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A Lao village house

Lao Village House

A Lao house is built on stilts and one must climb steps or a ladder to get inside. Lao villages are often built near rivers and streams that sometimes flood in the rainy season. Building the house on stilts protects against mud and floods. Usually there is a front porch and a clear space inside under the roof but open to the street. Sometimes there is a room or two walled off at the back or side of the house. Because the weather is so hot, an open house that lets lots of air flow through is good. The animals are kept in pens under the house. There may be a bamboo bed under the house as well for sitting during the heat of the day. Often there is a loom for weaving cloth.

A house might be built of wood with a corrugated tin roof. If people lack money to buy materials, however, they can make a house of bamboo, which is easy to find. Bamboo slats are used for the floor and woven mats of thin bamboo strips for the walls. The roof can be made of thatch, a thick covering of leaves layered over a roof frame. A thatch roof is much cooler than a tin roof, which seems to turn the house into an oven with the sun beating on it. In the middle of the day, people with a tin roof like to sit under the house where it is cooler. But thatch doesn't last long and has to be redone every year or two when it begins to leak. Bugs live in the thatch, and the dry leaves can catch fire from a spark from the kitchen fire. Most villages have no electricity or running water. It is easy to catch rainwater from a tin roof. Rainwater is probably cleaner and safer to drink than water from a dug out well or local pond. 

Usually there is no furniture in the house. The open area serves as living room, dining room, and bedroom. People sit on the floor and sleep on the floor. A woven reed mat might be put down for company. A reed mat or thin fold-up mattress might be used for sleeping and be put away during the day.

The kitchen is usually in the back of the house or sometimes under the house. People cook over wood or charcoal. They may use charcoal in a clay bucket like a hibachi or have a wood fire over a thick bed of sand in a box. Or they might make a wood fire on the ground in the middle of some stones that balance a cooking pot. 

Because there is no running water, usually there is no bathroom or privy. People walk to the woods or behind some bushes and depend on the sun and rain to break down human waste quickly. Usually people go to a stream, pond, or well to bathe so it is very public. Little children often wear no clothes so they don't mind. Women bathe in a sarong, a tube of cloth wrapped around the body. The men wear a loincloth around their middle. When they are done bathing, they modestly slip on a dry cloth and drop the wet cloth underneath. It is hard work to haul water to the house, so usually that water is reserved for cooking and cleaning around the house. Bathing and laundry is done at the stream or the well.

As there usually is no electricity, people get up early with the sun soon after 5 o'clock. Everyone goes to bed early too. A kerosene lantern made from a condensed milk can with a rag wick is the usual source of light at night. It is a bit like a candle and blows in the wind making the light flicker. It is hard to read by such a light. Children doing their homework lie with their heads near the lantern to read. Sometimes they have to swat away the bugs attracted by the light. Sometimes a gust of wind blows the lantern out. People with money can buy a kerosene lantern with a glass globe around the flame to protect it from the wind and keep the light steady.

The houses in a Lao village are built close together with no real yard. Lao people like company. They can sit on their porch and see other people and talk with people going by or with their neighbors. They would rather live together in a close community and walk to their fields outside the village than for each family to have a house by itself near its fields like American farm families do. Lao people would find that lonely and even a little scary. Most village people believe in ghosts, and they feel more comfortable if lots of other people are nearby, especially if they hear strange sounds in the night.