Home to more than 150 ethnic groups and 80 languages, yet with one of the lowest population densities in the world, the culture of Laos is truly fascinating. Here are some of the most charming cultural facts just waiting to be discovered.
1. Different ethnic cultures in Laos are officially sub-divided into three main groups according to the altitude people live at – one of the only countries in the world to characterise its residents by geography. Laotians are comprised of lowlanders, uplanders and highlanders.
2. Although Lao is the official languages of Laos, French is the unofficial second language. This is due to the country’s colonial history and the tradition of teaching children French at school – which continues to this day.
3. Animism is a popular Laotian tradition, which is the belief in spirits known as Satsana Phi. Phi can be spirits of buildings, localities or people – and are celebrated at numerous local festivals and at ‘spirit houses’, which are said to assist with balance between the natural and supernatural worlds.
4. The traditional dress of Laos varies between localities. All ethnic groups have their own distinctive dress. Generally speaking, however, highland Lao are known for their colourful designs and intricate embroidery. Upland Lao make extensive use of beading and silver jewellery. Lowland Lao, on the other hand, tend to wear the traditional silk sinh (wrap skirt) and gold jewellery.
5. Artisanal crafts are skills passed on through generations in Laos, with weaving one of the most common. Each ethnic group uses a slightly different style of weaving, meaning those in-the-know can identify a person’s origins from the weave of their clothes and shawls.
6. Luang Prabang is one of the spiritual centres of Laos, with a number of monasteries. Tak Bat is a daily religious tradition in the town, where monks walk down the street in total silence to collect food and other offerings from local people.
7. The dominant religion in Laos is Buddhism, and a range of traditions and social expectations come along with this. It’s considered offensive to touch any image of a Buddha in Laos. Laotians also consider the head to be sacred and the feet and left hand as being unclean, so it’s important not to touch someone else’s head or put feet up on a seat.
The culture of Laos is full of fascinating stories, rituals and traditions. Come and explore the Laos culture with us on our week-long Laos adventure