Laos is a mountainous country full of thick forested areas and dense jungles that provide homes to 1,200 different species of wildlife. The world’s 12th longest river, the Mekong, runs through the country fed by dozens of tributaries that flow from the peaks of Laos’ mountains. The river plays a very important role in the daily life of the people of Laos and also offers a natural border with both Thailand and Vietnam.
Ethnic Lao people descend from the Tai people that migrated to the region from China and make up about 60% of the population in Laos. The rest of the population is made up of 48 distinct ethnic minority groups that live in the northern and southern mountains of Laos. Ethnic Vietnamese people make up 2% of the population in the country.
Between 40-50% of the population (mostly ethnic Lao people) are practitioners of Theravada Buddhism, making it the most widely practiced religion. The ethnic minority groups generally practice Satsana Phi (deities’ religion), although beliefs vary greatly from group to group. Catholics and protestants makes up 2% of the population and other religions include Mahayana Buddhism as well as a number of Chinese folk religions.
Politics in Laos is made up of a one-party socialist republic. The only legal political party is the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. The president of Laos is Bounnhang Vorachith who also serves as the country’s general secretary. The head of the Lao government is Thongloun Sisoulith and government policies are decided upon and determined by the Politburo of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party and country’s Central Committee.
Although Laos remains to be one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, its economy is on the rise due to a decision made by the government in 1986 to decentralise control and encourage private enterprise. Laos has also gained an important role in the region as a hydroelectric power supplier to neighboring countries like China, Thailand, and Vietnam. The currency in Laos is the Lao Kip.
Customs & Traditions
Because there are so many ethnic groups of different origin, it can be difficult to definitively describe the customs and traditions of Lao people. That being said, the people of Laos are generally known to be incredibly friendly while maintaining a relaxed attitude about everything. Visitors should remember that Buddhism is the predominantly practiced religion in the country and dress and act accordingly. Going along with the same theme, tattoos, dreadlocks and piercings are not appreciated in Lao cultures and should be covered as much as possible especially when visiting religious relics or monuments. Remember that the feet are considered to be dirty and unclean and should never be used to gesture or point. On a similar note, the head is considered to be very sacred and it is offensive to touch another person’s head in Lao culture.
Laos is has a tropical climate and tends to be hot and humid. The rainy season lasts from May to October, while the dry season lasts from November to February (this is the most popular time of year to visit). March and April are considered to be the hottest months of the year. Monsoons typically occur at the same time throughout the country, although one must always remember that there can be slight variations in this pattern from year to year.
Food & Drink
Sticky rice is the most commonly found food in Laos and accompanies almost every dish that you order. Spicy soups and meat-based side dishes are other dishes that will be found in most local eateries. The most common flavors found in Lao cuisine are galangal, lemongrass, and fermented fish sauce known as padaek. The French influence in Laos is apparent when traveling through bigger cities like Vientiane or Luang Prabang as baguettes and croissants are sold in the streets and French restaurants are widespread throughout the cities.
News & Magazine
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