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Culture and Tradition of Laos

Laos has its own distinct culture. Through Theravada Buddhism it has influences from India and has also influences from China. These influences are reflected throughout Laos in its language as well as in art, literature and the performing arts.

Lao way of life is very much influenced by the Buddhism as can be seen through the way that Lao people live and behave. They are taught to be patient and acceptance people. Buddhism was the only thing that bound people together and taught people to be good people and stay away from doing wrong things in the past when the law enforcement was not in place.

Sticky Rice is a characteristic staple food and has cultural and religious significance to the Lao people. Sticky rice is generally preferred over jasmine rice, and sticky rice cultivation and production is thought to have originated in Laos. There are many traditions and rituals associated with rice production in different environments, and among many ethnic groups. For example, Khammu farmers in Luang Prabang plant the rice variety Khao Kam in small quantities near the hut in memory of dead parents, or at the edge of the rice field to indicate that parents are still alive.

One significant archive of ancient Laotian culture is the Plain of Jars in Xieng Khouang province.

Music of Laos

Laos is dominated by the Lao but includes minorities of Hmong, Mien, Kmhmu, among many others. The most distinctive Lao musical instrument is a bamboo mouth organ called a khene. The instrument was supposedly invented by a woman trying to imitate the calls of the garawek bird. The woman took the new instrument to her king, and he told her it was fair, but that he wanted more. She modified the instrument and he replied "Tia nee khaen dee" (this time it was better).

Lao music

Lao folk music, known as Lam, is extemporaneous singing accompanied by the khene. The Lao classical orchestra can be divided into two categories, Sep Nyai and Sep Noi (or Mahori). The Sep Nyai is ceremonial and formal music and includes: two sets of gongs (kong vong), a xylophone (lanat), an oboe (pei or salai), two large kettle drums and two sets of cymbals (xing).

Mor lam

Ensembles typically include two singers (mor lam, the same term referring to the genre of music) - one male and one female -, a khene player (mor khaen), and other instruments including fiddles, flutes and bells. Music varies widely across Laos, with the lam saravane style being most popular, while the city of Luang Prabang is known for a slow form called khaplam wai. An extremely popular form developed in Thailand is called mor lam sing, and is faster and electrified.

Popular music

In the 1960s, Thai lam nu and lam ploen contributed to the development of lam luang, which is a form of song (and dance) which often has narrative lyrics. It's better to give than to receive...

Dance and theatre

The Dance and theatre of Laos is the primary dramatic art form of Laos' majority ethnic group, the Lao people. It is shared with the ethnic Lao that inhabit the Isan region of Thailand as well. There are mainly two types of dances (or dance-dramas), the classical dances performed in the royal courts and the folk dances now associated with morlam. Shadow puppetry, although not associated with dance, is an important part of Lao theatrical traditions. Various dance-drama troupes, mostly operating out of Louang Phrabang and Vientiane, continue to teach the old classical court dances and more Khmer-influenced dramas and folk dances, respectively.

A folk dance in the Rocket Festival parade in Yasothorn, Thailand. The Lao of Isan have preserved Lao cultural traditions, including morlam and folk music.


The primary language in Laos is Lao, a tonal language of the Tai linguistic group. However only slightly more than half of the population can speak Lao, the remainder speaking various ethnic minority languages, particularly in rural areas. The written language is based on Khmer writing script. Languages like Khmu and Hmong are spoken by minorities, particularly in the midland and highland areas. The Lao language is a very polite language with multiple tiers of politeness including common polite particles such as "Jao" and "Doi".

French is still commonly used in government and commerce and over a third of Laos' students are educated through the medium of French with French being compulsory for all other students. Throughout the country signage is bilingual in Laotian and French, with French being predominant. English, the language of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has become increasingly studied in recent years.


Lao cuisine is the cuisine of Laos, which is distinct from other Southeast Asian cuisines. Laos shares borders with neighboring countries and as a result, Lao cuisine has strongly influenced (and been influenced by) the neighboring cuisine of Northeastern Thailand (Isan) and some Lao culinary influences have also reached Cambodia and Northern Thailand (Lanna). The staple food of Laotians is steamed sticky rice which is eaten by hand. In fact, Laotians eat more sticky rice than any group or people in the world; sticky rice is considered the essence of what it means to be "Lao" -- many Laotians even referred to themselves as, "Luk Khao Niaow", which can be translated as, "children/descendants of sticky rice". Galangal, lemongrass and padaek (Lao fish sauce) are important ingredients. The most famous Lao dish is Larb; a spicy mixture of marinated meat and/or fish that is sometimes raw (prepared like ceviche) with a variable combination of herbs, greens, and spices. Another of Lao people's delectable invention is a spicy green Papaya salad dish known as tam mak hoong or more famously known to the West as som tam.

Lao cuisine has many regional variations, according in part to the fresh foods local to each region. A French legacy is also apparent in the capital city, Vientiane, such that baguettes are sold on the street, and French restaurants (often with a naturally Lao, Asian-fusion touch) are common and popular.


The people of Laos are often considered by their altitudinal distribution (lowlands, midlands and highlands) as this approximates ethnic groups.

Lao Loum (lowland people)

60% of the country's people are ethnic Lao, the principal lowland inhabitants and the politically and culturally dominant group. The Lao belong to the Tai linguistic group who began migrating southward from China in the first millennium AD. 10% belong to other "lowland" groups, which together with the Lao people make up the Lao Loum.

Lao Theung (midland people)

In the central and southern mountains, Mon-Khmer tribes, known as Lao Theung or mid-slope Laotians, predominate. Other terms are Khmu, Khamu (Kammu) or Kha as the Lao Loum refer to them as indicating their Austro-Asiatic origins. However the latter is considered pejorative, meaning 'slave'. They were the indigenous inhabitants of northern Laos. Some Vietnamese, Chinese and Thailand Thai minorities remain, particularly in the towns, but many left after independence in the late 1940s, many of whom relocated either to Vietnam, Hong Kong, or to France. Lao Theung constitute about 30% of the population.

Lao Soung (highland people)

Hill people and minority cultures of Laos such as the Hmong (Miao), Yao (Mien), Dao, Shan, and several Tibeto-Burman speaking peoples have lived in isolated regions of Laos for many years. Mountain/hill tribes of mixed ethno/cultural-linguistic heritage are found in northern Laos which include the Lua (Lua) and Khmu people who are indigenous to Laos. Today, the Lua people are considered endangered. Collectively, they are known as Lao Soung or highland Laotians. Lao Soung account for only about 10% of the population.


Male life expectancy at birth was at 60.85 and female life expectancy was at 64.76 in 2012. Healthy life expectancy was at 54 in 2006. In 2008, 43% of the population did not have access to an improved water resource. Government expenditure on health is at about 4% of the GDP. Its amount was at US$ 18 (PPP) in 2006.


The adult literacy rate exceeds two thirds. The male literacy rate exceeds the female literacy rate. In 2004 the net primary enrollment rate was at 84%. The National University of Laos is the Laos state's public university. The total literacy rate is 73% (2010 estimate).


Polygamy is officially a crime in Laos, though the penalty is minor. The constitution and Family Code bars the legal recognition of polygamous marriages, stipulating that monogamy is to be the principal way to contract a marriage in the country. Polygamy, however, is still customary among some Hmong people.


All newspapers are published by the government, including two foreign language papers: the English-language daily Vientiane Times and the French-language weekly Le Rénovateur. Additionally, the Khao San Pathet Lao, the country's official news agency, publishes English and French versions of its eponymous paper. Laos currently has nine daily newspapers, 90 magazines, 43 radio stations and 32 TV stations operating throughout the country. Nhân Dân (The People) and the Xinhua News Agency are the only foreign media organisations permitted so far to open offices in Laos. Both opened bureaus in Vientiane in 2011. Internet cafes are now common in the major urban centres and are popular especially with the younger generation.


The martial art of Muay Lao, the national sport, is a form of kickboxing similar to other styles of Southeast Asia such as Thai Muay Thai, Burmese Lethwei, Malaysian Tomoi and Cambodian Pradal Serey.


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