Known as the Land of a Million Elephants, Laos has remained relatively untouched by mainstream tourism, making it an ideal destination to learn from and visit. This gem of Southeast Asia is known for its cuisine and culture! Read on to learn five facts we bet you didn’t know about this country.

1. Elephants Purr
Centuries ago, Laos was known as “Lang Xang,” which translates to “the Land of the Million Elephants.” Asian elephants have an important role in the history of the country, the culture, and its people. And while there are many interesting facts about this animal, one of the most shocking ones is that elephants purr! Just like a cat, an elephant makes this noise from the hollow cavity in their forehead to communicate with each other. It is a low, loud murmur that can be felt by those around it. Apart from the well-known trumpet, Asian elephants also make kissing noises and puffing noises. They also use their trunks like snorkels when they’re underwater!

2. Lemongrass
While in Lao you can see lemongrass growing in almost every garden. It is one of the most versatile ingredients in Lao cuisine as you can find it in drinks as well as salty, sweet, and sour dishes. Some of our favorites include lemongrass tea, cold and sweet, perfect for the Lao summer heat; chicken lemongrass, in which the lemongrass shoot is smashed and opened into a sort of basket that is then filled with chicken and deep fried; and lemongrass creme brulé, the perfect pairing of Lao and French cuisine. But the winner in our book is the lemongrass ice cream made by the Buffalo Dairy Farm!

3. No Cows in Laos, Only Buffalos
Speaking of the Buffalo Dairy Farm, it’s important to mention that cows are not a common sight in Laos. Milk, cheese, or beef are not on the local menus. Buffalos, on the other hand, are seen in every village since they are used to plow the rice fields. If you order something in a local restaurant that has beef, you are most likely eating buffalo—and you won’t know the difference! A few years ago two Australian women and their families moved to Laos to start the one and only Buffalo Dairy Farm. They have a model in which locals rent their buffalo to them. They care for the buffalo, help with getting the buffalo pregnant, take care of it during their pregnancy, and care for the first six months of the calf in exchange for milk. With this milk they have started a list of products that include cheese, caramel, and ice cream! A unique experience for the senses and a very interesting visit to learn about everything this animal has to offer.

4. Approximately 68 ethnic groups with distinct differences in languages and culture
Lao culture is so rich! When you travel through Laos, especially in the villages and small towns, you are able to hear, see, and interact with many different ethnic groups. While they all have different languages, almost everyone speaks Lao. One of the most interesting experiences is asking a local to help you learn to identify the textiles and symbols of each ethnic group. Having 68, it won’t be an easy task—but if you visit long enough you’ll probably be able to learn a few!

5. Boat Racing Festival
While Laos has many different festivals during the year, there are some that stand out and are celebrated nationally. The Boat Racing Festival is an ancient tradition that takes place once a year after Buddhist Lent has started. Skilled rowers coordinate their moves with chants and practice for weeks for this day. In Luang Prabang they compete in the Nam Khan River over the whole day looking to win honor for their village, recognition, and a lump sum of money for their team. These boats are kept at each village temple where they are stored during the rest of the year. The boats are sacred: they are carved out of one single tree, hand painted and adorned, and can hold up to 50 rowers.