5 Things I’ve Learnt About Lao People While in Laos

I found the Lao people to be the most fascinating part of traveling through Laos. I was happily surprised to see how rich their culture was and how so many people were still living according to their old traditions.

Laos is NOT known as the land of smiles, but the people here are still so special, and very genuine in their own way.

Below are 5 things that sum up my experience with the Lao people – and just to make sure, these are not facts but my own perception and experience from spending 3 weeks there.

1. Men Are Very Homely

Something I found very refreshing was how much time the men spent at home and with their children.

It was a very common sight to see men of all ages carrying around babies on their backs and in their arms, feeding them, hushing them to sleep and just general baby sitting – without the mother in sight.

They really took time with their kids and gave them attention, playing with them.

They also seemed very interested in other people’s kids, always toddling with the babies when sharing a songtheaw (bus á la tuk tuk style) ride.

2. The Kids Are The Most Adorable I’ve Ever Met

These little people are just the sweetest! Their doll faces and curious eyes are simply irresistible.

I’ve never met so many kids in a country who shyly whisper or loudly yell ‘hello’ to you from the street, river, moped or home.

They were so curious, and those who were brave enough – smiled, laughed and said hello to you over and over again until you were out of sight.

You cannot help but to smile and say hello back …

3. The Bus Drivers Have a Death Wish

When I mentioned the things I’ve learnt about Thai people someone asked why I didn’t mention the driving.

The Thai people are known for their careless driving, and the streets there were chaos, but at least the bus drivers had some common sense.

In Laos – they didn’t.

70 people in a 50 seat bus does not make sense, especially when you’re not using your breaks on the steep, windy mountain roads…

Chickens and roosters on the road? Who cares, they had it coming! Feathers were constantly sweeping past our windows … travel around Laos really isn’t for the faint-hearted!

4. They Want To Avoid Any And All Confrontation

The people are very gentle and kind in Laos, similar to the Thai people – but different.

It’s not the most obvious friendliness and they don’t take you in with open arms, they are more stand-offish. However, if you gain a little bit of trust, you will see that they’re actually very friendly people.

They are also, like the Thai people, afraid of confrontations.

Sometimes it’s really refreshing, other times it’s really frustrating, especially when you just want to get a straight answer to a question.

Their way of dealing with it is usually to laugh it off as a joke – which makes for a pretty funny and confusing situation. You might not get a straight answer, but you always leave with a confused smile on your face.

5. Women And Men Work Together

This is something that I find very rare around the world.

Usually women and men have their own places in which they work; but in Laos the roles are very mixed.

The men and women work together.

It’s not uncommon to see men standing in stalls cooking street food and banana pancakes, and women working the street as road workers.

Both women and men work on tea and coffee plantations, and they both take care of the family.

It seemed as though they did what they were best at, if the man cooked better food, he was the chef, and vice versa.

Have you been to Laos? Can you relate to my experience, and what did you learn about Lao people?

(photo credit: loic.schule – Stas Kulesh

25 Responses to 5 Things I’ve Learnt About Lao People While in Laos

  1. TotalTravelBug March 8, 2011 at 8:46 am #

    I can totally relate to this. The people were probably my favourite part of the country. They are so chilled out and peaceful, a lovely contrast when travelling from Vietnam.
    I also found that through Indonesia the men were very homely. It’s lovely to see dads and grandads surrounded by babies.

    • Sofia - As We Travel March 9, 2011 at 1:45 am #

      The people were definitely the highlight of Laos for me too. Yes, I agree, Indonesian men were similar in that way.

      Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  2. Andi Perullo March 8, 2011 at 3:42 pm #

    Wow, sounds like such a fascinating culture!!! I would fit in well, as I hate confrontation haha. One thing is that I would change the use of the word “homely.” In English that means very unattractive, which is not what you’re intending it to mean.

    • Sofia - As We Travel March 9, 2011 at 1:42 am #

      hahaha thank you very much for the correction, I did not know that!! What word would you have used instead so I can change it?

  3. Peter Heck March 8, 2011 at 2:52 pm #

    You have some very breathtaking photos! Can’t wait to get to that side of the world.

    • Sofia - As We Travel March 9, 2011 at 1:43 am #

      Thanks Peter, Laos really did offer some amazing photo opportunities.

  4. Bluegreen Kirk March 8, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

    Interesting article on LAOS. I just read one on another travel blog that was speaking about the history and how they were the most bombed place during something called the secret war. Nice post.

    • Sofia - As We Travel March 9, 2011 at 1:46 am #

      Yes, Laos was very badly damaged during that secret war.

      Thanks for the comment Kirk.

  5. redheadedtravels March 9, 2011 at 9:29 am #

    I love your observations, they ring very true from my visit to Laos as well, and like many places, it is the people that make the country here. I found Laos to be the most relaxing and laid back country I’ve been to (big call I know), and that is due to all the factors you’ve listed. One comment I found interesting was from the daughter of the family of the place I stayed in Luang Prabang – she said that although the biggest tribe in Laos was the Lao tribe, the rest (including her family) did not like to be called Lao, they were happy with Laotian, and they liked our bastardised pronounciation of Laos with the s, because then it referred to the country and not just one tribe.

    • Sofia - As We Travel March 10, 2011 at 6:36 am #

      That is a very interesting comment indeed. I can understand why they would prefer being called something else rather than the name of another tribe.

      Thanks for sharing that experience, and I agree, Laos is very laid back in a nice way :)

  6. Aimee @ GoBedRock March 9, 2011 at 5:11 am #

    We loved this post Sofia. Thanks for sharing your experiences. The people sound fascinating, and now I can’t wait to visit Laos (planning a trip later this year)!

  7. Angela March 9, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

    I haven’t been to Laos but I totally understand how adorable are the kids. I’ve always liked babies and little kids, but here in China I go completely crazy when I see one. They are so puffy and sweet, winter time they look like the Michelin man and they can barely walk due to the too many layers of their clothes…I just want to squeeze them 😀
    Very sweet post, I love getting to know the locals everywhere I go.

    • Sofia - As We Travel March 10, 2011 at 6:41 am #

      Oh so cute!! Usually I don’t have a weak spot for babies, but the Lao kids were just irresistible..!

  8. south pacific cruise March 9, 2011 at 11:39 pm #

    I have not been there and it is interesting to know about these things. Thanks for sharing, nice photos though.

  9. Regina March 10, 2011 at 7:37 am #

    And many, young and old absolutely loooove to party! I’ve been to Laos 3 times (just back a coupla days ago) and never did I not experience at least 1 rollicking celebration- food, music, dancing, much laughter and lao lao. I always felt heartily welcome to join in the fun.

    • Sofia - As We Travel March 11, 2011 at 1:21 am #

      Hey Regina,

      you’re right, they love dancing, music and all that comes with it!

  10. Joshua Johnson March 10, 2011 at 6:09 pm #

    Laotians and Laos was my favorite destination in southeast Asia by a wide margin. The country itself is a marvel of green, retaining vastly more forest cover than its neighbors and subsequently Laos is home to species that have fled or have been driven from surrounding countries.

    • Sofia - As We Travel March 11, 2011 at 1:26 am #

      I loved the nature too, especially up north! It was very refreshing to be surrounded by such wild nature right outside your doorstep.

  11. Aaron March 11, 2011 at 8:15 am #

    Laos is definitely my favorite country in Southeast Asia and you’re right that the population there is different than that of Thailand. Perhaps the population in Laos is more hardened from the years and years of harsh conflict they faced in the not-so-distant past?

    That said, I’ve had fantastic experiences with Lao people, particularly the younger ones (particularly the ones you meet in a place that doesn’t get quite so many foreigners) are so incredibly warm!

    And yes, the bus drivers DEFINITELY have a death wish! It’s a wonder I survived some of those bus rides with the the contents of my stomach still intact…

  12. enrolled agent course March 11, 2011 at 11:36 am #

    I would love to witness the culture in Laos and meet the locals. I find it amazing and such a beautiful sight to see fathers being homely.

  13. Sarah Wu April 3, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

    Oh wow, I bet if the Bus is feel, you’ll feel like you’re on a rocking boat right?

  14. Fong July 30, 2011 at 11:10 am #

    Very nice article. I am from Laos and now living in Canada. What you observed is ingrained in our culture and upbringing. The community temples have lots to do with how Laotian behave. At one point in their life, most men lived in a temple as a monk to learn the teachings of Buddha and how to live a meaningful and peaceful life. Thank you for sharing your observations.

  15. Subir @Outbound June 18, 2012 at 11:34 pm #

    Love the one about bus drivers. They’re the same everywhere in South and SEA. Then again, if I had to put up with what they have to, probably be the same

  16. Thoy August 10, 2012 at 5:05 am #

    I was born in Laos in 1970. I wish to return soon after 30 years escaping from the country with my family. We are all in NC now. I do miss the food and the laid back atmosphere. Thoy