It is my guess that many Stamp News readers have spent enjoyable holidays in Thailand, a country which offers wonderful beaches, a superb climate, excellent food and a wealth of exciting experiences.

The north-eastern part of Thailand borders on land-locked Laos which is still quite an exotic tourist destination. Laos is certainly as hot and sunny as neighbouring Thailand but there aren’t any sand beaches.

Using stamps as illustrations, this article intends to spotlight this Asian treasure. We’ll also find out about a French painter who created many of the country’s early and most beautiful stamp issues.

Laos as a stamp issuing country is a fairly new creation despite its very long history. The very first Laotian stamps were released in 1951. Previously the country had been part of French Indochina. In 1951 Laos was a kingdom with His Majesty Sisavang Vong on the throne.

Since 1975 Laos is a people’s republic after a long period of cruel civil war. However, this story will concentrate on the Kingdom of Laos which released some of the world’s most beautiful stamps.

The Mekong River runs through Laos; in fact, a very large part of the country’s population lives near the mighty river. Fishing is an important activity for many Laotians. The river is also of considerable importance for transports as the road network leaves a lot to be desired. Thus it is not at all surprising that the Mekong River is featured on several values of the 1951 definitives.

Most Laotians are farmers. It is mostly subsistence farming which is intended to support the family only. Rice is the most important crop as in the rest of South East Asia. A beautiful stamp set from 1957 illustrates rice production including harvesting, threshing and cooking. In 1963, there was a second issue devoted to rice farming as the Laotian contribution to the Freedom from Hunger Campaign sponsored by the United Nations.

Laos is home to huge forests and wood is one of the country’s main riches. This is where we find the elephants helping to get the logs out from the forests. But elephants have also been used for many other purposes.

In 1958, Laos released a set of seven stamps all depicting elephants; many collectors feel that this is one of the most beautiful set of animal stamps ever issued.

A long time ago Laos was known as Lan Xang which can be translated as the Land of a Million, Elephants. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. Today an estimated 200-500 wild elephants roam the Laotian forests. There are also somewhat more than 1000 domesticated elephants. Thus seeing a wild elephant is probably a very rare sight indeed.

Many Laotians are Buddhists and this religion has featured prominently on many early stamp issues ~ Shown here is a beautiful stamp from a 1953 issue. Strangely enough, the temple depicted on the stamp is located in neighbouring Thailand.

Laos is one of the world’s poorest nations and many families live on less than two dollars a day. For people living in the Western world this is something which it is almost impossible to understand.

Poverty of course affects many children in Laos. On paper there is a five-year obligatory school where children are supposed to start at the age of six. Unfortunately, only four out of five children ever start school and quite a lot never complete their schooling. This of course means that many children (and many adults, too) never learn to read and write.

What do Laotian kids do? Well, I guess that many have to start working at a very early age helping out on the farm or taking care of their siblings. In Australia and other Western countries young people spend a tremendous amount of using their cell phones, computers and iPods. These items are beyond the reach of most Laotian children.

Instead they probably have to organize their own games and activities (which in a way is far more creative than relying on what other people have organized for them). On a stamp from 1965 we see a number of young Laotians playing tikhy which resembles land hockey.

From 1952 until 1962 most Laotian stamps were designed by the French artist Marc Leguay. He had arrived in French Indochina in the 1930s and he then made the Laotian capital of Vientiane his home. He married a Laotian woman and also added a mistress to the household. Leguay and his family were featured in the famous November 30, 1959 issue of LIFE magazine which had a large illustrated story about 288 of the world’s prettiest stamps. (With a circulation of 6.4 million, the LIFE magazine story must have done a lot to popularize stamp collecting in the USA).

According to the LIFE story, Leguay had at least 25 children. He used his wife, mistress and children as models for many of his stamp designs. Illustrated is the 8-kip denomination from a 1957 set depicting Laotian musical instruments. The boy playing the nang-net (a popular percussion instrument) is Leguay’s son Phoun Savath.

The early Laotian stamps are all works of art – beautiful designs, delicate engravings, superb printing (all done in France) and generally large sizes. It is a sheer pleasure adding these wonderful stamps to your album. Fortunately, with very few exceptions all the stamps are still quite affordable.