Arts and Architecture

Lao art is well known for its wealth of ornamentation. As in other neighbouring Buddhist countries the focus is primarily religious in nature. Temple murals and bas-reliefs usually tell the story of the Buddha's lives, the Jataka tales. There is not as wide a range of art in Laos as in Thailand, as the country has been constantly dominated by foreign powers that tended to suppress indigenous culture.

Much of Lao history and culture has been destroyed over the centuries, as plundering neighbours such as Siamese/Thais, Chinese and Vietnamese ransacked the towns and cities. Also, wood has always been the primary building material, resulting in a limited life span for ancient monuments.

The Ramayana, the famous Indian epic, has become a part of the Lao cultural heritage, and is known as the Phra Lak Pralam. Many of the doors and windows of temples are engraved with scenes from this story, depicting for example the struggle between good and evil. Prime examples are the huge teak shutters at Wat Xieng Thong in Luang Prabang.

Sculpture in Laos is more distinctive in style, the best pieces originating from the 16th to 18th centuries. Characteristic of Lao Buddha images is a nose like an eagle's beak, extended earlobes, and tightly curled hair. The best examples are in Wat Phra Kaeo and Wat Sisaket in Vientiane. In addition, there are certain mudras (gestures) that are found only in Lao Buddhist sculpture. These include the 'Calling for Rain', (the Buddha standing, both arms held stiffly at the side of the body, fingers pointing downwards) and the 'Contemplating the Tree of Enlightenment'.