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Laos

GENERAL INFORMATION

Laos is the least developed and most enigmatic of the three former French Indochinese states. A ruinous sequence of colonial domination, internecine conflict and dogmatic socialism finally brought the country to its knees in the 1970s, and almost ten per cent of the population left. Now, after two decades of isolation from the outside world, this landlocked, sparsely populated country is enjoying peace, stabilizing its political and economic structures and admitting foreign visitors - albeit in limited numbers due to a general lack of infrastructure. The lack of foreign influence offers travelers an unparalleled glimpse of traditional South-East Asian life. From the fertile lowlands of the Mekong River valley to the rugged Annamite highlands, travelers who have made it to Laos tend to agree that this country is the highlight of South-East Asia.

WARNING

between March and December 2000 there was a series of small bombings and attempted bombings in Vientiane, Savannakhet and Pakse, but since then they seem to have stopped. As of 2001, most areas of the country are considered secure. The western portion of Rte 7 in Xieng Khuang Province, between Muang Phu Khun and Phonsavan, has recently opened to regular bus traffic - ask around in Vientiane or Luang Prabang to make sure the situation is still safe. The Saisombun Special Zone, considered a 'troubled' area, is definitely not safe. Taking drugs in foreign countries is always going to be iffy, but it's especially high-risk in Laos. Penalties for possession of illicit drugs are also very harsh. Reports have begun to filter back of tourists dying from opium overdoses.

Full country name: Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR)
Area: 236,000 sq km (92,040 sq m)
Population: 5.5 million
Capital city: Vientiane (pop 500,000)
People: 50% Lao Loum (lowland Lao), 30% Lao Theung (lower-mountain dwellers of mostly proto-Malay or Mon-Khmer descent), 10-20% Lao Sung (Hmong or Mien high-altitude hill tribes) and 10-20% tribal Thais
Language: Lao and Lao dialects (closely related to Thai), French
Religion: 60% Buddhist, 40% animist and spirit cults
Government: Socialist republic
President: Khamtai Siphandon
Prime Minister: Bounyang Volachit

GDP: US$9.7 billion
GDP per head: US$1700
Annual growth: 4%
Inflation: 6%
Major products/industries: Rice, tobacco, coffee, tin mining, timber, and opium
Major trading partners: Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan

BUDDHIST RACING BOAT

After performing the Buddhist lent for three months, in the rainy season starting from the 1st dark moon of the eight month to the 1st dark moon of the eleventh moon, the closing ceremony is organized. Firstly, the performance of Buddhist lent activities is the responsibilities of the monks, not for the lay people. Thereafter, the forms of the ceremony change as the villagers decide to prepare the offerings for merit making. So in the morning of the fifteen day of the eleventh month, the villagers take the offerings to the temples and listen to Buddha's teaching while the candles ceremony, light worshipping and fire boat festivities are performed in the evening. In the next day, the 1st dark moon of the eleven month, boat racing is organized on the Mekong River. The Buddhist Lent closing ceremony is performed in the same way as the beginning of Buddhist Lent, Boun Hokaopradabdine and Boun Khao Sark or Salark. At the festival day Buddhist villagers, dressed in new and beautiful clothes take the silver bowls or plateful of food and materials to offer the monks for merit making.

How organize the ceremony?

The term "Watsa" means the rain or rainy season. the monks complete the practices of Buddha teachings during the period of three months in the rainy season without spending any nights in other places. On the 1st day of the dark moon of the eleventh month the closing ceremony for Buddhist Lent should be arranges. But, in practice, it is organized in the full moon of the fifteen in the eleventh month, one day before the due date. In the Buddha's teaching, the closing ceremony for Buddhist Lent was not decided, but Pavalana, prior notice ceremony was instead made after three months of Buddhist lent ended. So, in practice the monks made Pavalana on the evening of the full moon of the fifteen in the eleventh month. It is one day before the real closing date.

The term Pavalana  means to announce something in advance of warn or advise each other for example when the villagers say to the monks in advance that "If the monks need to have the 4 main factors such as : clothing, bedding, medicines or some things else, please advise us." This also means Pavalana. It is to say something to do in advance. Pavalana is the task of the monks. When any monks violate the Buddhist rules, they should warn each other. The reason that the Lord of Buddha allowed the monks to give advice is that when the monks stay together during the Buddhist Lent in the same place it would a few of them might behave badly or make mistakes. After the Buddhist Lent ends, they warn or advice each other before leaving. This means "Pavalana." To conduct the ceremony for Pavalana, the oldest monk has make a decision first. He may say three, two times of one. Then the others say like him or saying one by one. The words are said in Pali language. It means that "To you all the monks, please listen to me today is the full moon day. It is the day to give prior notice that we have completed the Buddha practice."

After the decision is made, the oldest monk sits on his knees, joins his hands and says Pavalana in front the others in Pali language : "To you all the monks, may I notice you in advance and do not in doubt that I made mistakes or sins caused by a breach of the rules of the monastic order (Patimakkha), please warn me, to change my bad behaviour for proper behaviour acting." Then all the monks have to say the same words until its completion. The monks who completed the Buddhist Lent, can gain Anisong 5, merit making.

CULTURE TRADE

 

Tradition

traditionally, a Buddhist ceremony which is performed every year is called Hidsipsong, tradition of 12 months, while the fourteen rules on salutation made by officials, sister-in-law, husband and wife and all Loa people are called Khongsipsi. These above are intended to express salutation and loving kindness to the god and people. Baci is multi-purpose ceremony to express the best wishes for the important days of lives such as new babies, marriages, departures, visiting friend and others. Holy white cotton strings are tied round hands of the women with kapok, coiled hair style.

Eating

90% of Loa people consume sticky rice. The ware kept the rice after steaming is called Tikao or kongkao and can be taken to everywhere. The arrangement of food is on the food big plate. The main food are Lap, Koy, Ping.

Housing

Houses are built on stilt and have free apace underneath that roofs a triangle wind plates on each side. These are 2 types of houses; single and a double roofed how many steps on the stairs depends on the height of the house, but traditionally they made uneven numbers such as: 3 steps, 5 steps, 7 steps and 9 steps.

Ways of dressing

Costumes depend on gender and age but regarding to the culture, Loa women dressed properly, because they are mothers of the nation in tradition, Lao women wear the silk skirts, blouses and scarves to attend important ceremonies.

Design of Lao women skirts:

1. Design with upper and lower parts.
2. Not too short and too long.
3. The upper part over the waist.
4. Lower part of skirt suitable.
5. Not too sexy.

Attending significant events, Lao women wear scarves and coiled hair styles. Lao men wear salong, big large pants or the peasant pants to attend the important ceremonies. Paekaoma is used for cleaning the body, covering the head and others. The costumes in the previous periods : Laos is one old nation in South East Asia. This place where was called Souvannaphoum and some Lao were settled in South of China called Anachak Ai-Lao. Due to the wars Lao migrated southward and established Monarchy Nanechao. The first king was named Sinoulo, governor of Nongsae as Chinese called Talifu town. It was capital city of Nanechao had peace for quite a long time. The first governor called Nanechao-ong. Main occupations were cultivation, animal husbandry and textile weavings. Hair style were coiled down to both sides down to the back and ear rings.  Men and women dressed same styles of pants of shirts made by textile no colour and they did not have any decoration wares.

Occupation

Rice cultivation, animal husbandry, raising silk worms and handicrafts were main occupations additional Activities were trading, fishery, workers in the plants or officials.

Culture & Society

Smiles, Loves liberty, no quarrels, no oppression, respect the nation, reputation and honor with their lives. Commonly Lao people are fully of love and respect others. "To visit north or south, meal can be requested, but visitors, no need to study in the hotels or pay for food".

Sensation

Friendship, love and peace are sitting the hearts of Lao people. They hate oppressors. Our slogan said United we survive and separate, we die. We hate the conflicts and we can give excuse to others if the cases are reasonable. Lao territory is very wide. We like literature and arts, many poets are stories were written by our great authors namely: Phousonelane, grandfather teaches grandson, lanesonephu, grandson teaches grandfather, sonelork in thangane soneluk. Phravetsanedone. Champasitonh, the 4 champa flower trees, kalaket, Tengone. Soulivong kunthung-kuntheuang and others were written in palm leaves these above poetry are our national heritage designed our ancestor hearts to give us the best loves to our nation.

LAOS LANGUAGE

Laos 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 A.D. as shown by both the Buddha image and the stone inscription found at Ban Talat near Vientiane, now exhibited at the Museum of Hoprakao.

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 woman can be seen each morning giving alms to monks, earring merit to lessen the number of their rebirth. Lao men are expected to become a monk for at least a short time in their lives. Traditionally they spent three months during the rainy season in a Wat. Buddhist temple. But nowadays most men curtail their stay to one or two weeks.

After the foundation of the unified Kingdom of Lane Xang, King Fan gum (14th century) declared. Buddhism as the state religion and urged the people to the abandon animism or other beliefs such as the cult of spirits. His policy meant to develop the Laos culture based on a common faith: the Theravada Buddhism.

Laos has a total population of 4.6 million, 13% of whom live in Vientiane province. People share a rich ethnic diversity, comprising such groups Hmong, Khmu, Yao, Akha, Lu etc. Most of them have kept their own customs; dialects and traditional dress in total 47 different groups are accounted for in Laos. These can be classified into three broad groups:

  • The Lao Lum (lowlanders) who make up 70% of the population and predominantly live Mekong River.
  • The Lao Theung (uplands) who comprise 20% of the population and on the lope and with an elevation of less than 1,000metres. The Lao Song (hill tribes) who constitute 10% of the population and live in the mountainous areas.
  • The population density of Lao amounts to 19 people per square kilometer, a small number compared to the country's neighbors: 120 people per square kilometer in Thailand; and 200 people per square kilometer in China.

One thing that does not change is the magic the old culture including the way of living of Lao people is the thing that the world tourists wish to see...

SIKHOTTABONG STUPA

IF you ever have a chance to operate any businesses or visit Thakhek, Khammouan province, please go and see Sikhottabong stupa, a high standard of architecture and a beautiful historical site in Laos.

ITS LOCATION

This stupa is located in the former city of the Sikhottabong Empire, 6 km south from Thakhek city along the road No.13 B, section Thakhek-Nangbok. It was built on the flat terrain along the bank of the Mekong River. This stupa illustrates an important architecture of Laos. Its shape looks like a four stupa. If we look far away, it looks like the lotus. It is the middle size stupa which was reconstructured in the 16th century by King Sayasetthathirath when he governed Lanexang Kingdom.

WHO BUILT THIS STUPA?

According to Khammouan Tourism office, this stupa was formerly built in the Sikhottabong Empire to mark the reputation of King Sikhottabong. The former stupa was the place to keep the bones of the 4 Lard Buddha whose names are Koukousantho, Konakhamano, Katsapo and Khotamo. It was built by King Souminthalat or Soumittathammavongsathilath of Sikhottabong Empire by the advice of some honourable monks to mark the dignity and reputation of the king Sikhottabong and the bones of the four Lord Buddha were kept inside.

ANOTHER DATA

According to Maha Sila VIRAVONG, this temple was built by King Sayasetthathrirath in the 16th century between 1566-1567 to cover the old stupa built in the Sikhottabong Empire. Professor Bounheng BOUASISENG- PASEUTH also agrees that it was built in 16th century and built to cover the old stupa of Ssikhottabong. This former one was 1.30 meter high. It is believed that the old stupa was in the area around the present one. Some evidence about Sikhottabong stupa is as follows:

1. Trail of an old big stupa.
2. Trail of Phrakachai house (the big belly Buddha image).
3. Trail of old monk house.
4. Trail of old temple.
5. Houai Kaoma stream and historical stream the story of which is related to Sikhottabong history.
6. The milestones.

Among these above evidences, the milestone sculptured the shape of stupa in the centre was found under the ground of the old temple area. The milestone is the same as in Vientiane and Longngum area in Thoulakhom and Keo-Oudom districts, Vientiane province where the historical arts of Mon-Khorm made when Sikhottabong Empire proposed. Due to the above evidences, Professor Bounheng BOUASISENGPRASEUTH emphasized that the present Sikhottabong stupa was built by King Sayasetthathirath in 16th century covering the old stupa built in the 6th and 10th centuries which has related story on the construction of That Phnom in Thailand and That Ing Hang in Savannakhet. To sum up, it can be said that the old Sikhottabong stupa was built by King Souminthalath or Souminttatha- mmavongsathilath to mark the between 6th and 10th centuries.  When King Sayasetthathirath governed Vientiane in 16th century, he rebuilt Sikhottabong stupa, the same as he did for That Luang at Vientiane. He re-constructed the big stupa to cover the old stupa which was built by Boulichan or PhraNha Chanthabouli Pasitthisak and five honourable monks.

TRADITION FESTIVAL

Sikhottabong stupa is an old architecture of Thakhek, Khammouan and lao people. In the full moon of the third month, the annual rite was organized by Khammouan people and other provinces involving people from Isarn Thailand, Nakorn Phnom and the nearby provinces to gather for the stupa worshipping and entertainment.

VOD LAO

"Vod" is a traditional Lao musicial instrument. It is played either by blowing or throwing with the string. It is very popular in rural area. How nice of its voice are depended on the players. If the player can play low and high voice it makes the listeners to please with the sounds. The main part of the Vod is made of hard bamboo. To make a Vod, the bamboos cut from the forest. The bamboo is them peeled and left to dry under the sun. After making the main structure, the smaller bamboo pipes are made. These amaller pipes are known as "Louk Vod". Once all the pieces are dried, they are fixed together by local glue "Kisoud" the instrument is then ready for playing. As mentioned above the instrument can be played by throwing it in to the air. To do this, it should tie with string, then taken to a high place and thrown to the sky. Usually young farmers make and play it in the winter ot at harvesting time. According to old people it is played to say thank you to the gog of rain. Today the Vod is still preserved as a local musical instrument. It was originally made by the Lao and thenit was made 2000 years ago at the same time as Kene was made.

JIENG TEUM STUPA

Jieng Teum stupa is one of the oldest worshipping grounds in Muong Sing District, Luangnamtha Province. Its beautiful architecture captures interest among cultural tourism from both local and foreign tourist. Once in Muong Sing district, opportunity to visit and worship Jieng Teum stupa tells one how much there is to know about Moung sing district. Jieng Teum stupa is considered a middle sized stupa; its bottom is rounded with an octagon shaped point at top, artistry of leu tribe. It is decorated with mosaics and Buddhist symbols with four little stupas at each corner and sculpture of a young child. Moung Sing is 58 km from Luangnamtha district. Upon entering Moung Sing, one can see a plaque written in the Leu language. There are two ways to get to Jieng teum Stupa, by road and by mounting the stairs of 300 steps.

According to the Luangnamtha Museum, the stupa was built in the year 1796 and later renovated in 1997 with an addition of two stupa of the small size. The well-protected areas of Jieng Teum stupa are in perfect condition and presently taken care of by the locals. The locals of Luangnamtha province prepare an annual at the same time of the That Luang festival of Vientiane. The surrounding of the stupa includes a water spring and a road to Namkeo waterfall. Ethnic minority groups inhabiting within their traditional culture and customs. Many stories relate that Jieng Teum stupa was built by a young prince named Inphan, the son of the King of Moung San, King savannifa. Reincarnated from his pervious life, he became a very gifted child at the age of 7 and later became the guardian of Xieng Kaeng Village, Muong Sing district Luangnamtha province.

VML team members visited Jieng Teum stupa on the first of June 2000 along the winding road because time limit kept us from using the stairs. Visiting Jieng Teum stupa, we came to know the art and architecture of the Leu tribe, old cultures and traditional culture of the livelihoods of many surrounding ethnic groups.

Culture

People boast a plethora of distinctive monuments and architectural styles. One of the most notable structures is that luang, the Great Sacred Stupa, in Vientiane. Its dome like Stupa and four-cornered superstructure is the model for similar monuments throughout Laos. Stupas serve to commemorate the life of the Buddha and many Stupas are said to house sacred relics (parts of Buddha's body). Generally, Hinayana Buddhists cremate the dead body then collected the bone and put in stupa which up in a round the temple.

Deferent styles of architecture are evident in the numerous Buddhist Wats. Three architecture 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 coved with stucco and high-peaked roofs. In Luang Prabang the roofs sweep very low and, unlike in Vientiane, almost reach the ground. These two styles are different from the Wat Xieng Khouang where the temple roofs are not tiered.

Lao religious images and art are also distinctive and set Lao apart from its neighbors. The “Calling for Rain" posture of the Buddha images in Laos, for example, which depicts the Buddha standing with his hands held rigidly at his side, fingers pointing to the ground, cannot be found in other south East Asian Buddhist art traditions.
Religions influences are also pervasive in classical the Lao literature, especially in the Pha Lak Pha Lam, the Lao version of India's epic Ramayana.
Projects are underway to preserve classic Lao religious scripts, which were transcribed into palm leaf manuscripts hundreds of years ago and stored in Wats. Another excellent example of the richness of Lao culture is its folk music, which is extremely popular with the people throughout the whole country. The principal instrument is the khaen, a wind instrument which comprises a double row of Bamboo-like reeds fitted into hardwood sound box. The khaen is often accompanied folk dance is the Lamvong, a circle dance in with people dance circles around each other so that ultimately there are three circles: a circled by the individual, another by the one couple, and a third one dance by the whole party.