- Category: About Lao P.D.R
- Published on 19 June 2012
Culture, Tradition and Lifestyle
Culture and Tradition
Laos has officially 49 ethnic groups and each of them preserves their own dialect, customs, culture and tradition. 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.
Most villages have at least one temple. These temples are not only places for monks to live and pray, they are also the main center for social and recreational activities such as village meetings, religious ceremonies and festivals.
The official language is Lao, but English is commonly used in major tourist centers. Chinese, Vietnam and Thai are widely understood. French, Germany, Russia and a number of other European languages are also spoken by many educated Lao as many students have received scholarships to study in Europe during the 1970's -1990's.
Buddhism first appeared in Laos during the eights century A.D., as shown by the Buddha image and the stone inscription found at Ban Talat near Vientiane. Now they are exhibited at Hor Pra Keo Museum. After the foundation of the unified kingdom of Lane Xang, King Fa Gnum (14th Century) declared Buddhism as the state religion and urged people to abandon Animism or other beliefs such as the cult of Spirits. The policy meant to develop the Lao culture based on a common faith: Theravada Buddhism.
Today, Theravada Buddhism is the professed religion and an inherent feature of daily life and casts a strong influence on Lao society.
Lao architecture is mainly a mix of French colonial, Buddhist (in temples), traditional Lao and modern architecture, with some influences from the nearest countries. In rural areas most of 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 many ethnic groups have their own house styles.
Costumes depend on gender and age but regarding to the culture, Lao women dressed properly such as silk skirts (sinh), blouses and scarves to attend important ceremonies. Design of Lao women skirts are with upper and lower parts which is not too short and too long. The upper part is over the waist and lower part of skirt is suitable. Attending significant events, Lao women wear scarves and coiled hair styles, Lao men wear Salong, big large pants or the peasant pants to attend the important ceremonies.
To visit Laos during the dry season, from January to April, light clothes in cotton and linen, sunglasses and hat as well as sunscreen and bug repellant are recommended. From November to December, it is good idea to bring the warm clothes such as sweaters and light Jackets in particularly when visit the mountainous regions in the North. From May to October, during the rainy season, it is the best choice to have the waterproof and removable shoes or sandals when visiting the temples.
Lao food is best on fish, meat, pork, poultry and especially herbs with a wide variety of vegetables. However, every region of Laos has its own specialties. Lao food has a unique flavor and some dishes can be spicy to the un-accustomed foreigners. One of the staples of Lao food is sticky rice which can be eaten either sweet or sour, or fermented alcohol. The sticky rice is always served with hot sauce or spicy fish or shrimp based sauce and is eaten with fingers.
The freshness of the ingredients is every important for Lao people. Herbs such as galangal and lemongrass are favorites and Padaek (Lao fish sauce) is found on every table. Vegetables and fruit are always fresh, plentiful and change with the seasons.
A few Lao dishes are cultural icons such as Laap which is made from minced meat accompanied by citronella, onions and spices and mixed with a fish sauce and roasted rice. Laap means Luck and good fortune. Noodle soup is another traditional favorite which is a hearty soup incorporating meat, noodles and vegetables. There are noodle soup shops on every corner. Papaya salad, a spicy mix of green papaya, lime juice, fish sauce, tomato and fresh chilies, is yet another traditional dish. As essential part of enjoying Lao food is Beer Lao. Lao coffee, strong, sweet and delicious, is another must-try.
Good and tasty Lao food is available in markets, restaurants and street stalls. In the big cities there are Lao and international restaurants with varieties of multi-national food.
Lao people typically socialize and most live in extended families with three or more generations sharing one house or compound. In the past, a Lao family would eat home cooked meal together sitting on the floor around a Lao-style table called a pa kao. Though this tradition is still common in the country side, it is not widely seen in urban areas nowadays.
With the Lao people's simple life, it is perfectly normal for relatives or friends to drop by without calling in advance. The fact that most Lao people were brought up in extended families that required a high level of harmony, kindness, patience and readiness to help each other has made the Lao a generous, kind and soft hearted, tolerant and socialized people. Lao people tend to value privacy less highly than foreigners, partly because it's a normal way of life in extended families.
Visiting temples and houses
When visiting a temple (call "Wat") you must be dressed decently and take off your shoes before you enter the religious buildings. Avoid wearing short skirt and sleeveless shirts. Be deferential in front of objects in the pagodas.
When entering a private house, it is customary behavior to take off one's shoes and leave them at the stair and/or in front of a door. Men usually sit with their legs crossed or folded to one side, women prefer solely the latter. Upon entering, guests may be served by fruit or tea and you should not refuse this hospitality. In traditional house, the guests are invited to sit on a piece of sheet on the floor.