Laos has a rich diversity of cultures, lifestyles and arts. The country’s 17 provinces stretch 1,162 kilometres from the north to the south, with 6.8 million inhabitants representing 49 officially recognised ethnic groups in four main language families. The majority Tai Lao people, from where the country gets it name, only make up about 53% of the population. Almost half the population comprises numerous ethnic minority groups.
These different ethnic groups have different customs, religions and lifestyles. For example, the Tai Lao traditionally lived in wood houses on stilts along riverbanks, practicing a blend of Buddhism and spirit worship, and farming paddy rice fields. However, the Hmong traditionally lived in wood houses with thatched roofs on the ground, practicing spirit and ancestor worship, and planting dry upland rice.
Even with the many differences between the ethnic groups, trade and interaction between communities has always been common. For example, the Kmhmu have often lived close to Tai Lue communities, bartering their basketry and metal tools for cloth.
The 50 ethnic groups practice a variety of traditional arts, including silk and cotton weaving, dyeing, embroidery, applique, basket weaving, carving and music. One of the best ways to appreciate Laos’ cultural diversity is to observe these handicrafts and arts.
Visit the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre (TAEC) in Luang Prabang to explore the diverse ethnic cultures through exhibitions, events, and craft workshops.