• River cruise
  • Northern Vietnam
  • Central Vietnam
  • Southern Vietnam
  • Day Trip
  • Beach Destination
  • Ecotourist Destination
  • Vietnam Discovery
  • Cambodia Wonders
  • Laos Highlights

Laos information

Laos, located in the heart of the Indochina Peninsulais the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia,  bordered by Burma (235 km) and People's Republic of China (423km) to the northwest, Vietnam to the east (2,130km), Cambodia (541km) to the south, and Thailand (1,754km) to the west.

Official name: Lao People’s Democratic Republic, written abbreviation Lao PDR

Capital and largest city: Vientiane

Major cities: Luang Prabang, Savannakhet, Pakse

Area: 236,800 sq.km

Population: 6,695,166 (2013 Estimate) inhabitants composed of 55% Lao, 11% Khmu, 8% Hmong, 26% other ethnics.

Topography: The terrain is covered by thicf forests with mostly rugged mountains (the highest is Phou Bia 2,818m above sea level), plains and plateaus. The Mekong River (70m above sea level) forms a large part of the western boundary with Thailand, whereas the mountains of the Annamite Range form most of the eastern border with Vietnam and the Luang Prabang Range the northwestern border with theThai highlands. There are two plateaus, the Xiangkhoang in the north and the Bolaven Plateau at the southern end.

Rivers:  The Lao PDR is criss-crossed with a myriad of rivers and streams. The largest is the Mekong River, flowing for 1,898 kilometers from the North to the South, with 919 kilometers of the river forming the major portion of the border with Thailand. It is estimated that some 60% of all the water entering the Mekong River system originates in Laos. These rivers and streams provide great potential for hydropower development with 51% of the power potential in the lower Mekong basin contained within Laos.

Administrative division: Laos is divided into 18 units composed of 1 prefecture and capital (Vientiane Capital and Prefecture) and 17 provinces.

Climate: The climate is tropical and influenced by the monsoon pattern with a distinct rainy season from May to November, followed by a dry season from December to April. Local tradition holds that there are three seasons (rainy, cold and hot) as the latter two months of the climatologically defined dry season are noticeably hotter than the earlier four months.

Currency: Kip (LAK). Symbol: ₭ or ₭N.

Coins (rarely used) 10, 20, 50 att

Banknotes (Frequently  used) 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, 100,000 kip

                  (Rarely used)  1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 kip

Religions: Buddhist 67%, Christian 1.5%, other and unspecified 31.5% (2005 census).

Buddhism influences Lao way of life very much, as it can be seen in the way that Lao people live and behave. They are taught to be patient and to accept people. In the past, when law enforcement was not in place, Buddhism was the only thing that bound people together, taught people to be good, and discouraged detrimental behavior.

Language: Lao (official), French, English, various ethnic languages

Culture: Laos has at least 49 ethnic groups and each of them preserves their own dialect, customs, culture and tradition. However, because over half the population are ethnic Lao (previously called Lao Loum), this is obviously the most dominant group in Laos and the one that most people encounter as the Laos culture.

The rich culture of Laos is rooted in immense spirituality, as the predominant religion of Theravada Buddhism has influences extending from lifestyle to art and architecture. This is encountered in ceremonies like the baci or Sou Khoun (a ceremony to enrich the spirit) and the common practice of alms giving every morning at sunrise.

Most villages have at least one temple. These temples are not only places for monks to live and pray, they are also the main centre for social and recreational activities such as village meetings, religious ceremonies and festivals. In urban areas, temples sometimes serve as shelters for homeless and disadvantaged people. Sometimes when someone dies in an accident or outside their houses the body will be taken to the temple and kept there for a few days for religious ceremonies before it is cremated.

Architecture:  Lao architecture is mainly a mix of French colonial, Buddhist (in temples), traditional Lao and modern architecture, with some influences from Thailand and other countries. In rural areas most Lao people live in Lao traditional houses, built of wood and raised off the ground on stilts, but in urban areas modern style houses are more common and Lao traditional houses are slowly disappearing. Many ethnic groups have their own house styles, such as the Hmong, Iu Mien, and some other ethnic groups in the northern mountainous areas, where the weather is cold and windy in cold season. These groups build houses on the ground with the end of the roof almost touching the ground.

Lifestyle: Lao people typically socialise as families, and most live in extended families with three or sometimes more generations sharing one house or compound. The family cooks and eats together sitting on the floor with sticky rice and dishes shared by all. Sometimes when someone pays a visit unexpectedly at meal time, he is automatically invited by the family to join without any hesitation.

Gastronomy: Lao cuisine is very similar to its Thai and Vietnamese neighbor’s, and meals of spicy soup, sticky rice and chicken or laab are favorites with locals. Lao cuisine has many regional variations, according in part to the fresh foods local to each region. A French legacy is still evident in the capital city, Vientiane, where baguettes are sold on the street and French restaurants are common and popular, which were first introduced when Laos was a part of French Indochina.

The staple food of the Lao is steamed sticky rice which is eaten by hand. In fact, the Lao eat more sticky rice than any other people in the world. Sticky rice is considered the essence of what it means to be "Lao" - sometimes the Lao even referred to themselves as "Luk Khao Niaow", which can be translated as "children/descendants of sticky rice". Galangal, lemongrass and padaek (Lao fish sauce) are important ingredients.  

Some popular Lao dishes

Laap is a traditional Lao food is made from chopped meat, chicken or duck as a favorite. The finely chopped meat spices and broth is mixed with uncooked rice grains that have been dry fried and crushed. Laap is eaten with a plate of raw vegetables and sticky rice.

 

                                                         Laap                                                                           Tam Mak Houng

Tam Mak Houng perhaps is the most recognized dish among tourists. The easiest one that can be found even in small town while traditional taste of Tam Mak Houng are recommended to try from vendors on main streets. Ingredients are: green papaya, garlic, chili, peanuts, sugar, lime juice, and a must-have are fermented fish sauce. Although it can be extremely spicy, eat with sticky rice will make it more enjoyable! Tam Mak Houng is also know as ‘somtam’ in Thai, or ‘papaya salad’ in English

Padeck is the distinctive and unique Lao traditional food. It’s a mixture of fish and salt that is marinated and preserved in a jar for minimum of a year up to 3 years.

Lao desserts that are commonly serve include banana, sweet banana & taro chips, banana syrup, cassava sweet, custard pumpkin, pumpkin sweet, red bean sweet, khao tom (sweet sticky rice), kao meow (coconut with green rice), sweet banana chips, sweet rice with mango and fruit shake.

  

               Banana and tapioca pudding                             Khao Tom                                        Sweet rice and mango

Lao common beverages in the country are beer, coffee, iced “Dog” tea, Lao piranha, Lao tropical, red wine, tamnak Lao special, lao hai and lao lao (traditional alcoholic drinks).

Tourism:

Lao PDR has great potential for tourism development as the country is in possession of:

     + extraordinary spaces as Nam Ngum reservoir , Bolaven plateau, Mekong river islands , Mekong river boat trip , Tad Kouangsi waterfall

     + historical and cultural patrimony that comprises wonderful sites such as Wat Phu- a UNESCO World Heritage Site from 12th century, the remarkable site from Plain of Jars, offering an insight into Neolithic civilization and a rare window into traditions of centuries.

     + religious sites of world significance and value such as: Wat Xieng Thong, one of the most important of world Buddhism monasteries and remains a significant place for the spirit of religion and traditional art. Other sites that must be mentioned such as: Wat Phu ( UNESCO heritage site) and Champasak Cultural Landscape ( under UNESCO recognition).

     + traditional festivals all year round in different provinces of the country.

 

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