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Laos Culture, Geography and History
Culture and Customs of Laos
The population of Laos is made of up of more than 100 different ethnic groups, with each having their own distinct clothing, language, customs and way of life. The Lao Loum, who reside in the lowlands along the Mekong, make up the largest ethnic group. Smaller ethnic groups include the Hmong and Mien, both highland dwellers, and the Lao Thoeng, who prefer the lower mountains. Many tribes share cultural similarities with tribes from neighbouring countries, so it’s possible to see Chinese, Vietnamese, Khmer and Thai influences within the dress, food and arts of these people.
Generally, Laotians are known for their laidback lifestyle and calm, steady approach to life. With emphasis on the simple pleasures of family, food and religion, most people from Laos remain closely connected to their family and village for a lifetime. Most Laotians live in villages, rather than the city, where the sense of community is strong and people are connected to their neighbours and friends. Visiting wats (temples) to make offerings and give alms to monks is a common part of daily life for most, with much respect and reverence reserved for monks. Buddhist holidays and traditional festivals linked to harvest time and holy periods are commonly celebrated throughout the villages of Laos and are timed according to lunar cycles. With different dates each year, it can be hard to predict the exact timing of these local celebrations, but visiting one can provide great insight into the fascinating culture of Laos.
Geography and Environment of Laos
Landlocked Laos is located in South-East Asia, bordered by China, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar. The topography of Laos is very mountainous, with much of the land being covered in forest and unsuitable for farming. Due to the mountainous terrain, Laos lacks a developed road network, with most locals living in small villages in the highlands, lowlands and along the Mekong River. Visiting Laos is like going back in time to when highways, traffic jams, mass transit systems and skyscrapers didn't exist. Visitors will be awed by the lush landscapes and stunning scenery, which is unlike anywhere else on earth.
History and Government of Laos
It's thought that Laos has been inhabited by people for thousands of years, although written evidence reveals that societies existed in the 9th century. Early society was based on agriculture and prior to the advent of Buddhism in the 16th century, people largely subscribed to animist beliefs and Shiva-worship, with archaeological evidence of this remaining today. Like its neighbouring countries, Laos was ruled by a series of kingdoms and was subject to invasion from surrounding forces from nearby domains. Europeans first arrived in the area in the 1600s, with the Dutch being the first to arrive. Despite this, the French have had the most European influence in the region. After enduring years of invasion and control from neighbouring countries, Laos also had French rule to contend with in the late 1800s, when it became a French colony.
Laos was controlled by Japanese forces during World War II, was declared an independent state in 1950 and gained full independence as a constitutional monarchy in 1954. The 1960s proved to be a devastating time for the people of Laos, with their nation gaining the dubious honour of being the most bombed country in the world. The United States bombed Laos extensively in an attempt to eradicate North Vietnamese sanctuaries, and sadly contemporary Laos is still dealing with huge amounts of unexploded ordnance (UXO) that is littered throughout the countryside. A coalition government was set up in 1962, but in 1975 Laos became a Communist state when the king gave up his throne in favour of a president and prime minister being instated. During the late 1970s, many people of Laos fled to neighbouring countries as refugees, as trade embargoes from foreign nations led to widespread poverty and disadvantage. By the 1990s, Laos had become a full member of ASEAN and foreign nations had lifted their trade embargoes, which allowed free enterprise to grow.
Laos at a glance
- 6.3 million
- (GMT+07:00) Bangkok, Hanoi, Jakarta
- Type C (European 2-pin), Type A (North American/Japanese 2-pin), Type B (American 3-pin), Type E (French 2-pin, female earth), Type F (German 2-pin, side clip earth)
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