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Officially, there are 68 different ethnic groups living in Laos, which in turn belong to four main groups:

a. The Lao Thai, make up more than 53% of the total population of Laos (2017), are settled in the Mekong Delta but mainly in the valleys of higher rivers. They are mainly agriculturists who grow both wet and dry rice. The Lao Thai adhere to animism, but this is much less mixed with other religions than the religion of Lao Loum.

The individual Lao Thai peoples are also named by looking at where they live or the colour of their clothes. There are red (Thai Daeng), white (Thai Khao), black (Thai Dam), and blue Thai, forest Thai (Thai Pa), northern Thai (Thai Neua) and southern Thai. Moreover, the name of the place is often added.

b. The Lao Loum (Lowland Laotians) populate the lower-lying parts of Laos and live particularly in the Mekong Valley. They came from the south into the Mekong Valley and drove out the Lao Theung present there. Influences from Cambodian, Indonesian and Thai cultures are still evident. The main means of livelihood is the cultivation of 'wet' rice. Initially they practised animism, but gradually converted to Therevada Buddhism, after which the two religions became intertwined.

c. The mountain peoples of Chinese/Malay origin in central Laos, the Lao Theung, are among the oldest inhabitants of Laos and make up about a quarter of the population. They settled in the Mekong Valley for about 10,000 years until the Lao Loum drove them out and moved them to higher-altitude areas of northern and southern Laos. Smaller tribes such as the Alak, Laven, Katang, Katu, Khamu, Htin and Lamet belong to the Lao Theung.

d. The non-Thai peoples, among them Miao (Hmong or Miau or Meo), Jao (Mien, Lu Mien or Man) and Ho, belong to the Lao Soung, and make up about ten per cent of the population. These peoples, originally from southern China, Tibet and Myanmar and only recently emigrated, live mainly in the mountains from about 1000 metres. They are farmers and grow mainly dry rice, maize and poppies.

The Miao or Hmong form the largest group, accounting for about two thirds of the Lao Soung. After the revolution in 1975, many Hmong fled abroad. Many followed their leader Vang Pao, who now lives in California. It is estimated that about 50,000 Hmong live in the United States and about 8,000 in other countries. Since 1991, only a few thousand Hmong have returned to Laos.

Other mountain peoples are the Akha (Kaw), Lahu (Musor) and Lisu.

In the south live some very small peoples, including the Lolo, the Katou, the Ngae, the Xouay, the Phu Noi and the Alak.

The province of Louang Namtha has the largest concentration of peoples: 39 peoples. The province of Bokeo is a good second with 34 different peoples.

Minorities are formed by Chinese and Vietnamese. It is estimated that about 2 to 5% of the population come from China or Vietnam. About half of the Chinese live and work in the capital Vientiane and in Savannakhet.

Since the end of the 1980s, more and more Thai come to Laos, but they usually only stay for a short period.

In Vientiane, there is a small community of North Indians and Pakistanis, and also some people from Bangladesh and Myanmar.

In the south of Laos, especially in Champasak province, there is a small group of Cambodians.


Approximately 65% of the people in Laos live in rural areas.

Largest cities in 2017 are:

Louang Prabang90.000

Demographic Data


Boon, H. / Laos : mensen, politiek, economie, cultuur, milieu
Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen

Cummings, J. / Laos
Lonely Planet

Te gast in Laos & Cambodja
Informatie Verre Reizen

Waard, P. de / Laos

Zickgraf, R. / Laos
Chelsea House Publishers

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated March 2024
Copyright: Team The World of Info