10 Fun Facts About Laos
Exciting news! We’ve just added Laos as a new destination, and welcomed our first Teaching and Care volunteers at the beginning of May. While Laos is one of the lesser-known destinations in South East Asia, it’s also an attractive, vibrant location in its own right. I was inspired during my research on this country – it’s now next up on my destinations-to-visit list – and thought I’d share some of the more interesting Laos facts with you.
Laos: Simply Beautiful
Yes, that’s the official Laos tourism slogan! Our office is situated in the capital Vientiane, on the back of the Mekong River which separates Laos from Thailand. It’s a country rich in cultural, historical and geographical attractions, and visitors to this tranquil country have so many options to explore.
With a landscape consisting of jungles, caves, forests, waterfalls and rivers, there are plenty of opportunities for adrenaline-junkies to go kayaking, zip-lining, cycling, rock climbing, rafting, trekking and more. For the less physically-adventurous, you can spend your time exploring the historical sites and temple ruins, as well as the markets, museums, parks and sanctuaries that can be found in and around the beautifully-preserved villages and towns dotted across the country.
Did you know?
Laos is the only landlocked country in South East Asia. Its neighbours include Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Myanmar and the aforementioned Thailand, which makes for some great travel opportunities. Laos also has plenty of lakes, rivers and waterfalls to make up for the lack of coastline.
Laos is also known as “the land of a million elephants”.This phrase is a translation of “Lan Xan”, the name of an ancient Lao empire from the 14th century. Sadly, the country’s elephant population has diminished drastically, and numbers around 1,000 – many are used for work in the logging industry, which has reduced their numbers.
The must-see Vieng Xai Caves are a network of some 450 shelter caves used during the Vietnam War. The communist Pathet Lao forces were headquartered here, and the caves were home to over 20,000 people, who used them to escape the bombings. There were hospitals, markets, living quarters, printing presses, government offices and even a theatre!
What is referred to in English as the Laos New Year takes place from 14th to the 16th April each year.The 13th is the last day of the old year, and is considered a day of renewal. The actual New Year celebrations involve water fights, monk processions, colourful banners and offerings, music, dancing, a beauty pageant and other important cultural ceremonies.
Laos has the highest per-capita consumption of sticky rice in the world, eating over 345 pounds a year! Sticky rice is a national staple, and is served sweet, sour or fermented, traditionally eaten using one’s fingers. In general, Lao cuisine is dry and spicy, and includes lots of fresh vegetables and herbs, as well as steamed or grilled meat and fish.
Giant, ancient stone jars can be found scattered over the land near the city of Phonsavan, known as the Plain of Jars. There are over 2,500 jars, and nobody knows who made them or placed them there. This is certainly one of the country’s oddest historical sites! Some think that it was part of a Bronze Age burial ritual, but a popular legend has it that the pots were used to brew celebratory rice wine after an ancient military victory.
Visitors can take an underground boat trip by torchlight down a river in the Kong Lor Cave. This 7.5 km natural wonder is made of limestone and has a river running right through it, where visitors can admire dramatic rock formations, a pool that glows emerald, and the cave ceilings which reach up to 100 m in height.
Every morning in the town of Laung Prabang, a procession of monks undertakes a ritual known as Morning Alms or ‘Sai Bat’. This is a local tradition; a giving ceremony wherein the devoted offer food to the monks for their daily meal. The town itself was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, and is home to many Buddhist temples and monasteries.
The national language is known as Lao, and is closely related to Thai. Speakers of either language can understand the other. It is a tonal language, which means that the meaning of a word is entirely dependent on the syllable that you stress. French is also commonly used, a remnant of the country’s colonial past.
A traditional form of dress for women is known as “sinh” or “paah sin”. It is a type of long wraparound skirt, whose style of embroidery and weaving can indicate the wearer’s origin. While many people in Lao do wear Western attire, traditional clothing is still worn at festivals, and is compulsory for female government employees.
Do you feel inspired to come and volunteer and travel in Laos? You can discover more about what trekking around the country entails, or contact us if this opportunity appeals to you and you’d like to find out more.
Have you been to Laos before? Let us know in the comments section below, we’d love to hear about your experience!
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