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      Laos in Brief    
     

Location

The Peoples' Democratic republic of Lao is located in the center of Indochina, sharing borders with China to the north, Myanmar to the Northwest, Thailand to the west, Cambodia to the south, and Vietnam to the east.

With a total area of 236.800 square kilometers. Around 70% of its terrain is mountainous, reaching a maximum elevation of 2,820 meters in XiengKhouang province. The landscapes of northern Lao and the regions adjacent to Vietnam in particular, are dominated by hills.

The Mekong river is the main geographical feature in the west and, in fact, forms a natural border with Thailand in some areas, The Mekong flows through nearly 1865 kilometers of Lao territory and shapes much of the lifestyle of the people of Laos .

In the south the Mekong reaches a breadth of 20 kilometers, creating an area with thousands of islands.

People and Population

  • Population: 6 million.
  • Density: 23 people/square km
  • The population consists of 49 ethnic groups, in 4 main linguistic families:
    1. The Lao-Tai Family includes 8 ethnic groups.
    2. The Mone-Khmer Family includes 32 ethnic groups.
    3. The Tibeto-Burmese Family includes 7 ethnic groups.
    4. The Hmong-Ioumien category has 2 main tribes.

These multi-ethnic people are scattered across the country each with their own unique traditions, culture and language.

Art and culture

Laos has a rich cultural heritage with religious art and architecture forming the cornerstone of artistic Traditions. There exists across the country a plethora of distinctive monuments and architectural styles. One of the most notable structures is That Luang, the great Sacred stupa, in Vientiane . It's dome like stupa and four-cornered superstructure is the model for similar monuments across Laos . Stupas serve to commemorate the life of the Buddha and many stupas are said to house sacred Buddha relics (parts of Buddha's body).

Generally. Hiragana Buddhists cremate the dead body then place the bones in the stupa, which are set around the grounds of temples. Different styles of architecture are evident in the numerous Buddhist wats. Three architectural styles can be distinguished, corresponding to the geographical location of the temples and monasteries. Wats built in Vientiane are large rectangular structures constructed of brick and covered with stucco and high-peaked roofs. In LuangPrabang, the roofs sweep very low and unlike in Vientiane , almost reach the ground. These two styles are different from the wats of Xiengkhouang where the temple roofs are not tiered.

Lao religious images and art is also distinctive and set Laos apart from its neighbors. "The Calling for Rain" posture of Buddha images in Laos , for example, which depicts the Buddha standing with his hand held rigidly at his side, fingers pointing to the ground, can not be found in other South East Asian Buddhist art traditions.

Religious influences are also pervasive in classical Lao literature, especially in the Pha Lak and Pha Lam and the Lao version of India 's epic Ramayana. Projects are underway to preserve classic Lao religious scripts, which were transcripted onto palm leaf manuscripts hundreds of years ago and stored in Wats.

Another excellent example of the richness of Lao culture is in its folk music, which is extremely popular with the people throughout the whole country. The principle instrument is the Khaen; a wind instrument, which comprises a double row of Bamboo-like reeds, fitted in a hardwood sound box. The Khean is often accompanied by a bowed string instrument or saw. The national folk dance is the lamvong, a circle dance in which people dance circle around each other so that ultimately there are three circles: a circle danced by the individual, another one by the couple, and a third one danced by the whole party.

Baci

Baci is one of the most important ceremonies in Laos. The Baci ceremony is always full of fervour to welcome the important guests, friends, the member of the family return home, the marriage, the Lao New Year, etc.

Festival

February: Wat Phou Festival in Champassack Province.
April: Lao New Year Festival (Pimai Lao).
May: Ban Fi (Rocket Festival).
October: Boat Racing Festival.
November: That Luang Festival in Vientiane.

Climate

Laos enjoys a tropical climate with two distinct seasons; the rainy season from the beginning of May to the end of September and the dry season from October through to April. The yearly average temperature is about 28c, rising to a maximum of 38c during April and May. In Vientiane a minimum temperature of 19c is to be expected during January. In mountainous areas, however, temperature drops to as low as 14-15c during the winter months, and during cold nights, can easily reach freezing point. The average precipitation is highest in southern Laos , where the Annamite mountains receive over 3,000 mm and in the northern provinces only 1,000-1,500 mm.

Language

Lao language is the national language. Other languages used are French, English, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese.

Religion

Buddhism first appeared in Laos during the eighth century AD as shown by both the Buddha image and the stone inscription found at Ban Talat near Vientiane , now exhibited at Ho PraKeo Museum. After the foundation of the unified kingdom of Lanexang , King FaNgum (14 th century) declared Buddhism as the state religion and urged the people to abandon animism or other beliefs such as the cults of spirits. His policy was meant to develop the Lao culture based on a common faith: the Theravada Buddhism.

Today, Theravada Buddhism is the professed religion of about 90% of Lao people, Buddhism is an inherent feature of daily life and casts a strong influence on Lao society. Lao people each morning give alms to monks, earning merit to lessen the number of their rebirths. It is expected that every Lao man will become a monk for at least a short time in his life. Traditionally, men spent three months during the raining season in a Wat (Buddhist temple). Today however, most men curtail their stay to one or two weeks.

 

For more information on Laos (History, Festivals, Culture and Common Courtesies), please download Laos in Brief Booklet in PDF format. You may need to install Adobe Acrobat Reader in order to view this file.

   
 
 
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