Laos is an absolutely fascinating country to the north and east of Thailand in Southeast Asia. This land locked country, also shares borders with China, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia. Lying as it does, completely surrounded by five countries. The culture and ethnic diversity in the country is hugely varied. Vietnam for example has 54 ethnic groups living within its borders. The Chinese to the north and the Burmese to the northwest have further diversified the cultural heritage as have the Thais. All this has resulted in an incredible mixture of people, culture and of course, language. There are eighty two languages spoken in this beautiful, peaceful country.
The official language is Lao, this is spoken by about fifty percent of the entire population. The French colonists ensured that the French language is widely spoken, though since independence, this is slowly dying out. English is also widely spoken, especially by the young, having replaced French in schools as the number one foreign language. Culturally the French left behind a legacy of impressive buildings and an appreciation of great cuisine. There are superb restaurants through Laos and many of the best ones have a French bias.
But holiday makers to this wonderful country should not be worried about the huge diversity of language. Variety is, they say, the spice of life, and anyone touring Laos on their annual vacation will certainly attest to that. The people are incredibly friendly, perhaps the most open and welcoming in the whole of Southeast Asia. They are proud of their country and love to show it off. They welcome strangers and are genuinely delighted that you chose to visit Laos.
The ethnic minorities account for all the other languages. Vietnamese is spoken by about 76,000 people, but it is the Khmu and H’mong who are the largest of these minorities. The Khmu in the north number 390,000 and the H’Mong some 310,000. All the rest are scattered around the country, ensuring that holiday makers will, if traveling around Laos, come into contact with them. They mainly live in ethnic villages and survive by farming, selling handicrafts and tourism.
Laos is a truly special holiday destination. Parts of it remain almost frozen in time, and what a time it was. Mystical temples and pagodas, lush green countryside on either side of the amazing Mekong River, which has more of its three thousands miles here, than in any other country. It is a superb choice for a vacation. More people than ever are now visiting this country and its amazing cities, like Vientiane, Savannakhet, Luang Prabang and Pakse.
Give it a try, you’ll love the people and laugh as you try to understand each other. Normally a few hand signals and a smile will win the day. Laos is an exceptionally beautiful country.