility, charm, and generosity. . . ” (p. 213). Kremmer’s “search for Laos” was his sideshow while working as a journalist in neighboring Vietnam. The major motif of the volume is to uncover the “secret” history of what happened to the principal royals of Laos following the communists coming to power in 1975. Kremmer is an excellent writer with a real talent for powerful imagery, and the book reads like a mystery novel. His distaste for, and devastating critique of, the current regime will be welcomed by many of the Lao diaspora scattered around the globe.

Unlike many Westerners and Thais who travel to Laos for only short periods of time and never venture beyond the capital of Vientiane, Kremmer spent “many” months traveling to the remote parts of the country, particularly in the northeastern areas of Sam Neua and Viengsai in Huaphan Province. He also traveled to the ancient royal capital of Luang Prabang, the Plain of Jars, and the southern area of Champasak and the ancient Khmer ruins of Wat Phu. The bulk of the book consists of reflections on these travels, and interviews and conversations he had primarily related to the fate of Laos’s last royals.