How to seat, to eat and to speak in certain occasions in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand?
14/06/2013 | 10:28

 Customs in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia

Local Customs of Laos

Theravada Buddhism is a dominant influence in Lao culture. It is reflected throughout the country from language to the temple and in art, literature, performing arts, etc. Many elements of Lao culture predate Buddhism, however. For example, Laotian music is dominated by its national instrument, the khaen, a type of bamboo pipe that has prehistoric origins. The khaen traditionally accompanied the singer in lam, the dominant style of folk music. Among the various lam styles, the lam saravane is probably the most popular.The country has two World Heritage Sites: Luang Prabang and Vat Phou. The government is seeking the same status for the Plain of Jars.
Rice is the staple food and has cultural and religious significance. There are many traditions and rituals associated with rice production in different environments, and among many ethnic groups.
Lao cuisine is the cuisine of the Lao ethnic group of Laos and Northeast Thailand (Isan).Lao food differs from neighboring cuisines in multiple respects. One is that the Lao meal almost always includes a large quantity of fresh raw greens, vegetables and herbs served undressed on the side. Another is that savory dishes are never sweet. "Sweet and sour" is generally considered bizarre and foreign in Laos. Yet another is that some dishes are bitter. There is a saying in Lao cuisine, "van pen lom; khom pen ya," which can be translated as, "sweet makes you dizzy; bitter makes you healthy." A couple of the green herbs favored in Lao cuisine but generally ignored by their neighbors are mint and dill, both of paramount importance. Galangal is a cooking herb that is heavily favored in Laos, unlike in neighboring countries. It appears in probably the majority of Lao dishes, along with the conventional herbs: garlic, shallots, lemongrass, etc. Another distinctive characteristic of Lao food or more properly, Lao eating habits, is that food is frequently eaten at room temperature. This may be attributable to the fact that Lao food served with sticky rice is traditionally handled by hand.
Eating Customs
The traditional manner of eating was communal, with diners sitting on a reed mat on the wooden floor around a raised platform woven out of rattan called a ka toke. Dishes are arranged on the ka toke, which is of a standard size. Where there are many diners, multiple ka tokes will be prepared. Each ka toke will have one or more baskets of sticky rice, which is shared by all the diners at the ka toke.
In recent times, eating at a ka toke is the exception rather than the rule. The custom is maintained, however, at temples, where each monk is served his meal on a ka toke. Once food is placed on the "ka toke" it becomes a "pha kao." In modern homes, the term for preparing the table for a meal is still taeng pha kao, or prepare the phah kao.
Traditionally, spoons were used only for soups and white rice, and chopsticks were used only for noodles. Most food was handled by hand. The reason this custom evolved is probably due to the fact that sticky rice can only be easily handled by hand.
Lao meals typically consist of a soup dish, a grilled dish, a sauce, greens, and a stew or mixed dish (koy or laap). The greens are usually fresh raw greens, herbs and other vegetables, though depending on the dish they accompany, they could also be steamed or more typically, parboiled. Dishes are not eaten in sequence; the soup is sipped throughout the meal. Beverages, including water, are not typically a part of the meal. When guests are present, the meal is always a feast, with food made in quantities sufficient for twice the number of diners. For a host, not having enough food for guests would be humiliating.
The custom is to close the rice basket when one is finished eating.
Laotian Festivals are usually based on Theravada Buddhism. Notable festivals are listed as follow: Vixakha Bouxa, Boun Bang Fay, Pi Mai Lao, Ok Phansa, Lao Independence Day.

Customs and Habits in Vietnam
A very popular belief among Vietnamese is the custom of the ancestor cult. In every household, an ancestor altar is installed in the most solemn location.
Worship of Ancestor Custom
Vietnamese believe that the soul of a dead person, even if dead for many generations, still rests along with their descendants on earth. The dead and living persons still have spiritual communion; in everyday life, people must not forget that what they enjoy and how they feel is the same for their dead relatives.
On the last day of every lunar year, an announcing cult, cung tien thuong, is performed to invite the dead forefathers to return home to celebrate Tet holidays with their families. During the last days before Tet, all family members visit their ancestors’ graves; they clean and decorate the graves, in the same manner that the livings clean and decorate their houses to welcome the New Year.
Villages – Guilds
The Vietnamese culture has always evolved on the basis of the wet rice civilization. Thus, the lifestyle of the Vietnamese population is closely related to its village and native lands.
In Vietnamese society, people gather together to form villages in rural areas, and guilds in urban areas. Villages and guilds have been forming since the dawn of the nation. These organizations have gradually developed for the population to be more stable and closer together. Each village and guild has its own regulations called conventions. The purpose of these conventions is the promotion of good customs within populations. All the conventions are different but they are always in accordance with the state laws.
From generation to generation, the Vietnamese people preserve the fine tradition of “remembering the source while drinking water.” Festivals are events which represent this tradition of the community as well as honour the holy figures named as “gods” – the real persons in national history or legendary persons. The images of gods converge the noble characteristics of mankind. They are national heroes who fought against foreign invaders, reclaimed new lands, treated people, fought against natural calamities, or those legendary characters who affect the earthly life. Festivals are events when people pay tribute to divinities that rendered merits to the community and the nation.
Festivals are occasions when people come back to either their natural or national roots, which form a sacred part in their mind.
Festivals represent the strength of the commune or village, the local region or even the whole nation. Worshipping the same god, the people unite in solidarity to overcome difficulties, striving for a happy and wealthy life.
Traditionals and custumes 
For formal ceremonies men would have two additional items, a long gown with slits on either side, and a turban, usually in black or brown made of cotton or silk. In feudal times, there were strict dress codes. Ordinary people were not allowed to wear clothes with dyes other than black, brown or white. Costumes in yellow were reserved for the King. Those in purple and red were reserved for high ranking court officials, while dresses in blue were exclusively worn by petty court officials. Men's dress has gradually changed along with social development.
Young women wear light brown-colored short shirts with long black skirts. Their headgear consists of a black turban with a peak at the front. To make their waist look smaller, they tightly fasten a long piece of pink or violet cloth.On formal occasions, they wear a special three layered dress called an "ao dai", a long gown with slits on either side.
Buddhism in Cambodia
Theravada Buddhism is the official religion in Cambodia which is practiced by 95 percent of the population-- just like that of Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka. However, Christianity and Cham Muslim are being active and popular among a large number of population as well in the capital and provinces, showing a sign of growth. Daoism and Confuism are also commonly practiced among the Chinese people.
Earning merit is an important part of Buddhist life. Buddhists in Cambodia earn merit by giving money, goods, and labor to the temples, or by providing one of the two daily meals of the monks.
Children often look after the fruits trees and vegetable gardens inside their local wat, or temple. Boys can earn merit by becoming temple servants or novice monks for a short time. Most young men remain monks for less than a year.
Art and Achitecture
To ensure order and harmony in the universe, Angkor's architects and sculptors created stone temples that symbolized the cosmic world and decorated them with wall carvings and sculptures of Hindu gods and the Buddha. Religious guidelines dictated that a basic temple layout include a central shrine, a courtyard, an enclosing wall, and a moat. More than 60 of these temple complexes survive in the Angkor region. In addition, several stone bridges and reservoirs built in the Angkor period are still in use. Many Cambodian public buildings, such as the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, are decorated in the Khmer architectural style and use motifs such as the garuda, a mythical bird in the Hindu religion.
After the devastation of culture in the Khmer Rouge era, the traditional arts and handicrafts of Cambodia are reviving. Notable among these traditional arts are textiles, silver work, basketry, woodcarving, stone sculpture, and painting. Artisans use cotton to weave the krama, a rectangular scarf made in colorful checks and stripes, and the sampot, a skirt for women. Beautiful silk sampots with elaborate, multicolored patterns, often entwined with gold or silver thread, are woven using the ikat technique, in which each individual thread is tied. Cambodia's long tradition of metal work nearly disappeared, but the French revived it in the early 20th century. Silversmiths produced popular items of the period, such as animal-shaped boxes, intricately decorated, that were used to hold the ingredients of a preparation known as betel, which is chewed as a stimulant and tonic.
Music, Dance and Theatre
Classical Pinpeat of Cambodia, The Cambodian pinpeat ensemble is traditionally heard on feast
days in the pagodas. It is also a court ensemble used to accompany classical dance for ritual occasions or theatrical events. The pinpeat is primarily made up of percussion instruments: the roneat ek (high bamboo xylophone), roneat thung (low bamboo xylophone), kong vong touch and kong vong thom (small and large sets of tuned gongs), sampho (two-sided drum), skor thom (two large drums), and sralai (quadruple-reed instrument). 
Classical Dance of Cambodia The epic poem of Rama (Ramayana) is believed to have been revealed to a Hindu holy man named Valmiki by Brahma, the god of creation. This religious literary work, dating from about ad 4, is known in various versions throughout India and Southeast Asia. In Cambodia, the story has been set to music and dance and performed by the Royal Ballet since the 18th century. Although the epic is also known in the villages, where it is translated orally or dramatized in the popular shadow puppet theater, the ballet was traditionally a courtly art performed in the palace or for princely festivals. The music of the ballet is performed by the Pinpeat orchestra, which is made up of traditional xylophones, metallophones, horizontal gongs, drums, and cymbals. 
Khmer classical dance derived from Indian court dance, which traces its origins to the apsarases of Hindu mythology, heavenly female nymphs who were born to dance for the gods. The traditions of Thailand and Java (in Indonesia) also influenced the music and dance of Cambodia. In classical Cambodian dance, women, dressed in brightly colored costumes with elaborate headdresses, perform slow, graceful movements accompanied by a percussive ensemble known as the pinpeat. Pinpeat orchestras include drums, gongs, and bamboo xylophones. In Cambodia's villages, plays performed by actors wearing masks are popular. Shadow plays, performed using black leather puppets that enact scenes from the Reamkern, are also enjoyed. Folk dancing is popular in rural Cambodia and is performed spontaneously to a drumbeat. 
National and Puclic Holidays
01 January International New Year's Day
07 January 7 January Day
08 March International Women's Day
03 April Cultural Day
14-15-16 April Cambodian New Year
01 May International Labor Day
15 May Visak Bochea Day
19 May Royal Ploughing Ceremony
01 June International Children's Day
18 June Queen's Birthday, samdech Preah Mohèsey Norodom Monineath Sihanouk
24 September Constitution Day, 5th Anniversary of Re Coronation of H.M. Preah Bat Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk
24-25-26 September Pchum Ben Day
23 October Paris Peace Accord on Cambodia
30-31 October and 01 November King's Birthday, H.M. Preah Bat Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk
07-08-09 November Water Festival, Moon Festival
09 November Independence Day
10 December UN Human Rights Day
Several festivals are held annually which are of interest to both international and domestic tourists. The major festivals are as follows:
Bonn Chaul Chhnam(April) is the traditional New Year's festival when Khmers clean and decorate their houses, make offerings and play traditional games.
Bonn Chroat Preah Nongkoal (May) is the Royal Ploughing Ceremony which inaugurates the planting season and involves symbolic ploughing and sowing of seed.
Bonn Dak Ben and Bonn Pchoum Ben (September) is the festival held for commemoration of the spirits of the dead; 15 days later offerings are made in the temples.
Bonn Kathen (October) is a 29-day religious festival when people march in procession to the temples where the monks change from their old to new robes.
His Majesty the King's Birthday (30 October - 1 November) is celebrated in regal fashion and the Royal Palace is sometimes open to the public.
Independence Day (9 November) celebrates the date when Cambodia achieved independence from France in 1953.
Bonn Om Took (November) is the water festival which ushers in the fishing season and marks the reversing of the current in the Tonle Sap River. This very popular festival attracts many people to watch the longboat races on the Tonle Sap in Phnom Penh, fireworks and a lighted flotilla of boats.
(Source:Cambodia e-Gov/Tourism of Cambodia)

Capital  : Yangon
National Population  : 52 million
Language  : Myanmar
Chiefly inspired by ancient Indian tradition, Myanmar arts has evolved to its present delightful diversity and artistically absorbing forms. Periods reaching amazing creative heights and productivity include the Pagan empire with over 2,000 magnificent pagodas, the birth of modern Myanmar dance during the Kingdom of Inwa, and the Konbaung Dynasty with its new artistic creation of architecture, sculpture and Zatgyi (dance drama).
Traditional Theatre
Myanmar theatre, like its people, is incredibly colourful, pleasantly humorous, very lively and very likable - one of South East Asia’s most captivating. 
Myanmar folk love to watch a classical "from mid night-to-sunrise" drama known as Zat. This "village theatre" is well attended by all in the family, young and old, with their mats, snacks and tea. This all-night- long drama is usually held during the pagoda festival.

Another intriguing drama is the Yamazat - a Myanmar version of the Ramayana epic. Performed by well trained actors, principal characters wearing masks except Thida, include Prince Yama, Prince Lakhana the younger brother, Princess Thida, Dasagiri, the ten-headed ogre and Hanuman, the monkey.
Marionette theatre which originated during the Bagan period and developed in the reign of King Singu in the eighteenth century is a highly skilled art form. Some of the puppets have as many as sixty strings and even movable eyebrows. While the puppet masters manipulate the puppets (twenty eight characters in all), male and female impersonators sing and recite the parts.

Myanmar dance, existing from pre-Buddhist times is of two types - soft, supple, slow and graceful type, as well as, quick and vigorous type. In traditional dances, the male and female dancers do not touch each other when dancing together. This technically outstanding performance coupled with the beautifully adorned and colourful costumes, is a fascinating and breathtaking experience to savour.

Traditional theatre dramatics are backed by a Myanmar ensemble of drum circle, gong circle, bamboo clappers, wind instruments, flute and cymbals. In addition, a large drum, hung also include from an ornamental winged mythical creature called "Pyinsayupa" and the melodious soothing l3- string harp. Unlike Western music, Myanmar music is atonal, basing on the pentonic scale similar to the Indonesian gamelan and equally appealing. 
Traditional Crafts
Classic products of an ancient heritage with an enduring charm, are the arts and crafts of the Golden Land. Among Myanmar’s many crafts are silk and cotton weaving, lacquerware, gold and silver work, wood, bone and marble carving, tapestry and pottery - each a world of knowledge and a learned art form. 
Lacquerware is an ancient craft, yet very much alive in the regions of Bagan  and Kyaukka village, near Monywar. The tedious and painstaking process involves coating, drying and numerous re-coating of a framework of woven bamboo over a period of months, climaxing with the amazing delicate task of etching designs by hand and then dyeing of colours onto the lacquered article.
Tapestries made of applique designs on velvet or cotton cloth with glass beads and shining sequins stitched on, fashioned into pretty items such as jackets, hats or handbags are popular souvenirs for travellers. Delightful motifs include dancers, elephants, peacocks and mythical animals of Myanmar culture. Scenes from Jataka stories (stories about Buddha’s previous existence) are depicted on large wall hangings.

Do and don't in Cambodia

Do and don't in Cambodia

(15/03/2014 | 09:47)
bargain in Vietnam is normal?

bargain in Vietnam is normal?

(14/06/2013 | 09:59)

Mrs. Roberta Tione from Italy
classic tours
 Hallo Mario
We had a nice flight back home, and now we are redatto to get back to work. Which is the hardest part or been back home :( 
The journey through Vietnam was marvellous and did enjoyed very much! We do appreciate your and all the staff in Vietnamtravelart professional!
Thank you for our discovery of your beautiful country! 
Warmest Regards,
Mrs. Roberta Tione from Italy
Mario Nguyen
Mario Nguyen Mario Nguyen