Peasants on a traktor by Asienreisender

Four peasants on a traktor next to the Chinese border in north Laos. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

Laotion Hill Tribe Girl around Muang Sing by Asienreisender

A small girl taking care of a smaller kid. She lives in one of the tribal villages around Muang Sing in north Laos. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

Akha Woman in Muang Sing by Asienreisender

An Akha woman in Muang Sing, selling handcrafts to tourists. The Akha village is in a very low state, the men merely drink and smoke opium while the women are alone to care for their families. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

Tribal Women in Luang Namtha by Asienreisender

A tribal woman on the market of Luang Namtha. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

Laotian Girls having a Noodle Soup by Asienreisender

Two Laotian girls who sell textiles to tourists instead of going to school, here having a noodle soup in a restaurant in Luang Prabang. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

Women carrying water by Asienreisender

A woman in remote Muang Noi, carrying water from a well to her house. Image by Asienreisender, 2006

Laotian Kids in a village around Nong Kheow by Asienreisender

Laotian kids in a remote village around Nong Kheow. Image by Asienreisender, 2006

The People of Laos



The People of Laos

Children in Laos by Asienreisender

Hmong children in a remote village without road connection around Nong Kheow, north Laos. Image by Asienreisender, 2006

There is no easy approach to the People of Laos, for the huge ethnical diversity. Since the 6,200,000 inhabitants (2010), of whom some 60% are ethnically different from the Laotians (the largest ethnic), are falling apart into 70 - 120 different languages, of whom some are not yet scientifically explored; well, there is much to say on this topic. But that would lead astray here.

Laos is a country where many 'hill tribes' live, the nomadic people who live in the mountains appart from the civilizations of the plains. Generally spoken, the linguistic families can be clustered into four main groups. It's the Tai (Thai) family, the Mon-Khmer family, Tibeto-Burmese and Hmong-Yao languages. Just to make it simple.

The countries official language, Laotian, is a Tai language, pretty similar to the Thai which is spoken in Thailand. Besides, there are some 20 million Thai People in the northeast of Thailand (Isaan) and the north of Thailand who speak despite the 'Thaiification' effords of the past, rather Laotian Tai than the standard Thai language.

Monk's Alm's Collecting on Don Khone by Asienreisender

The traditional alm's collecting of the Buddhist monks in the early morning still happens everywhere in Laos. It's mostly done by women. Here in Don Khone on the 4000 Islands / Si Phan Don. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Still not everybody in Laos speaks the Laotian language. But due to the expansion of infrastructure, the media, domestic migration and pressure from the central government the penetration of Laotian into the population is advancing.

As in Thailand the dominant religion is Theravada Buddhism. Although the governmental regime is a Communistic and therefore per ideology strictly non-religious, religion plays a very important role in the life of the Laotian People. It's richly intermixed with animism and ancestor worship.

By the way, the vast majority of Laotion People does not live in cities, but in rural communities. The countries capital Vientiane counts 600,000 inhabitants and is by distance the biggest city of Laos. It's followed by Pakse (88,500 inhabitants), Savannakhet (66,600 inhabitants) and Luang Prabang (47,500 inhabitants). Alltogether less than a fourth of the population lives in cities.


The Laotians

When being in Laos now, I don't get the words of Henri Mouhot, the French explorer, out of my mind, when I have to deal with the Laotians. Mouhot wrote in July 1861 in his diary concerning the people of Luang Prabang: "...dull, apathetic and full of little vices." That seems to me quite symptomatic for the lowland Laotians as a whole (not included the hill tribes). The many vices are all of their fun. It's not only the neverending booze on the neverending noisy parties everywhere, it's not only the adultery, the neglection of their children and all this cheating, manipulating and lying. It's also the gambling. Asian's are notorious gamblers. Live is just a game for those people. Nothing really serious, after all. You win, you loose, you take it as it comes. Today loosing, you might be tomorrow the big winner, admired by everybody. That's a kind of paradigm here.

Laotian Mountain Village by Asienreisender

A remote village in the wider surroundings of Sam Neua, near the Vietnamese border. In daytime the villages are sometimes without people, for everybody is working on the fields or hunting. Image by Asienreisender, 2006

So, the human relationships are devoted to the idea of gambling and business. Business is clearly nothing else than gambling. In a game you have cards on your hand, in business life you have real estate, a factory or whatever you can make business with. Every part of life is subdued to business/gambling. You are a winner, a hero? Then you can afford a lifestyle in luxury and presentation. You are always losing? How comes? Bad kharma? Don't worry, be nice and next life you have better cards in the game. Go to the temple and do a bit of good will to change your kharma. That's the hope.

This kind of people is easy food for the mighty consumer industries with their powerful means of propaganda and commercials.


The People of Si Phan Don

This chapter is on the people of Si Phan Don, the 4000 Islands in the very south of Laos. For the whole article on the 4000 Islands / Si Phan Don click the link...

The islanders are all peasants and fishermen, of whom a part now makes tourist business. A traveller can get here an authentic insight in a rural community. The people are very simple minds, mostly seemingly friendly towards tourists. Like all the rural people in Laos they are as noisy as they can with their vehicles and particularly with their new entertaining equipment. Every day over hours music is played out noisily - not only at songkran and other festivals. There is not only a single source of noise - sometimes one suffers heavy noise pollution from two, three, five sources. That appears everywhere, there is no way to escape it except to leave the village. TV watching is also notorious. The Laotians suck up the Thai TV with it's superficial soup operas, appealing all to wrong feelings, with an enthusiasm they should dedicate for better purposes. That makes staying here, after all, very unpleasant.

Laotian Ticket Sellers on the Bridge over Hou Behanzin Channel by Asienreisender

These guys were sitting on the bridge over Hou Behanzin Channel every day. Every time when I came along they commanded: "You! Stop! Buy ticket!" It's not a ticket for crossing the bridge - that happened in the past. It's a ticket for the Samphamit Waterfall (25,000 kip), 2km away. There is absolutely no reason to sell tickets here because there is of course a ticket booth at the waterfall itself. And they never remembered that they asked me already 15 to 20 times the same thing. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Further on they are not different to the lowland Laotians as described in the people section of the Laos page. They are blunt, lazy, greedy, dirty, both in carelessness of littering as in hygienic matters. They throw their rubbish wherever they are, and might it be out of the kitchen window. Same thing it is with the food cleanliness - hand washing and keeping food clean means nothing to them. Due to all the littering many flies and cockroaches are around - flies in daytime, cockroaches in nighttime.

Generosity is no strength of the Laotian People in general. That's remarkable because they are ethnically very close to the Thai People, who are so different. Thai People like to be generous, like to give gifts, favours and little (or bigger) services, giving support and help without asking for money. Laotians don't understand that idea. They take wherever they can. They wouldn't give something away for the reason of 'nam jai' (Thai: 'flow of the heart'); they mean business here.

When it comes to problems they first try to avoid it. If this is not possible, they second give it the smallest attention possible. Fixing a technical problem means doing the very least one can do to reach an easy improvement for the moment. Looking forward is definitely not their favour. Doing anything properly neither.

The locals seem to got some input of third parties on how to behave towards tourists. Despite the seemingly friendlieness of a majority their bad manners are always shining through. They use strong words among each others, shout out noisily and make dirty noises. The kids appear impudent and rude here and there. Their seeming friendlieness is just a treacherous layer like a make-up is. It's rather the result of an abstract learning process - 'when you smile, you get the banana'.

They are not interested in the foreign visitors they make business with. The foreign visitor on the other hand doesn't understand much of the local population and does not intend to. Tourists are mostly busy with themselves and having fun.

Interestingly I didn't see anybody heavily retarded (as so many times on Java). In rural populations there appeares usually a certain 'idiotic' part of the population, the so called 'village morons'. That would very much fit to the social environment here, but doesn't appear. Why? I don't know. There are informations about a government policy who takes away such people who are homeless and socially disintegrated. They come to one of the notorious 'rehabilitation centers' (formerly called: reeducation camps) like Somsanga in Vientiane and suffer a mysterious fate in captivity.


People in a totalitarian State

Travelling in Laos since years, also leaving the tourist track and digging deeper into rural life, leaves a strange feeling that there is something very, very wrong in this country.

There is not much in the news about Laos, but it's clear that the country is under great oppression. It's clearly a country in which is 2+2=5. Never dare to think the right way! Practice doublethink every day. Therefore social deprivation is on a very high level here.

A recent example is Sombath Somphone. He was a leading head of a civil right movement in Laos. Last year in December he disappeared in Vientiane. There is a video where he is last seen led away by policemen. The government claims that he had a business conflict with other Laotians, but in fact nobody doubts that he has been arrested by the Laotian police. Nobody from outside knows since then where he is. Even the European Commission and even more other ASEAN states set pressure on Laos to free him and to more respect opposition in Laos.

Laotian Military Propaganda Poster in Phongsali by Asienreisender

A martial propaganda poster in Phongsali. Image by Asienreisender, 2010

The Laotian government acts so to intimidate civil rights groups. Better not to think of civil rights in Laos as a Laotian. Looks that they are among the most oppressive regimes on earth. That coins a common mentality very much. The best people under such regimes get killed, suppressed, handicapped and so on...

There are other similar examples of civil rights activists who disappeared in Laos. And there are reports about genocide against the Hmong population and brutal, bloody army actions against many other minorities in Laos.

Thinking about Laotian People also means considering that there were wars over so many years. Particularly the American Vietnam War was clearly a huge disaster for the People of Laos (see also the article 'Bombs on Laos'). This war at the end brought the communist regime in power. The so called 'domino theory', that all the Indochinese countries would fall step by step into the hands of communist regimes was in fact just promoted by the brutal American aggression. It was one of Americas 'stupid wars' (Howard Zinn). At the end all these historical experiences shape a peoples mentality. And war does not make people any better...

Asienreisender Up to the top!

Published on April 24th, 2013


Last update on May, 1st, 2013