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An update from Evaneos

Religions and beliefs in Laos

In a country where religion plays an important role in daily life, Buddhism is the most popular belief system and has even been declared as the State religion.

The different religions

According to the latest census and statistical information, Buddhism is practised by 67% of the population. To be more precise, as you'll disover during your trip to Laos, the branch of Buddhism practised is Theravada. It's the same form of Buddhism that you find in Thailand and Cambodia. You'll see stunning temples and pagodas throughout the country. If you're in Laung Prabang you must get up at dawn and watch an important ritual. Also known as the Tak Bat, monks seeking alms process along the streets - a silence stream of yellow-robed men asking for food. It's a ceremony that today attracts a lot of tourists.

Buddhism aside, about 1.5% of the population are Catholics. The only churches in the country are those at Savannakhet and Vientiane. Islam accounts for 1% of the population, most of whom are Pakistanis living in Vientaine.

A Buddhist monk

Ancestor worship

Even though the Laos government frowns upon it, about 30% of the population follow tribal beliefs and everyone, Buddhists included, practises ancestor worship.

Every Laotian has a little altar in their house on which they lay donations to spirits. These are both good and bad genies, who like to possess people, animals, trees and houses. The gifts are designed to appease them. The Lokapalas are protective genies. Every village has one. Even Buddhists acknowledge their existence. They are venerated and take on the form of animals to go out at night.

However, it's a taboo subject and, if you do talk about it, don't poke fun or question the validity of Laotian beliefs.

David Debrincat
459 contributions
Updated 27 August 2015
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