Vientiane Province Ethnic Diversity

Anthropologists often divide Vientiane Province’s into two groups: the lowland Lao Loum and Lao Sung in the mountains, but there’s more to the diversity than that.

Vientiane Province Ethnic Diversity


The Lao Loum (lowlanders) live in the floodplain, and make up the majority of the country’s population. Laos’ substantial Lao Sung population tends to live at higher elevations. However, these two main groups consist of smaller ethnicities in Vientiane including the Hmong, Yao, Khmu, and Lao Theung. 

The Lao Loum is the official designation for lowland dwelling Tai people, who inhabit river valleys and the lowlands along the Mekong River. Some of the larger Lao Loum groups are Tai ethnics, such as the Phuan and Phouthai.

The Hmong are considered Lao Sung, and mostly live in the hills and mountains. They are skilled at hunting, mixing herbal medicines, and raising animals, particularly pigs and goats. Intricate embroidery and heavy silver jewellery adorn their clothes. Some villages create batik designs using beeswax and indigo dyes. Vientiane Province is an excellent destination to join in the Hmong New Year festival, held in late December or early January.

The Khmu migrated to Laos thousands of years ago, and several settled in central Laos including Vientiane. They rely on the forest for growing rice, hunting and gathering, and producing woven rattan and bamboo basketry, tools, and net-bags. When visiting a Khmu village, taste their famous lao hai (jar alcohol). They practice animism and spirit worship. You can often meet Khmu people at roadside markets between the capital and Kasi.

Lao Theung means “Midland Lao”, and they make up some 24% of the country’s population. Lao Theung are largely of Mon-Khmer lineage, and are believed to have migrated from China in prehistoric times. Many now live in the highlands of Laos, but they were originally paddy rice farmers, before the influx of Lao Loum displaced them.

The Yao, also known as Mien, are highland people, who originated in China. Their large, sturdy houses are made of durable hardwood, and they live by growing rice and corn, and gathering forest products such as resin and honey. Young men study Chinese characters to express Yao concepts. Yao men wear earrings and embroidered tunics, while women dress in elaborate garb with bright red collars. The Yao practice ancestor worship as well as animism and Tao beliefs.