Laos, officially called the Lao People’s Democratic Republic is such a pleasant and relaxing place that it even gained a funny yet strangely fitting nickname: Lao PDR – Lao Please Don’t Rush. Time seems to have taken the backseat in this beautiful place, at least for the tourists who are drawn by the quiet, no-cares-in-the world atmosphere of the country. Laos is also hiding some of the most amazing cultural and historical attractions in the world, and even if most of them are not as famous as they should be, you can write it off as part of the Laotian ethic of laid-backness. For those who wish for nothing more than a relaxing vacation, here’s a short guide to Laos.
Culture and Customs
In spite of the powerful influence of its larger neighbors, Laos has a unique culture that is easily distinguished by its art and customs. There are almost 50 different ethnic groups in the country, some making up half the population, and other groups that have only a couple of hundred members left. One of the defining aspects of Laos is the fact that it is officially Buddhist, and many of its attractions are religious sites. Pha That Luang, the gilded stupa in Vientiane, is the symbol of Laos. Traditional attire was mandatory in the past, but people dress in Western styles more and more often nowadays. However, it is still normal to see women dressed in colorful phaa sin sarongs, or men wearing phaa biang sashes. The Laotian way of life is strongly influenced by Buddhism – which is probably part of the reason why you see less of the hectic bustle that is so common in many other Asian countries. Laos might be one of the poorest countries in Asia, but it is one of the most pleasant destinations on the continent.
The stupas are the main draw of Laos, but many people visit it because they are attracted by the laid-back lifestyle, the very affordable prices and the scenery. The gilded stupa in Vientiane is the holiest place in the country, and one of the most interesting stupas in Asia, but there are many other amazing religious sites that can be visited – the ancient city of Luang Prabang is a must visit, and the Wat Phu ruins. Another popular tourist activity in Laos is trekking, especially in the northern regions of the country. Luang Namtha and Muang Xay, for example, are great destinations for trekkers, although in Luang Namtha you can’t go on a trek without an official guide (to avoid disturbing the hill tribes). Another great experience is going to a herbal sauna, which are often adjacent to the temples.