There are three major ethnic groups, the Hmong, living in the highest areas, the Khmu, living in the middle, and the Lao, living in the lowlands. There are many more ethnic groups in Laos, a total of over 100.
The main staple for all groups is rice. It is planted and harvested once in the mountains. In some lowland areas they plant and harvest two crops per year.
In the first Hmong village near Luang Prabang, the Hmong were moved to this area about 15 years ago from their highland area. This is a showcase village, most of the people there wear traditional dresses, presumably for the tourists. The second village that I visited was in the mountains west of Phonsavan. This was a normal village.
The Hmong houses have typically only one floor. The floor of the rooms is the ground, without any cover. The houses don't have windows. They don't have a chimney, even though they have a fireplace in the main room for cooking and heating. Seeds for next years planting are hung over the fire to protect them from pests. The roofs are usually straw covered. The roof covers have to be replaced every 4 years.
Hmong men can marry many wifes. It is easy to marry, the men don't need a dowry.
Hmong village west of Phonsavan. (870k) Typical Hmong house, with just one floor. (1141k) Typical Hmong house, with just one floor. (1068k) Interior of a Hmong house with the fireplace and next years seeds above the fireplace. (720k) Interior of a Hmong house with the fireplace and next years seeds above the fireplace. (678k) Raised storage shed, to protect it from animals. (936k) Hmong family. (864k) Hmong man with boys. (901k) Older Hmong woman. (716k) Hmong woman. (678k) Hmong woman. (528k) Hmong woman doing embroidery. (879k) Hmong girls doing embroidery. (1255k) older Hmong girl. (809k) Hmong children. (806k) Hmong boys. (905k) Hmong girl. (842k) Hmong girl showing off her traditional dress. (1106k) Close-up of Hmong girl in traditional dress. (867k) Girl with a baby. Hmong girls marry early, so it could actually be her own child. (1055k) Hmong child. (843k) Hmong children selling their embroidery. (1113k) Hmong boys playing in a tree. (1194k) Hmong boy, winding a top. (853k) Hmong man smoking a cigarette through a contraption similar to a water pipe. (885k) Hmong children doing laundry in the river. (1032k) Drying rice. (1013k) Roofing material. (1104k) Ducks in the village. (1114k) Chicken and pigs. (943k)
The Khmu is an ethic group that lives in the middle altitudes in the mountains. Their houses have a raised floor. The area below the floor of the main room is used for storage of various things, including wood and livestock.
View of the Khmu village across the river. (1045k) View of the Khmu village. You can see the style of the houses with the raised floor and the storage area under the floor. (1200k) Khmu woman doing embroidery with gold thread. (679k) Khmu children. (923k) Khmu children. (830k) Fish trap in the river next to the Khmu village. (1024k) View of the Khmu village. (1310k) Khmu house with raised floor. (1257k) Storage shed, the bottom part can be locked to keep animals. (1236k) School building. (1104k) Khmu woman making brooms. (991k) Khmu girls. (675k) Khmu boys. (920k) Khmu kid. (871k) Pigs. (953k) Chickens. (1177k)
In the Bolaven Plateau I visited a village of the Alak tribe. Houses were similar to the Khmu houses with raised floors. Most Alak are animists, believing in nature as religion.
View of the village. (1003k) In the village. (810k) In the village. (840k) Spirit House. Each village has a spirit house. (1005k) Local kids. (805k) Little girl. (1026k) Making roofing material. (1274k) Pigs. (1120k)
In the Bolaven Plateau I visited a village of the Ngae tribe. Houses were similar to the Khmu houses with raised floors. Most Ngae are animists, believing in nature as religion.
Large house. (1086k) House with storage shed. (1118k) Spirit House. (1122k) Adults. (847k) Old man working on fishing gear. (894k) Ngae woman. (672k) Ngae boys. (890k) Ngae girls. (950k) Ngae girls. (665k) Ngae girl. (602k) Ngae girl. (1122k) Washing her hair. (812k) Kids playing with cut-open water cannisters. (1134k)
Houses were similar to the Khmu houses with raised floors.
The main economic activity in the Katu village was weaving. The women made elaborate fabric, with beads woven into the fabric.
Each house has a coffin in the storage area under the main floor, in preparation for the death or a senior family member.
View of the Katu village. (879k) Katu house. (814k) Coffin under one of the houses. (971k) Drying cassava. (975k) Drying coffee beans. (1104k) Weaving. (1167k) Weaving. (900k) Katu woman. (1054k) School children. (1363k) Katu boy. (967k) Katu girl. (1247k) Katu kid. (599k)
Tai Dam Tribe (from China)
This village is known for making the rice noodles. Women can make as much as $500 per month by making rice noodles.
Cooking the rice. (690k) Spreading the rice paste on the stove while holding the roll with the previous sheet to cool off. (646k) Rolling the finished sheet from the stove onto a roller. (632k) Rolling the finished sheet on the bamboo drying frame. (794k) Inspecting the drying sheets. The sheets take 1-3 days too dry, depending on the weather. (941k) Selling the finished noodles. (1016k)
Ban Xang Hai Village
This village is also known as the Whiskey Village. The specialty of the village is the production of the local rice whiskey. I don't know what the ethnic group of the village is. My guide said Lou, but I can't find any such ethnic group.
Distillery. (848k) Whiskey with various critters. It is supposed to give you strength. Unfortunately they frequently use endangered animals in their whiskey. (926k) Drying freshly dyed silk yarn. (1132k) Rolling silk thread onto a spindle for use in the loom. (856k) Woman working a loom. (743k) Woman working a loom. (974k) Local girl. (973k) View of the temple. (973k) View of the temple grounds temple. (849k) Staircase flanked by Nagas. (1013k) Three headed Naga being devoured by a snake. According to legend, the snake gave up when the Naga grew three heads, it was just too much. (991k) Buddha statue in the meditation pose under a seven headed Naga. (1089k) Wall paintings in the temple, depicting scenes from the life of Buddha. (1028k) Wall paintings in the temple, depicting scenes from the life of Buddha. (797k) Wall paintings in the temple, depicting scenes from the life of Buddha. (835k) Wall paintings in the temple. (998k) Wall paintings in the temple. (1056k) Shrine to a monkey god. (937k) The only monk in the temple/monastery. He has only one apprentice. (695k)