Laos has one of the most pristine ecologies in South East Asia. An estimated haft of its woodlands consist of primary forest, in particular the tropical rain forest. Unlike the vegetation, which grows in the climate Europe and the United States, tropical rain forest is composed of three vegetative layers. The top layer features single-trunked, high-reaching tree called dipterocarps. The middle canopy consists of hardwood such as teak. Beneath, small trees, grass and sometimes bamboo can be found.
The official language spoken in Laos is Laotian or Lao. The four main ethnic groups of the country speak varying dialects of this language, most of which are mutually intelligible. The Lao language is a member of the Tai language group, sometimes known as Tai-Kadai or Kadai. Thai is well understood in Laos, since Lao people will watch Thai television and listen to Thai radio. French, English, Russian and Chinese are spoken by some members of the population, although none can be considered widely understood.
Buddhism is the primary religion of Laos which called Theravada Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism, have first reached Laos during the 7th – 8th Centuries CE with the coronation of Fa Ngum at Laung Prabang. Fa Ngun brought his Theravada teacher with him to act as advisor and head priest of his new kingdom. Lao Buddhism is a unique version of Theravada Buddhism which the basis living of Lao culture. Also Laos is very closely tied to animist beliefs and belief in ancestral spirits.
Traditional Lao food is dry, spicy and delicious. The most commonly used ingredients are lime juice, lemon grass and coriander. The majority of Lao food uses fresh vegetables and fish, mostly freshwater fish due to the country landlocked location. Other popular meat dishes involve chicken, duck, pork and beef. Lao food is traditionally eaten with sticky rice. In the countryside people eat on a communal basis, sitting on the floor and sharing the dishes. One of the most common Lao dishes is Laap: a traditional food made from minced chicken or duck mixed together with lime juice, garlic and chilies and broth with uncooked rice grains that have been fried and crushed. Laap is usually eaten with a plate of raw vegetables and sticky rice.
The cool dry season is from November to February. A sweater or jacket is recommended during the cool season as nights may be cold, especially in the mountainous areas including Luang Prabang and the Plain of Jars. The hot season is from February to April followed by the rainy season from May to October. The best time to visit is between November and March when it rains the least and it is not extremely hot.
The Kip is the official currency of Laos. The current rate of exchange is US$1 = 9,500 Kip. All major currencies, especially the US Dollar and Thai Baht, can be exchanged at banks. In Luang Prabang and Vientiane competitive rates are offered among numerous authorized private exchange bureaus. There is an exchange facility available at Wattay airport in Vientiane. Exchange bureaus and banks will cash traveler checks in major currencies. Furthermore, most domestic and foreign banks in Vientiane will allow cash withdrawals on Visa. Also, major credit cards can be used in many restaurants and hotels. If you intend to travel to a more remote area we suggest you take a good supply of Kip with you.
Passport & Visa
A passport valid up to 6 months beyond your travel date and a tourist visa are required for entry into Laos. Visitors traveling to Laos need a visa. If applying to a Laotian Embassy, you will need your passport and 2 photos. If you are flying into Vientiane, Luang Prabang or Pakse you can get a visa upon arrival. In either event the visa is valid for 30 days and costs around US$30 and can be extended in Vientiane only.
Wat Phu Festival (February) is celebrated on the full moon of the 3rd month of the lunar calendar in the grounds of the enchanting pre-Angkorian Wat Phu in Champasak. Festivities include elephant racing, buffalo fighting, cock fighting and performances of traditional Lao music and dance. Lao New Year or Pi Mai Lao usually occurs in April. This is the nation’s biggest holiday and the entire country celebrates. People remove Buddha images from the temples to anoint and clean them with scented water. Street parties that invariably involve people dowsing one another with water then follows. This is essentially an act of cleansing and purification in anticipation of the end of the dry season. Vientiane Boat Racing Festival (October) At dawn donations and offerings are made at temples throughout the city. In the evening candlelight processions are held around the temples as hundreds of candles with flowers and incense are cast into the Mekong River in thanksgiving. The following day an exciting boat race is held on the Mekong. That Luang Festival (November) is held in and around the splendid That Luang stupa. Hundreds of monks gather to accept alms and floral offerings from the people. The festival includes a grand fireworks display at night, and a trade fair, showcasing Lao products, will take place during the day.
Modes of dress in Laos depend on gender and age but in general Lao women wear silk skirts, blouses and scarves to attend important ceremonies where as Lao men wear a sarong or long pants. Visitors should wear light, comfortable clothing that is easy to launder. The winter months and rainy season in the central region can get cool so a sweater or light jacket will come in handy. Good walking shoes and sandals that can be easily removed are recommended especially when entering temples and local houses.
69% 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. 8% belong to other "lowland" groups, which together with the Lao people make up the Lao Loum. 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.