Despite its small population, Laos has 49 ethnic groups, or tribes, from which Lao, Khmou and Hmong constitute approximately three-quarters of the population. Most tribes are small, with some having just a few hundred members. The ethnic groups are divided into four linguistic branches: Lao-Tai language represented by 8 tribes, Mone-Khmer language with 32 tribes, Hmoung-Loumien language with 2 tribes and Tibeto-Chinese language represented by 7 tribes.
Laos is officially Buddhist, and the national symbol, the gilded stupa of Pha That Luang, has replaced the hammer and sickle even on the state seal. Still, there is a good deal of animism mixed in, particularly in the baci (also baasi) ceremony conducted to bind the 32 guardian spirits to the participant’s body before a long journey, after serious illness, the birth of a baby or other significant events.
Lao custom dictates that women must wear the distinctive phaa sin, a long sarong available in many regional patterns; however, many ethnic minorities have their own clothing styles. The conical Vietnamese-style hat is also a common sight. These days men dress Western-style and only don the phaa biang sash on ceremonial occasions. Nowadays women often wear Western-style clothing, though the “phaa sin” is still the mandatory attire in government offices (not only for those who work there, but also for Lao women just visiting).
Laos has three distinct seasons:
The hot season is from March to May, when temperatures can soar as high as 40°C.
The slightly cooler wet season is from May to October, when temperatures are around 30°C, tropical downpours are frequent (especially July-August), and, in some years, the Mekong will flood.
The dry season from November to March, which has low rainfall and temperatures as low as 15°C (or even to zero in the mountains at night), is “high season” (when the most tourists are in the country). However, towards the end of the dry season, the northern parts of Laos — basically everything north of Luang Prabang — can become very hazy due to farmers burning fields and fires in the forests.
Time & Date: GMT +7
The kip is the currency of Laos since 1952. Historically, one kip was divided into 100 att.
Lao, sometimes referred to as Laotian (ລາວ ‘Lao’ or ພາສາລາວ ‘Lao language’) is a tonal language of the Tai–Kadai language family. It is the official language of Laos, and also spoken in the northeast of Thailand, where it is usually referred to as the Isan language.
The Lao language serves as an important lingua franca as the country of Laos consists of multiple ethnic groups, whose population speaks about 86 different languages.
Spoken Lao is mutually intelligible with the Thai language (the two languages are written with slightly different scripts but are linguistically similar).
Lao, like many languages in Laos, is written in the Lao script, an abugida. Although there is no official standard, the Vientiane dialect has become the de facto standard.
When buying your travel insurance, always check the small print – some policies specifically exclude ‘dangerous activities’, which could be anything from scuba diving to horse riding. You should check whether the medical coverage is on a pay first, claim later basis and, more importantly, ensure that your medical coverage includes the cost of medical evacuation.
Tourist Visa on Arrival. The Lao government issues 30-day tourist visas on arrival at all international airports and most international border crossings. The whole process is very straightforward. You need between US$30 and US$42 in cash, one passport-sized photo and the name of a hotel or guesthouse.
Wattay International Airport
Luang Prabang International Airport
Savannakhet International Airport
Pakse International Airport
Currency: Lao Kip
Population: 6.77 million
Official languages: Lao (Laotian)