Understanding The Lao Marriage Dowry
In Lao culture, a dowry which is called "kah dong" in Lao language is given by the groom to the bride's parents for their own personal use. A dowry is basically a compensation payment to marry their daughter and it is usually given in the form of cash and a pure gold item.
Laotians who live in remote areas of Laos who are really poor may not have money or gold so instead their buffalo, some land, farm animals etc can be used for dowry.
A dowry can be as much or as little depending on the guy's financial situation and the agreement between him and his girlfriend's parents, but in modern day Lao culture it is customary to give your girlfriend's parents 1 baht gold at the very least. If you are a foreigner and you can't afford that then you shouldn't even be thinking of having a wedding. If you're not familiar with the term "baht", 1 baht gold costs around $300US.
A reasonable dowry for a local Lao guy living in Laos would be 1 baht gold (valued at $300US) and 5 million kips ($500US) in cash. Foreign guys who come to marry a Lao girl in Laos should be able to give her parents at least 3 baht gold (valued at $900US), $1,000US in cash, a cow, a pig and chickens and also a diamond ring or pure gold bracelet for his bride-to-be. That example would be reasonable and acceptable if you are marrying a poor or middle-class Lao girl, however if you are wealthy or your girlfriend's family is wealthy and high-class then the amount of money and gold for dowry may be more. If the woman you are marrying is raising another man's child or she is divorced from a previous marriage then you should expect the dowry to be small.
By the way, the purpose of giving her parents animals such as cow, pig and chickens is not so that they can raise them at home or on the farm, but the animals are killed to be eaten by wedding guests. Yes it is sad but that is a Lao cultural thing.
I didn't mention the cost of the wedding because that is a separate expense and not part of the dowry. If you are giving gold to her parents for a dowry during the engagement or wedding ceremony, it can be any item such as necklace or a bracelet but it must be pure 24 carat gold. If you are planning to give them an item that is 18-carat (75%) gold or 12 carat (50%) gold then please don't bother giving them any gold at all because you will just be embarrassing yourself. Lao parents only want pure gold and anything less is not acceptable.
A dowry is always negotiable. Some parents will keep the dowry that is given to them, while other parents may return some or all of the money back to the guy and their daughter after they are married so they can use it towards buying a new house, car, honeymoon or other purposes.
There are many reasons why Lao parents want the dowry. They may want it because their daughter is getting married and leaving them and she won't be around anymore to help with the house chores so the dowry will compensate for their loss. The dowry could be to cover the cost for giving birth and raising their daughter for you, all the love, hard work and sacrifices her parents did to make her the woman she is today. It could be a payment for security in case she became divorced in the future because it will be harder for their daughter to find a new husband since she would become a divorced woman or "ma haang" in Lao language. It could be for the guy to prove to them that he has got enough money to take care and support their daughter, or it could be because they are poor and they need the money and so forth.
Well I hope you have learnt some things about the dowry in a Lao marriage system and I wish you all the best if you plan to marry a Lao girl in the future.