Laos Longitude & Latitude
Laos Public & National Holidays
Laos Nationl Anthem/Song
Hotels & Restaurants in Laos
Laos is completely landlocked, which has had an indelible effect on its history. The Annamite chain of mountains runs down the eastern side as a natural boundary with Vietnam, while the Mekong River forms much of the western frontier with Thailand and Cambodia. Most Lao cultivate the lowland plains adjoining the Mekong, which is also an invaluable artery for trade and transport.
Laos Culture, Map, Flag, Tourist Places
The two high plateaux, the Bolovens and the Plain of Jars, are grassy and planted with local coffee and soft fruit. Laos is still forested for much of its area, although the uplands of the north have been slashed by tribal agriculture, leaving the hill tops looking like freshly shaved scalps as you fly over. Logging is a sensitive issue; it is officially illegal, but this does not prevent a brisk timber trade over the river to Thailand.
Temperatures during the March to May hot season can reach high into the 30s, however, at higher elevations and during the dry season's cooler months of December and January - it can become rather chilly as temperatures drop as low as 15 degrees C and below.
The capital of Laos, Vientiane, is often described as a quiet dusty backwater on the banks of the Mekong and in fact is comparable in size with Nong Kai, the provincial Thai town on the other side of the river.
In the 16th century King Settathirath decided that Luang Prabang, the previous capital, was too remote for effective administration and transformed Vientiane from a market town into what became one of the most dazzling cities in Indochina.
Vientiane had a chequered history through the 18th and 19th centuries, sacked and occupied by the Siamese in 1778 and again in 1828. Forty years later, the French explorer Garnier found uninhabited ruins invaded by encroaching jungle. Resettlement began in 1890 and Vientiane was once again an administrative centre under the French by 1930.
The ancient royal and religious capital of Laos, Luang Prabang is up-river from Vientiane, an hour by plane. The city is tucked in at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan and largely consists of a single long street stretching from the ancient temple of Xieng Thong at one end to the morning market at the other.
Even compared with the rest of Laos, Luang Prabang is an oasis of tranquillity, with its encircling hills, its dozens of temples, and the ever-present lazy power of the Mekong. Until a couple of years ago motor cycles were a rarity and hardly anyone drove a car in town. Many compare the city to Chiang Mai of 30 years ago.
The roads in Laos are few and far between and are usually destroyed by the annual monsoon, there are no railways, so almost the only means of transport between provinces is to fly.
River travel is becoming easier, especially between Vientiane, Luang Prabang and northwards. The Mekong is navigable for much of its length in the south as well.
In towns there are few cars, although the number is rising rapidly. Bicycles, samlors (cycle rickshaws) and motor cycles are the usual mode of transport. There are also buses, these are mostly lorries with rudimentary seating inside. Some roads, such as Vientiane to Luang Prabang, were considered unsafe to travel because of security risks but are now open to free travel.
The Lao word for festival is 'boun', which also means 'merit', and is an important part of life - the Lao will happily celebrate almost anything. There are four major national festivals throughout the year - the exact month varies according to the Buddhist calendar.
• New Year (Pimai) generally in April (best in Luang Prabang)
• The Rocket Festival - around May
• The Water Festival and Boat Races - around October
• That Luang Festival - November
The Lao also celebrate Chinese New Year, Labour Day on May 1st , National Day on December 2nd and even Christmas.
There is much less emphasis on religion in Laos now than there was before the communists came to power in 1975. Despite this and despite the undermining of the power of the old Buddhist hierarchy, religion is still a vital force in the country.
In urban areas Buddhism is the dominant belief, but in more rural areas there is a strong undercurrent of animism, a blanket term for a widespread variety of beliefs, pertaining to individual minority and tribal groups, in which local spirits are worshipped and propitiated. In fact, the Lao religion is a concoction of Buddhism, Hinduism and local animist beliefs.
The Lao wat is often translated as 'monastery', because of its multiple purposes, but this does not really convey the full picture. The temple complexes are made up of various monuments and buildings - the viharn, or main assembly hall; the ubosot, where new monks are ordained and which is the heart of the compound; monks quarters; chedis or stupas, also called thats in Laos; libraries and other rooms.
Many temples will also house a crematorium. The architecture is often graceful and highly decorated. Roofs are many tiered with swept up edges and naga forms embellishing the corners. Doors are wooden, beautifully carved and gilded.
The majority of Laos' population is lowland Lao, closely related to the Thai. However, there is an astonishing range of ethnic minorities - an estimated 60 to 120 distinct groups, whose linguistic and cultural diversity is reinforced by inaccessibility and difficulty of communication. Among these the Hmong and Yao are probably the most noticeable, partly because of their colourful clothing and partly because they bring their produce to market in towns such as Luang Prabang.
In the past, the minorities were classified according to altitude of settlement: 'hilltribes' such as the Hmong and Yao inhabited the mountain tops. However, population movements enforced by war and politics have dispersed many of the ethnic groups and moved them away from their original regions.
Other groups which a visitor may encounter include the Akha, Lanten, Khmu, Lamet and various T'ai groups in the north, and the Suei, Ta 'Oy, Loven and Katang in the south.
T'ai people began migrating south from China between the 1st and 10th centuries. This dispersal may have been initiated by the expansion of the Han Chinese into the Red River area of modern Vietnam. Between the 9th and 11th centuries they progressed south into what is now Indochina, always following the river valleys, such as the Mekong and Menam. By the 13th century the steady flow of migration had brought T'ai people into the areas of Northern Thailand, Laos, and Northern Vietnam. They eventually became the T'ai Siam in modern Thailand, the T'ai Lao in Laos and other T'ai groups such as the red and black T'ai in Laos, Vietnam and Thailand.
The most numerous and one of the oldest indigenous groups in Thailand, they are also apparent in Laos and are largely concentrated near the border with Burma.
They cultivate rice, raise domestic animals and have for many years been engaged in conflict with the Burmese Military Junta, SPDC.
Originating in Tibet, the Lahus are divided into many sub-tribes and are mainly concentrated north of Chiang Rai in Thailand crossing the border into Laos. They are usually very poor, practising slash and burn agriculture and still producing opium. The men usually wear black turbans and silver buckles and the women calf-length embroidered tunics.
Related to the Lolo in Yunnan where they originate, the Akhas live in extended families and are strict animists. Like the Lahu and Lisu they are from the Yi sub-group of the Tibeto-Burmese family. Their silverwork is very fine, including boxes, opium pipes, neck rings and bangles. The ornate Akha head-dresses of the women are striking.
The Lisu are widely dispersed and migrated from Southern China into Thailand and Laos 60 years ago. They are divided into the Hua Lisu and the black Lisu and come from the same linguistic family as the Akha and the Lahu.
Hmong Also sometimes called the Meo, which is derogatory, the Hmong live at high altitudes and grow opium for cash as well as rice and corn for food. They are very independent and proud, and have many sub-divisions such as the Blue Hmong and the Striped Hmong. Like the Yao their origins are Chinese, and they began migrating to Thailand from Laos in the 19th century, with a huge increase after the Civil War in Laos, in which they sided with the Americans against the communists.
Mien / Yao peoples have similar Chinese origins to the Hmong, live also at high altitude and cultivate opium. Their dress is distinctive, with a red 'boa' collar on black tunic and trousers for the women. Gold-capped teeth are an indication of wealth. They migrated to Thailand, Hainan, Laos and Vietnam. They tend not to be as warlike as the Hmong and are one of the only hill groups with a written language.
LAOS National Flower : Rice
Laos National Name : Lao People's Democratic Republic
National Capital : Vientiane
Laos Area : Approx. 236,800n Sq Km (91,400 Sq. Mi), 0.16% of total
Laos Population : 6,436,000 in 2010 (0.09% in total)
Ethnicity in Laos : Lao Loum (lowland) 68%, Lao Theung (upland) 22%, Lao Soung (highland) including the Hmong (?Meo?) and the Yao (Mien) 9%, ethnic Vietnamese/Chinese 1%
Laos Languages : Lao (official), French, English, and various ethnic languages.
Religions in Laos: Buddhist 60%, animist and other 40% (including Christian 2%)
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