An Overlook of Lao Culture
09 Aug 2017 by KATE LE
Lao People’s Democratic Republic is still an uncommon name to most of the tourists all over the world. Laos is said to be the most laid back country in the South East Asia and had been isolated for almost 20 years before the 1990s. But now, little by little, Laos is rising and opening up to welcome all visitors to boast its country and culture.
The rich culture of Laos originally comes from the predominant religion of Buddhism which influences both of Laos’ architecture and lifestyle. Every morning, since the early of sunrise, visitors to Laos can catch a view of dozens of monks, wearing orange robes, walking around the streets and asking for alms. Buddhism is also reflected in the practice of Baci, also known as Sou Khoun in Laotian, a type of ceremony to enrich the spirit.
Visitors can easily realize that there is at least one temple in every village. These temples are not only the places for monks to live and pray, they also serve as the main centre for social and recreational activities for villagers to hold meetings, festivals and some of religious ceremonies. In big temples in urban areas, they sometimes are shelters for homeless and disadvantaged people.
Lao architecture is a combination of French colonial, Buddhist, traditional Lao and modern architecture influencing by Thailand and other neighboring countries. In rural areas, most of the villagers live in wood houses on stilts. In the recent years, houses in modern style slowly replace traditional houses in urban areas. Nevertheless, minor ethnic communities can still preserve their unique housing in northern mountainous areas featuring houses on the ground with the end of the roof almost touching the ground.
Lao's traditional wood houses on stilts.
Being one of South East Asia’s countries, most of Laos’ families are extended families and there are up to three to four generations living under the same roof. Everyone in a family share the meals with one another and they eat sitting on the floor.
According to the local people, Laotians don’t have the habit of dropping by a relative or a friend’s house with telling them in advance. So, if you have a Laotian friend as well as living in Lao, don’t be surprised when having a friend stop by without calling.
Lao people are brought up in extended families, thus, they are kind-hearted, patient, generous, socializing and always ready to help each other.
Privacy is less likely to be valued partly because of their way of living, especially in the countryside everyone knows everyone else’s business.
Laotians greatly emphasize social hierarchy. When greeting a superior, one should clasp hands in a prayerful motion with a slight bow. They call greeting like this is a “nop”. It is best to reply to a nop with a smile or a nod of the head.
Close body contact in public areas, especially between men and women, is avoided.
Traditional clothing in Lao is one of the ways that Laotians express their pride in their rich traditional costumes culture amongst 49 ethnic groups. The techniques, patterns and materials of traditional clothing vary by families, clans, ethnicities and regions. The costumes also depend on age and gender. For women, they call the silk skirts “Sinh”, blouses and scarves, however, are added to the costumes on special occasions. When wearing traditional clothes, women’s hair is often coiled up and sealed with accessories.
Lao's traditional female costume.
Among men, “Salong” is their traditional costume. The big difference between “Salong” and “Sinh” is that they wear big pants or peasant pants on the lower body part.
Lao's traditional male costume.