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The most important rule in bargaining is to be friendly and smile, as keeping "face " is an important part of Lao culture (just as it is across Asia). Be respectful and.
Table of contents

After his death in , the Lang Xang Kingdom slowly eroded and the country was torn by internal turmoil. The country was again united under Photisarath rule in the early 16th century, who moved the capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane, primarily to protect the ruling family from Burmese incursions. He died without leaving an heir and subsequently the country was divided into three, leaving it vulnerable to Burmese and Thai attacks. The 19th century saw Laos annexed as part of French Indochina and it remained under French rule until After the war, the Americans helped establish the Royal Lao Army as the ruling entity, primarily to counter the rise of the communist Pathet Lao.

This led to heavy bombing by the US, leaving behind undiscovered explosives even today. Kaysone Phomvihane became the leader under the Pathet Lao government. In , the Lao Constitution was implemented, which moved the country away from orthodox socialism to more political and economic liberalization. Buddhism remains an integral part of daily life and religious festivals are important events throughout the year.

Every day, people can be seen giving alms to monks and going to temple to pray and give offerings. Although 60 percent of the country is made up ethnic Lao, there are 49 other groups present.

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Of these, the Hmong hilltribes, who had been marginalized in the past, are growing in importance. Many were persecuted by the government after the Vietnam War for helping the US, and many opted to move to America. Today, some hold high political offices and they have their own culture and traditions.

The Siamese were the dominant power until the arrival of the French in the s. Joining Cambodia and Vietnam, Laos became part of French Indo-China, and colonial administration saw plantations established across the country. The Lao Civil War mirrored the Vietnam War, and vast quantities of ordnance were secretly dropped on Laos by the US military to weaken the communist uprising.

When Vietnam adopted communism in , Laos followed suit, abolishing the monarchy and redrawing the economy along austere communist lines. Laos became dependent on military and economic assistance from Vietnam, and other neighbours closed relations with the Lao regime, leading to more than a decade of isolation. Tensions finally began to ease in the late s, and Laos slowly opened up to the outside world.

Today, the country is mostly at peace and the Lao People's Revolutionary Party LPRP remains firmly in control, though some rebel groups are still active. Despite limited political reforms in the s, Laos still languishes behind its neighbours on most economic indexes. Did you know? The majority of the Lao people are Buddhists. The religions of the Laos-Theung Laos of the mountain tops range from traditional Confucianism to animism and Christianity.

Religious beliefs should be respected. Lao people should not be touched on the head and women should not touch monks.

A tropical monsoon climate is modified by the mountains. The wet season runs from May to October. Vientiane was the capital of earlier Lao kingdoms. It was destroyed by the Siamese early in the nineteenth century, but the French reestablished Vientaine as the capital in , when Laos became part of French Indochina. A royal capital existed in Luang Prabang until the fall of the monarchy in The two other main cities, Savannakhet and Pakse, are also on the Mekong.

In , the population was 5,, Urban dwellers made up 23 percent of the population. Close to 70 percent of the population is under 30 years old. Laos is one of the least densely populated countries in Asia. Linguistic Affiliation. Lao is the language of government, education, and mass communications. Lao belongs to the Tai language family. There are variations in pronunciation and vocabulary from north to south. Most Lao understand and speak Thai. Lao has many borrowings from Pali and Sanskrit, particularly in its literary forms.

Among the minorities, there is the Miao-Yao Hmong-Iu Mien language group, mostly spoken in the north. Among the Hmong, Chinese characters are used in religious rituals. Many Hmong are fully literate in an orthography developed by missionaries, and there is a Hmong messianic script.

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Among the Iu-Mien Yao , literate individuals use Chinese characters to write histories. Tibeto-Burman speakers, mainly in the north, also make use of Chinese characters for ritual purposes. Austronesian and Mon-Khmer speakers live in the north but are most heavily represented in the south.

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These groups have no indigenous tradition of literacy. Illiteracy is as high as 40 percent, primarily among older people and women. Because of the use of Lao as a lingua franca, most people have some knowledge of it, particularly for purposes of trading. Vietnamese and Chinese in urban areas have autonomous traditions of literacy, and have their own schools. The majority of them are also fluent in Lao. The key national symbols are Buddhist, despite the fact that only around 60 percent of the population is Buddhist. Before the revolution in , Buddhism and the monarchy were linked as key symbols.

The Communist regime tried to substitute purely secular national symbols, and a calendar of mostly secular holidays was instituted.

Laos Culture

With the collapse of communism, the state has reverted to purely nationalist symbols; this "retraditionalizing" of the regime has meant a greater prominence for Buddhism. The national day of December 2 was celebrated after the revolution, but has been eclipsed by the celebration of the That Luang Festival.

The That Luang stupa in Vientiane, built by the revered King Sethathirat, is one of the most sacred spaces and is recognized by all groups. Other national icons are also Buddhist, but some, such as the megalithic jars from the Plain of Jars, point to complex origins. Much of this iconography was pioneered by the RLG, including that associated with "hill tribes," who are typically presented in their "national dress.


This is a source of low-key contention in the country. The appropriation of "old regime" symbols has muted some of the conflict between refugee Lao and the LPDR Lao People's Democratic Republic , but has led to debates over how much of the past to "revive. Nowhere is this conflict clearer than in the declaration of the old royal capital as a national heritage city by UNESCO, thus making Luang Prabang a symbol of Lao culture and a tourist attraction.

This dual use has led to debates about how much of the royal "feudal" past should be revived. The communist government tried to promote a cult around the communist leader Kaysone Phomvihane after his death, and statues of him were erected all over the country. Emergence of the Nation. The main parameters of the modern state were established by French colonialism between and The French delineated the borders and wrote the first national history of Laos. It was also the French who began restoring monuments and constructing a "national" literature.

This work was continued by a small group of intellectuals under the RLG associated with the Literature Committee and by the Royal Academy. The LPDR has added little to this stock of national markers. This movement is a claimed by both Communists and anti-Communists. The current regime claims to be the true nationalist heir, but it came to power and survived only with the military assistance of the Vietnamese.

This reliance tarnished its nationalist credentials after , but declining reliance on Vietnam in the s boosted those credentials. National Identity. More people of Lao ethnic origin live in Thailand than in Laos. Laos was almost absorbed into Siam and that has tinged Lao national identity with fears of disappearance. The fact that most ethnic Lao in the Thai northeast do not identify themselves with the Lao nation-state is a source of confusion, blurring the cultural boundary between Laos and Thailand.

Although Lao and Thai languages are very close, central Thai is the key cultural marker of the difference. However, many Lao consider Thai to be more developed than Lao.

Customs & etiquette in Laos

Lao identity may have been more clearly demarcated when it had a monarchy of its own. Now, many Lao follow the itineraries of Thai royalty as if to fill a cultural absence at home. Ethnic Relations. An ethnic hierarchy exists, placing ethnic Lao at the apex. Many urban Chinese have assimilated into Lao culture, and even those who have not are considered to represent a major civilization. Vietnamese also have assimilated, and those who have not are situated just below the Chinese, though they are more disliked.

A small Indian population lives in the urban areas, and dislike for them usually focuses on their dark skin, smell, and alleged deviousness.


There is little intermarriage between them and Lao. The term "ethnic minorities" normally refers to the hill tribes. This initial bipolar categorization of ethnic Lao and minorities gives way to a threefold categorization of the population into Lao Lum lowland, [ethnic,] Lao , Lao Theung literally midland Lao , and Lao Soung literally highland Lao. The government has attempted to come up with a comprehensive classification of the ethnic groups, which ranged in number from sixty-eight to forty-three in Ordinary Lao are likely to use the tripartite classification or even derogatory terms for those designated Lao Theung and Meo.

Most disrespect is reserved for the Austronesian groups in the south, whose pipe-smoking women are singled out for comment.