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The Peoples’ Democratic Republic of Laos is located in the center of Indochina and shares borders with China, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Approximately two thirds of Laos' terrain is mountainous, reaching a maximum elevation almost 3000 meters in the Province of Xieng Khouang.

The landscapes of northern Laos and the regions close to Vietnam are dominated by rough mountains while the Mekong River is the main geographical feature in the west, forming a natural border with Thailand. The Mekong flows through almost 2000 kilometers of Laos territory and shapes much of the lifestyle of the people.

Activities

Laos may have a reputation for being somewhat laid-back and sleepy however it's not for a lack of things to do. A land full of enchantment and charm, Laos boasts something for almost everyone visiting this fascinating country. Whether you prefer to drift along the charming Mekong River and enjoy life as it slowly passes, or you're the adventurer ready to explore remote areas in the countryside, Lao caters for everyone.

When you're ready to take a break from the temple circuit, there's a multitude of cafés to relax and unwind in, and at night travelers of all varieties will find something to purchase in the enchanting night markets. Perhaps nature lovers will be happiest in Laos, as the scenery is breathtaking throughout the country. If it’s perplexing and unusual you seek, look no further than the Plain of Jars in Phonsanan where hundreds of enormous jars sit in empty fields.

Climate

For most of the year Laos is hot and humid, enjoying a tropical climate with two distinct seasons. From the beginning of May to the end of September is the traditional rainy season, and the dry season in Lao runs from October until April. The yearly average temperature is about 28 degrees, and can rise to a maximum of 38 Celsius during April and May.

January in Vientiane can bring a daytime minimum temperature of 19 degrees Celsius, however in the mountainous areas temperature can fall to as low as 14-15 degrees Celsius, and during the cold nights, can easily drop to freezing point.

Culture

A striking trademark of Laos is the diversity of its people and cultures. Many traditional arts and crafts represent their way of life with a rich cultural heritage with religious art and architecture forming the cornerstones.

Laos has a huge variety of distinctive monuments and architectural styles and one of the most notable structures is the great Sacred Stupa in Vientiane, known as That Luang. Its dome-like stupa and four-cornered superstructure is the model for similar monuments across Laos, serving to commemorate the life of the Buddha.

Festivals

Laos has many annual festivals signifying traditional aspects of Lao lifestyle and most are connected with religion and the yearly rice farming cycle. The timing of the festivals is calculated according to the Buddhist lunar calendar.

February festivities include elephant races, buffalo fights, cock fighting, traditional Lao music and dance performances coinciding with the trade fair festival showing products originating from southern Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Lao New Year is celebrated in April each year and the 16th is the first day of the New Year. During this period, Buddha images are taken out of the temples to be cleansed with scented water and placed on special temporary altars within the compounds of the Temples. Devotees gather the scented water falling off the images, to take home and use it to pour on friends and relatives, as an act of cleansing and purification before entering the New Year.

In May a ceremony praying for rain is performed at the temple during the morning and in the afternoon people gather in fields on the outskirts of villages and towns to launch rockets aimlessly into the skies to compete for the best decorated and the highest traveling rocket. The festivals are staggered from place to place to enable more participation and attendance from local villages.

August sees the Khao Padabdin ceremony day, where people visit local temples to make offerings to share merit-making and this festival includes boat racing on the Nam Khan River and a trade fair in Luang Prabang World Heritage town.

In Octover the festival held after the end of the monks’ three-month fast and retreat during the rainy season allows donations and offerings made at temples around the city. In the evening, candlelight processions are held at temples and hundreds of colorful floats decorated with flowers, incense and candles are set adrift down the Mekong River to pay respect to the river spirit. The following day in Vientiane and other Provinces, a popular and exciting boat racing competition is held to celebrate the Mekong River.

Food

Good French Restaurants are a remnant of the country's colonial era, as are the widely available baguettes and pastries. Major cities in Laos offer dishes that will satisfy the vast majority of travelers. Down by the river is pretty much as lively as it gets in Vientiane here a variety of chilled out river side joints serve traditional Thai and Southeast Asian dishes to be enjoyed while overlooking the Mekong. Some restaurants reside on stilts others are sidewalk based, each offering a different experience of the surrounding area. There is a distinct European charm to dining out in Vientiane, where you can watch the locals and tourists go about their business

Religion

Buddhism first appeared in Laos during the eighth century A.D. After the foundation of the unified Kingdom of Lane Xang in the 14th Century, King Fa Ngum declared Buddhism as the state religion. His policy meant to develop the Lao culture based on a common faith: Theravada Buddhism.
Today, Theravada Buddhism is the professed religion of about 90% of Lao people and is an inherent feature of daily life. Lao women can be seen each morning giving alms to monks, earning merit to lessen the number of their rebirths. It is expected that every Lao man will become a monk for at least a short time during his life.

Travel Tips
Greetings

Laos people don't normally shake hands when they greet one another, but instead press the palms together in a prayer-like gesture called a nop. Lao's regard the head as the highest part of the body, therefore avoid touching people on the head and try not to point your feet at people or an object as it is considered very rude.
Religion
Visitors should dress neatly in all religious shrines and they should never go topless, or in shorts, hot pants or other unsuitable attire. It is acceptable to wear shoes when walking around the compound of a Buddhist temple, but not inside the chapel where the principal Buddha image is kept.
The Law
Do not get yourself involved with drugs. Penalties for drug offences are very severe in Laos.
Do not support any manner of wild animal abuse. Never purchase any products or souvenirs made from wild animals including reptiles like snakes, monitor lizards, and also turtle shell and ivory.
Drop your garbage into a waste container. In an effort to keep the city clean and healthy, the fine will be imposed on a person who spits, discards cigarette stubs, or drops rubbish in public areas.
Observe all normal precautions as regards to personal safety, as well as the safety of your belongings.


We hope these guidelines are helpful during your stay in Laos. More detailed information about Lao provinces are available by clicking the appropriate listing in our Main Menu. This is where you will also find a selection of businesses that are offering benefits and discounts to Asia Privilege Club Members.

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