Topographical zones into three groups usually divide Laos' ethnically diverse population:

1.The wet rice cultivating, Buddhis Lao Loumof the lowlands, who are politically and numerically dominant, constituting over half of the total population.

2.The Lao Theungwho occupies the mountain slopes and make up about a quarter of the population.

3.The Lao Soung, or upland Lao, who live in the high mountains and practise shifting cultivation, and who make up less than a fifth of Laos' total population.

These subdivisions are simplistic and in practice the lines between ethnic groups are increasingly blurred as communication and migration increase across the country.
The largest non-Lao groups in Laos are the Chinese and Vietnamese communities in the main cities.


As with all cultures everywhere in the world, there are some general rules of conduct that a traveller in Laos should follow. It is best to avoid the time round 11am when visiting a wat as this is when monks usually take their morning meal. Women should not attempt to shake the hand of a monk, hand anything to him, or sit beside him since monks are not allowed to touch women. When talking to a monk, try to keep your head lower than his.

When sitting down, feet should point away from the altar and main image. Arms and legs should be fully covered when visiting wats. A small donation is advisable, and it is appropriate to kneel down when giving it. In general pointing with the index finger is considered rude. Patting children on the head should be avoided, as it is the most sacred part of the body. The traditional form of greeting is with hands together, prayer-like, and with head bowed, as in most parts of Asia, but handshaking is done more frequently today.

Sensitivity pays when taking photographs. Be very wary in areas that have (or could have) military importance such as airports, where all photography is prohibited. Also be careful when photographing official functions and parades without permission. Always ask permission before photographing a person or in a temple.