Laos is one of the least urbanized countries in Southeast Asia. Vientiane has around 500,000 people, many in rural districts. Savannakhet and Pakse are the next most important cities, while Luang Prabang is the most important historical city.
All these cities have a mixture of French colonial architecture, Buddhist architecture in temples, traditional Lao houses raised on stilts, American-style houses built in the 1950s and 1960s, and new large houses that imitate Thai styles. All these cities are built alongside rivers whose banks provide major recreational spaces.
Most Lao people live in rural villages clustered around a temple. Lao, Tai, and groups such as the Khmu live in houses raised off the ground on stilts. In Khmu villages, instead of a temple, there may be a communal house for meetings, usually used by men. Hmong, Iu Mien, and some other groups in the north build large sturdy houses on the ground. In the south, among the Ta Oi, there are still villages with matrilineally organized longhouses. The temple in most Lao villages remains the main center for social and recreational activities, usually associated with religious celebrations.