The small country of Laos is hidden amid some of Asia’s front-runners when it comes to tourism — but the overlooked country holds many beautiful secrets. Laos’ tucked-away nature provides visitors with a true southeast Asia experience. Anyone studying abroad in Laos will be surrounded by pristine landscapes, lush rainforests, and a culture left largely untouched by the outside world.
Geography & Demographics
Laos is surrounded by China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar. The countries make up a peninsula bordered by the South China Sea to the east and the Bay of Bengal to the west. The Lao landscape is very mountainous and filled with dense, lush forests. It is home to some of the most extensive limestone caves in Asia, offering miles of cream-colored caves surrounded by green jungles and filled with blue rivers. The most famous limestone cave in Laos is Konglor Cave. It is one the largest and most spectacular, with a river that flows its entire length of over 3 miles.
The weather offers students warm temperatures and lots of sunny sky year round, with the two main seasons being wet and dry. The rocky terrain and heavy rainfall make Laos a hotspot for waterfalls and have created some of the most beautiful in the world. Outdoor time with family is popular so many locations offer tables, rest stops and guided tours. Biking and climbing are also popular outdoor activities. With a population of only 6 million, the country offers a plethora of open landscapes.
Food & Culture
Their cuisine is very spicy and usually features fresh herbs and vegetables. People use the refreshing veggies as a way to sooth the fiery flavors of typical dishes. Eating with your hands is absolutely encouraged, and makes for a fun meal. Sticky rice is a staple of the diet and served alongside meals in a small basket. Reach in with your right hand to create a small ball to use for dipping. The national dish, laap, is a combination of minced meat, spices, herbs, and of course lots of spicy chilis. Studying abroad here is great for anyone on a budget, as Laos has a very low cost of living compared to Western countries.
The official language here is Lao, but only about half of the people regularly speak it. French is predominantly spoken and English has been gaining in popularity. There is a variety of native languages throughout the country spoken by the 49 recognized ethnic minorities. They live in villages and usually welcome visitors, but it is a good idea to have a guide or learn about their etiquette prior to a stop, to make sure that behavior you consider perfectly harmless doesn’t end up offending any of the villagers.
Lao people are known to be straightforward, open, and friendly. The culture is respectful of others, and everyone (including foreigners) is expected to also be courteous and aware of local customs. For instance, in Laos, it is considered very bad manners to show the soles of your feet, or touch someone on the head.
Things to Do
Some famous landmarks include the Plain of Jars, the Hidden City, and Buddha Park. The Plain of Jars is located in north central Laos and features thousands of stone jars made more than 2,000 years ago. Archaeologists believe they were used as funerary urns but local legends says they were used to distill alcohol for the king after an important military triumph.
Vieng Xai, or “Hidden City,” is a remnant of the 1960s and 70s, when the country was undergoing a difficult political time and suffered intense bombing during the Vietnam War. People took shelter in caves and eventually created a large, fully functioning city within the caverns, complete with schools, hospitals, banks, and grocery stores. Tours can be taken through the remains that show the remarkable lives the inhabitants had led.
One of the most recognizable and awe-inspiring locations in Laos is the Buddha Park, also known as Xieng Khuan or “Spirit City.” The area is located southeast of the capital and holds over 200 Buddhist and Hindu sculptures. The more notable statues include a giant leaning Buddha and a three-story-tall pumpkin which represents hell, earth and heaven — this can only be entered by walking through a door that doubles as the mouth of a giant demon.
Studying in Laos
The top cities for study abroad in Laos are its capital, Vientiane, and the colorful Luang Prabang. But there are many opportunities outside of the cities as well. The study abroad provider Where There Be Dragons offers a program called Laos: Culture, Conservation, Service Learning, which focuses on immersing participants into all aspects of life in Laos. The six-week summer program leads treks along the Thai and Lao border, and focuses on history, politics, peace studies and health issues.
Higher education institutes in Laos are mostly public and ran by the government with some private training institutes. Many of the exchange programs in Laos include homestays and opportunities for excursions outside of the cities.
Choose to study Among The Forgotten Beauty of Laos.