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SOCIAL OVERVIEW

Currency

The KIP is the official currency of the Lao PDR and bank notes are presently in denomination of 1000, 500, 100, 50, 20, 10, and 5 Kip.
There are money exchange facility at the airports, and several licensed bureau in towns. Although It is best to always use cash to ensure the best bargains, a few businesses and restaurants do accept travelers' checkes. Traveler's checkes in other currency are best changed in Vientiane and the major provinces. In general, US dollar traveler's checkes can be cashed at most banks in Lao PDR nationwide. Major international credit cards, such as VISA, MasterCard, and American Express are now being accepted in foreign banks, restaurants, hotels and businesses shops.


Culture

 

Lao PDR used to be called Lane Xang, "The Land of A Million Elephants". It was the name given to the country by King Fa Ngum whuen he reunified the country in 1353 A.D.
Lao folk music features the khan, or Lao panpipe, a wind instrument that is devised of a double row of bamboo like reeds fitted into a hardwood sound box. The khean is often accompanied by a bowed string instrument or saw.
The National Dance is a folks dance called the Lamvong, or Circle Dance, in which couples dance circles around one another until there are three circles in all: a circle prescribed by an individual, a circle danced by a couple, and one by the whole crowd.

 

The cultural history of Lao PDR has been shaped by a blend of three religions. The early Lao were animists, believers in spirits, and many of these traditions still prevail; then Brahmanism spread eastward from the Indian subcontinent, and finally Buddhism, the most obvious influence on Lao culture today, made its unique influence on Lao PDR.
Many Lao males choose to be ordained as monks temporarily, normally spending anywhere from a few days to three months at a wat or temple.
Lao art and architecture is often unique and expressive. Most tourists will visit a wat or temple during their visit to Lao PDR, and see the traditional turned-up roofs of the wat. Wat is the compound where monks reside.
Sculptures usually depicting the image of Buddha are distinctively Lao: the "calling for rain" posture, which depicts the Buddha standing with his hand held rigidly at the side, fingers pointing to the ground. The flat, elongated earlobes, arched eyebrows and cauline nose are typically Lao. Another unique feature is that the bottom of the image's robe turns up on both sides in a perfectly symmetrical fashion.

 


Customs, Gestures and Common Courtesies

 

The generally accepted form of greeting among Lao people is the Nop, placing one's palms together in a position of praying, at chest level, but not touching the body. The higher the hand, the greater the sign of respect, although they should never be held above the level of the nose. This is accompanied by a slight bow to show respect to persons of higher status or age. The Nop is not only an expression of greeting, but also of thanks, of regret or saying goodbye. However, it is appropriate to shake hands with westerners.
As in many Asian cultures, the head is considered the most sacred part of the body, and the soles of the feet are the lowliest. One should not touch a person's head nor use one's foot to point at a person or any object. Men and women rarely show affection in public. It is forbiden for a women to touch a Buddhist monk.
It is customary to remove one's shoes or sandals when entering a Buddhist temple or private home. In Lao PDR, homes are raised off the ground, shoes or sandals are left at the stairs. In a traditional home, one sits on low seats or cushions on the floor. Men may sits with legs crossed or folded to one side. Women sits with legs gracefully folded to the side. Guest me be served tea or fruit, which should not be refused. On should at least take a taste.