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Laos ( , , or ), officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic, is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burmamarker and People's Republic of Chinamarker to the northwest, Vietnammarker to the east, Cambodiamarker to the south and Thailandmarker to the west. Laos traces its history to the Kingdom of Lan Xang or Land of a Million Elephants, which existed from the 13th to the 18th century.After a period as a French protectorate, it gained independence in 1949. A long civil war ended officially when the Communist Pathet Lao movement came to power in 1975, but the protesting between factions continued for several years. 44% of the population live below the international poverty line of the equivalent of US$1.25 a day.


In the Lao language, the country's name is "Meuang Lao." The French, who made the country part of French Indochina in 1893, spelled it with a final silent "s," i.e., "Laos" (the Lao language itself has no final "s" sound, so Lao people pronounce it as in their native tongue though some, especially those living abroad, use the pronunciation ending in "s"). The usual adjectival form is "Lao," e.g., "the Lao economy," not the "Laotian" economy—although "Laotian" is used to describe the people of Laos to avoid confusion with the Lao ethnic group.


Laos traces its history to the kingdom of Lan Xang, founded in the 14th century(1353) by Fa Ngum, himself descended from a long line of Lao kings, tracking back to Khoun Boulom. Lan-Xang prospered until the 18th century, when the kingdom was divided into three principalities, which eventually came under Siamese suzerainty. In the 19th century, Luang Prabang was incorporated into the 'Protectorate' of French Indochina, and shortly thereafter, the Kingdom of Champasak and the territory of Vientianemarker were also added to the protectorate. Under the French, Vientiane once again became the capital of a unified Lao state. Following a brief Japanesemarker occupation during World War II, the country declared its independence in 1945, but the French under Charles de Gaulle re-asserted their control and only in 1950 was Laos granted semi-autonomy as an "associated state" within the French Union. Moreover, the French remained in de facto control until 1954, when Laos gained full independence as a constitutional monarchy. Under a special exemption to the Geneva Convention, a French military training mission continued to support the Royal Laos Army. In 1955, the U.S.marker Department of Defensemarker created a special Programs Evaluation Office to replace French support of the Royal Lao Army against the communist Pathet Lao as part of the U.S. containment policy.

Laos was dragged into the Vietnam War and the eastern parts of the country were invaded and occupied by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), which used Laotian territory as a staging ground and supply route for its war against the South. In response, the United Statesmarker initiated a bombing campaign against the North Vietnamese, supported regular and irregular anticommunist forces in Laos and supported a South Vietnamese invasion of Laos. The result of these actions were a series of coups d'état and, ultimately, the Laotian Civil War between the Royal Laotian government and the communist Pathet Lao.

In the Civil War the NVA, with its heavy artillery and tanks, was the real power behind the Pathet Lao insurgency. In 1968, the North Vietnamese Army launched a multi-division attack against the Royal Lao Army. The attack resulted in the army largely demobilizing and leaving the conflict to irregular forces raised by the United Statesmarker and Thailandmarker. The attack resulted in many lost lives. Massive aerial bombardment was carried out by the United States. The Guardian reported that Laos was hit by an average of one B-52 bombload every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, between 1964 and 1973. US bombers dropped more ordnance on Laos in this period than was dropped during the whole of the Second World War. Of the 260 million bombs that rained down, particularly on Xieng Khouang province, 80 million failed to explode, leaving a deadly legacy. It holds the dubious distinction of being the most bombed country in the world.

In 1975, the communist Pathet Lao, along with Vietnam People's Army and backed by the Soviet Unionmarker, overthrew the royalist Lao governmentmarker, forcing King Savang Vatthana to abdicate on 2 December, 1975. He later died in captivity.

After taking control of the country, Pathet Lao's government renamed the country as the "Lao People's Democratic Republic" and signed agreements giving Vietnam the right to station armed forces and to appoint advisers to assist in overseeing the country. Laos was ordered in the late 1970s by Vietnam to end relations with the People's Republic of Chinamarker which cut the country off from trade with any country but Vietnam. Control by Vietnam and socialisation were slowly replaced by a relaxation of economic restrictions in the 1980s and admission into ASEAN in 1997.

In 2005, the United Statesmarker established Normal Trade Relations with Laos, ending a protracted period of punitive import taxes.


Map of Laos

Laos is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia and the thickly forested landscape consists mostly of rugged mountains, the highest of which is Phou Biamarker at 9,242 feet (2,817 m), with some plains and plateaus. The Mekong River forms a large part of the western boundary with Thailand, whereas the mountains of the Annamite Chain form most of the eastern border with Vietnam.The climate is tropical and monsoon. There is a distinct rainy season from May to November, followed by a dry season from December to April. Local tradition holds that there are three seasons (rainy, cold and hot) as the latter two months of the climatologically defined dry season are noticeably hotter than the earlier four months. The capital and largest city of Laos is Vientiane and other major cities include Luang Prabangmarker, Savannakhetmarker and Pakxemarker.

In 1993, the Laos government set aside 21% of the nation's land area for Habitat conservation preservation . The country is one of four in the opium poppy growing region known as the "Golden Trianglemarker." According to the October 2007 UNODC fact book "Opium Poppy Cultivation in South East Asia," the poppy cultivation area was , down from in 2008.

Government and politics

Laos is a communist single-party socialist republic. The only legal political party is the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP). The head of state is President Choummaly Sayasone, who also is secretary-general (leader) of the LPRP. The head of government is Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh. Government policies are determined by the party through the all-powerful nine-member Politburo and the 49-member Central Committee. Important government decisions are vetted by the Council of Ministers.

Laos' first, French-written and monarchical constitution was promulgated on May 11, 1947 and declared it to be an independent state within the French Union. The revised constitution of 11 May 1957 omitted reference to the French Union, though close educational, health and technical ties with the former colonial power persisted. The 1957 document was abrogated on 3 December 1975, when a communist People's Republic was proclaimed. A new constitution was adopted in 1991 and enshrined a "leading role" for the LPRP. The following year, elections were held for a new 85-seat National Assembly with members elected by secret ballot to five-year terms. This National Assembly, which essentially acts as a rubber stamp for the LPRP, approves all new laws, although the executive branch retains authority to issue binding decrees. The most recent elections took place in April 2006. The assembly was expanded to 99 members in 1997 and in 2006 elections had 115.

Administrative divisions

Provinces of Laos

Laos is divided into 16 provinces (qwang) and Vientiane Capital (Na Kone Luang Vientiane): The country is further divided into district (muang).


Rivers are an important means of transport in Laos.
Buses connect the major cities
The Lao economy is heavily dependent on investment and trade with its neighbors, Thailand, Vietnam, and, especially in the north, China. Pakxemarker has also experienced growth based on cross-border trade with Thailand and Vietnam.

Much of the country, however, lacks adequate infrastructure. Laos has no railways, except a short link to connect Vientiane with Thailand over the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridgemarker. The major roads connecting the major urban centres, in particular Route 13, have been significantly upgraded in recent years, but villages far from major roads can be reached only through unpaved roads that may not be accessible year-round. There is limited external and internal telecommunication, but mobile phones have become widespread in urban centres. In many rural areas electricity is at least partly unavailable. Songthaews (pick-up trucks with benches) are used in the country for long-distance and local public transport.

Subsistence agriculture still accounts for half of the GDP and provides 80% of total employment. Only 4.01% of the country is arable land, and 0.34% used as permanent crop land, the lowest percentage in the Greater Mekong Subregion. Rice dominates agriculture, with about 80% of the arable land area used for growing rice. Approximately 77% of Lao farm households are self-sufficient in rice. Through the development, release and widespread adoption of improved rice varieties, and through economic reforms, production has increased by an annual rate of 5% between 1990 and 2005 FIFTEEN YEARS OF SUPPORT FOR RICE RESEARCH IN LAO PDR


^ Genuinely Lao, Prepared by IRRI’s International Programs Management Office, and Lao PDR achieved a net balance of rice imports and exports for the first time in 1999.Lao PDR may have the greatest number of rice varieties in the Greater Mekong Subregion. Since 1995 the Lao government has been working with the International Rice Research Institute to collect seed samples of each of the thousands of rice varieties found in Laos.

The economy receives development aid from the IMFmarker, ADB and other international sources, and foreign direct investment for development of the society, industry, hydropower and mining, most notably copper and gold. Tourism is the fastest-growing industry in the country. However, economic development in has been hampered by brain drain, with a skilled emigration rate of 37.4% in 2000.

Laos is rich in mineral resources but imports petroleum and gas. Metallurgy is an important industry, and the government hopes to attract foreign investment to develop the substantial deposits of coal, gold, bauxite, tin, copper and other valuable metals in the country. In addition, the country's plentiful water resources and mountainous terrain enable it to produce and export large quantities of hydroelectric energy. Of the potential capacity of approximately 18,000 megawatts, around 8,000 megawatts have been committed for exporting to Thailand and Vietnam.

Tourism sector has grown rapidly, from 14,400 tourists visiting Laos in 1990, to 1.1 million in 2005. Annual tourism sector revenues are expected to grow to $250–300 million by 2020.


A primary school in a village in northern rural Laos

69% of the country's people are ethnic Lao, the principal lowland inhabitants and the politically and culturally dominant group. The Lao belong to the Tai linguistic group who began migrating southward from Chinamarker in the first millennium AD. 8% belong to other "lowland" groups, which together with the Lao people make up the Lao Loum.

Hill people and minority cultures of Laos such as the Hmong (Miao), Yao , Dao, Shan, and several Tibeto-Burman speaking peoples have lived in isolated regions of Laos for many years. Mountain/hill tribes of mixed ethno/cultural-linguistic heritage are found in northern Laos which include the Lua (Lua) and Khmu people who are indigenous to Laos. Today, the Lua people are considered endangered. Collectively, they are known as Lao Soung or highland Laotians. In the central and southern mountains, Mon-Khmer tribes, known as Lao Theung or mid-slope Laotians, predominate. Some Vietnamese, Chinese and Thailandmarker Thai minorities remain, particularly in the towns, but many left in two waves; after independence in the late 1940s and again after 1975.

The term "Laotian" does not necessarily refer to the ethnic Lao language, ethnic Lao people, language or customs, but is a political term that also includes the non-ethnic Lao groups within Laos and identifies them as "Laotian" because of their political citizenship.

The predominant religion in Laos is Theravada Buddhism which, along with the common Animism practiced among the mountain tribes, coexists peacefully with spirit worship. There also are a small number of Christians, mostly restricted to the Vientiane area, and Muslims, mostly restricted to the Myanmar border region. Christian missionary work is regulated by the government.

The official and dominant language is Lao, a tonal language of the Tai linguistic group. The written language is based on Khmer writing script. Midslope and highland Lao speak an assortment of tribal languages. French, still common in government and commerce, is still studied by many, while English, the language of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has increased in recent years.


Male life expectancy at birth was at 63.2 and female life expectancy was at 65.9 in 2007 Healthy life expectancy at was at 54 in 2006. In 2006, two fifths of the population were not using an improved water resource.
Government expenditure on health is at about 4 % of the GDP. Its amount was at US$ 18 (PPP) in 2006.


Buddha statues at Vat Aham in Luang Prabang
Of the people of Laos 67% are Buddhist, 1.5% are Christian, and 31.5% are other or unspecified according to the 2005 census. Buddhism could be as high as 85% and still remains as one of the most important social forces in Laos


An example of Lao cuisine

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 Prabangmarker and Vat Phoumarker. The government is seeking the same status for the Plain of Jarsmarker.

Sticky Rice is the staple food and has cultural and religious significance. Sticky rice is mainly preferred over jasmine rice because Lao is the only country with the origin of sticky rice being eaten. There are many traditions and rituals associated with rice production in different environments, and among many ethnic groups. For example, Khammu farmers in Luang Prabang plant the rice variety Khao Kam in small quantities near the hut in memory of dead parents, or at the edge of the rice field to indicate that parents are still alive.


The adult literacy rate exceeds two thirds. The male literacy rate exceeds the female literacy rate. In 2004 the net primary enrolement rate was at 84 %. The National University of Laos is the national university in Laos.


All newspapers are published by the government, including two foreign language papers: the English-language daily Vientiane Times and the French-language weekly Le Rénovateur. Additionally, the Khao San Pathet Lao, the country's official news agency, publishes English and French versions of its eponymous paper. Internet cafes are now common in the major urban centres and are popular especially with the younger generation. However, the government strictly censor content and controls access .

International rankings

Organisation Survey Ranking
Heritage Foundation/The Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom 137 out of 157
Reporters Without Borders Worldwide Press Freedom Index 164 out of 173
Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 151 out of 180
United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index 133 out of 179

See also

Leaders of ethnic minorities in Laos

Notes and references

  1. Human Development Indices, Table 3: Human and income poverty, p. 35. Retrieved on 1 June 2009
  3. U.S.-Laos Business Opportunities Making Normal Trade Relations a Reality (Dec. 15-2005) - U.S. Embassy Vientiane, Laos
  4. Field Listing - Land use, CIA World Factbook
  5. About Greater Mekong Subregion at Asian Development Bank
  6. Rice, the fabric of life in Laos
  7. Genuinely Lao, Rice Today, April-June 2006
  8. The Green Revolution comes to Laos
  9. A Race Against Time
  10. [ International Migration, Remittances & the Brain Drain]
  11. [ Lao People’s Democratic Republic: Preparing the Cumulative Impact Assessment for the Nam Ngum 3 Hydropower Project]
  12. [ Lao PDR Tourism Strategy 2006-2020]
  14. CIA the World Factbook
  15. Zickgraf, Ralph. Laos (series: Major World Nations). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers (1999), pg. 9-10.
  16. An Evaluation of Synthesis of Rice

External links

General information
  • Laos from UCB Libraries GovPubs

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