Getting an Insight into Lao Culture

For those who are attracted to Laos – a landlocked country with the laid-back lifestyle from saffron-robed monks receiving alms to golden stupas, and stunning mountainous landscapes, it is worth a profound exploration about its valued culture. Although most travelers might already be aware that Lao culture is distinct from Western and other Asian ones, some of them still cannot avoid being surprised by the extent of the differences, especially their cultural diversity.

RELIGION

Do you know that Buddhism is the official religion of Laos?

In fact, among the country’s 5.4 million people, Buddhism is responsible for approximately 67% of population, while other religions including animism accounted for about 30.9 percent, in which 1.5% is Christians and less than 1% is Muslims and Bahai. Besides, Catholics make up the lowest level of population at 0.6%.

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LANGUAGE

Lao, a member of the Tai Kadai language group, is widely known as the official language that has several variations in vocabulary, pronunciation and accent throughout the country of Laos. In terms of the written form, Lao was originated from Tham script evolving from Pali language initiated in India. Significantly, around last two thousand years when Buddhism was growing in popularity, Theravada Buddhists brought this kind of script to Laos with the aim of making it familiar with everyone there. While the majority of Lao ethnic groups all have their own dialects, Lao still plays an essential role as a key language for helping them communicate with outsiders. Additionally, being similar to its Thai cousin, it is the reason why Lao becomes a main spoken language in various northwest areas of Thailand, where it is usually referred to as the Isan language. Specifically, there is no surprise for Laotians when Thai television and radio have turned out to be very well-liked in their tiny country. Besides, French, Vietnamese, and English are also used to talk flexibly in their daily life’s conservations.

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LAOTIAN CHARACTERISTICS

When it comes to Laotian characteristics, it is obvious that they are often considered as frank, friendly, kind, genuine, tolerant, generous and giving with the aim of meeting the demand of life in extended families, especially when they need to help each other overcome many difficulties.

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Public body contact, especially between men and women is completely avoided. Lao people do not like being touched on the head as it is considered offensive. It is also considered as an impolite action when pointing one’s foot at another person.

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Moreover, anyone who communicates with Lao people even at least one time, surely recognize that they also own a strongly developed sense of courtesy and respect. Undoubted, everyone who adheres to the latter will receive a warm welcome as a result of Lao people’s general tendency to typically socialize with others. With a simple life when living in extended families, it is extremely normal for their relatives or friends to drop by without calling in advance. 

Also, loyalty to family and friends seem to be grown up from their early childhood, which allows love and peace to rest in their sincere hearts.

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TYPICAL CUSTOMS

• Traditional clothing - “Sinh” & “Salong”

When taking a trip to Laos, you will be amazed that it is not difficult to encounter shops which offer you a variety of refined silk fabrics coming in all colors and ranging from traditional pattern to modern one. Significantly, these weaving products have made a primary contribution to the creation of Laotian traditional clothes namely “Sinh” and “Salong”, which reflects how unique Lao long-established costumes are.

What do you know about “Sinh” and “Salong”?

Normally, while “Sinh” is a long silk skirt worn by Lao women, “Salong” is responsible for Lao men’s traditional costume. In particular, “Sinh” is a harmonic combination of 3 main parts including “hua sinh” (the waist band part), “phuen sinh” (the skirts’ body which is usually empty and without many decorative vignettes), and “tin sinh” (the lower border which contains golden ornament). When dressing “Sinh”, Laotian women tend to use scarves with the same decoration crossing over the top of their body. Meanwhile, “Salong” which is usually put on by men when taking part it important ceremonies, has its own attractive features regarded as big large pants or the peasant pants along with a shirt, optional knee-length white socks, and a pha biang.

Noticeably, while men's clothing is more basic in designs, the clothing of the women seems to be elaborate and decorated with embroidery.

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• Eating habits

Sticky rice is mainly consumed by 90% of the Lao people. After steaming, the rice is kept in a basket called and can be taken to everywhere. The arrangement of food is on the food big plate. The main foods are Lap, Koy, and Ping.

Being distinct from other Asia cuisines, Lao food is traditionally eaten with sticky rice using fingers. Interestingly, the amount of Laotians consuming sticky rice is up to 90% of this country’s population. As usual, the rice is often kept in a basket named as Tikao or kongkao fater steaming and can be taken to wherever they go.

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Specifically, eating family-style, sitting on the floor, sharing a few dishes are some common features that you need to familiar with when coming to most of Lao rural areas.

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Unlike what you might think, perhaps, Laos is justifiably acclaimed for its food diversity. Normally, based on fish, buffalo meat, pork, poultry, especially vegetables and herbs, Lao traditional dishes are often dry and spicy in the majority of recipes. The fresh ingredients is often cared for by Lao people who like preparing everything from scratch, rather than using preserved ones, as they always hold a belief this way will make their food more delicious.

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• Wedding 

Traditionally, after the proposal, the wedding preparations will get started with the Sou Khor (bride-price negotiation) procession, which often defrays the expenses of the wedding. How much of money spent for it will depend on the family social status of both sides. When they reach agreement about the bride-price as well as all of other details, then the time for taking place this Big Day will be selected. Of course, this important ceremony is commonly celebrated at the home of the bride's family. Excitingly, mother of the bride or an older female who has a good family will make the bed for the couple with the aim of wishing a happy married life for them. Generally, like any other countries’ wedding customs, the outfits, inspiration and ideas for all the things are also needed to prepare carefully for the Big Day in this “Land of a Million Elephants”.

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In a nutshell, coming and feeling Lao culture through their daily life, you will immediately be on top of the world!

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Brian Vu

Working for a travel company is a big chance for me to feel love with travel. Specially, leisure is not my style, riding motorbike to discover everywhere is really great for my trips. On each miles I reach, I get opportunity to learn more about the local culture, to see ... [View Details...]