Maybe it’s because everything closes early, even in the capital, that just about everyone in Laos gets up before 6am. Their day might begin with a quick breakfast, at home or from a local noodle seller, before work. In Lao Loum (lowland Lao ) and other Buddhist areas, the morning also see monk collecting alms, usually from women who hand out rice and vegetables outside their homes in return for a blessing.
School-age kids will walk to a packed classroom housed in a basic building with one or two teachers. Secondary students often board during the week se there are fewer secondary schools and it can be too tar to commute. Almost any family who can afford it pays for their kids to learn English, which is seen as a near-guarantee of future employment.
Given that about 75% of people live in rural communities, work is usually some form of manual labor. Depending on the season, and the person’s on and gender (women and men have clearly defined task when it comes to farming), work might be planting or harvesting rice or other crops. Unlike neighbouring Vietnam, the Lao usually only harvest one crop of rice i year, meaning there are a couple of busy periods followed by plenty of time when life can seem very laid back.
During these quiet periods, men will fish, hunt and repair the house, while women might gather flora and fauna from the forest, weave fabrics I collect firewood. At these times there’s something wonderfully social and uncorrupted about arriving in a village mid-afternoon, sitting in the front of the local “store” and sharing a lào lao (whisky) or two with the locals, feeling like you’re stealing their time.
Where vices are concerned, lào-lao is the drug of choice for most Lao, particularly in rural areas where average incomes are so low that Beerlao beyond most budgets. Opium is the most high-profile of the other drugs traditionally used – and tolerated – in Laos, though recent crop-clearing has it less available. In cities, yaba (methamphetamine), in particular, is becoming popular among young people.
Because incomes are rock-bottom in Laos – US$100 per month could be considered middle-class – the Lao typically socialize as families, pooling their resources to enjoy a bun wat (temple festival) or picnic at the local waterfall together. The Lao tend to live in extended families, with three or e generations sharing one house or compound, and dine together sitting on mats on the floor with rice and dishes shared by all.
Most Lao don some portion of the traditional garb during ceremonies and orations – the men a phàa bjang (shoulder sash), the women a similar sash, tight – fitting blouse and phàa nung (sarong). In everyday life men wear near but unremarkable shirt-and-trousers combinations. However, it’s still normal for women to wear the phàa nung or sin (sarong). Other ethnicities living Laos – particularly Chinese and Vietnamese women – will wear phàa nung when they visit a government office, or risk having any civic requests denied.