ສາທາລະນະລັດ ປະຊາທິປະໄຕ ປະຊາຊົນລາວ
Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao

Lao People's Democratic Republic
Flag of Laos [[Image:{{{image_coat}}}|85px|Emblem of Laos]]
Flag Emblem
Motto: "Peace, Independence, Democracy, Unity and Prosperity"
Anthem: Pheng Xat Lao
Location of Laos
Capital Vientiane
Largest city Vientiane
Official language Lao
Government Socialist republic
 - President Choummaly Sayasone
 - Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh
Independence from France 
 - Date 19 July 1949 
 - Total 236,800 km² (83rd)
91,429 sq mi 
 - Water (%) 2
 - 2005 estimate 5,924,000 (103rd)
 - 1995 census 4,574,848
 - Density 25/km² (177th)
65/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2005 estimate
 - Total $12.547 billion (129th)
 - Per capita $2,124 (138th)
HDI  (2005) 0.553 (medium) (133rd)
Currency Kip (LAK)
Time zone (UTC+7)
Internet TLD .la
Calling code +856

Laos, officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic, is a landlocked socialist republic in southeast Asia, bordered by Myanmar (Burma) and the People's Republic of China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, and Thailand to the west. Laos traces its history to the Kingdom of Lan Xang or Land of a Million Elephants, which existed from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century. After a period as a French colony, it gained independence in 1949. A long civil war ended when the communist Pathet Lao came to power in 1975.

Private enterprise has increased since the mid-1980s, but development has been hampered by poor communications in the heavily forested and mountainous landscape.[1]80% of those employed practice subsistence agriculture. The country's ethnic make-up is extremely diverse, with only around 60% belonging to the largest ethnic group, the Lao.




The country's name in the Lao language is "Seth Less". The French, who made the country part of French Indochina in 1993, spelled it with the "s" which is usually retained in the spelling and pronunciation of the English name (pronounced as one syllable). The usual adjectival form is "Laoasian" (as in "the Lao economy"), not "Laotian", although the latter is commonly 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 fourteenth century, which lasted until the eighteenth century, when Siam invaded and assumed control of the separate principalities that remained. To avoid a costly war with the French, the Siamese king ceded lands now known as Laos to them, and these were incorporated into French Indochina in 1893. The French saw Laos as a useful buffer state between the two expanding empires of France and Britain. Under the French, the capital (Vieng Chan) was changed to Vientiane. Following a brief Japanese occupation during World War II, the country declared its independence in 1945, but the French 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. Department of Defense created a special Programs Evaluation Office to supplant French support of the Royal Laos Army against the communist Pathet Lao as part of the U.S. containment policy.

Political unrest in neighbouring Vietnam dragged Laos into the Second Indochina War (see also Secret War and Vietnam War), a destabilising factor that contributed to civil war and several coups d'état. The North Vietnamese Army invaded and occupied portions of eastern Laos. The North Vietnamese army, with its heavy weapons including heavy artillery and tanks was the real power behind the Pathet Lao insurgency. Significant aerial bombardment by the United States occurred by that country's attempt to eliminate North Vietnamese bases in Laos and disrupt supply lines on the Trường Sơn Trail (known to Americans as the Hồ Chí Minh Trail).

Pha That Luang in Vientiane, the national symbol of Laos.
Pha That Luang in Vientiane, the national symbol of Laos.

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 States and Thailand. In 1975, the communist Pathet Lao, backed by the Soviet Union and the North Vietnamese Army (justified by the communist ideology of "proletarian internationalism"), overthrew the royalist government, forcing King Savang Vatthana to abdicate on December 2 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 military forces and to appoint advisors to assist in overseeing the country. Laos was ordered in the late 1970s by Vietnam to end relations with the People's Republic of China which cut the country off from trade with any country but Vietnam[citation needed]. Control by Vietnam and socialisation were slowly replaced by a relaxation of economic restrictions in the 1980s and admission into ASEAN in 1997. Nonetheless, Vietnam still wields political and economic influence in Laos.

In 1995, after a twenty-year embargo, the United States established Normal Trade Relations with Laos.



The only legal political party is the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP). The head of state is the President, elected by parliament for a 5 year term. The head of government is the Prime Minister, appointed by the president with parliamentary approval. Government policies are determined by the Party through the all-powerful eleven-member Politburo and the 55-member Central Committee. Important government decisions are vetted by the Council of Ministers.

Laos adopted a new constitution in 1991. The following year, elections were held for a new 85-seat National Assembly with members elected by secret ballot to five-year terms. This unicameral parliament, expanded in the 1997 elections to 99 members, approves all new laws, although the executive branch retains authority to issue binding decrees. The most recent elections took place on 30 April 2006 when 175 candidates in sixteen electoral areas competed for 115 seats.

Remnants of a Hmong group allied with the United States during the Vietnam War have been in armed conflict with the communist regime since 1975. With recent surrenders reported in the international media, this conflict appears to be on the wane. Most Hmong are integrated into or at least at peace with society, with some occupying high-ranking positions in the state system.


Administrative divisions

Provinces of Laos

Laos is divided into sixteen provinces (kang), one municipality (kumpang nakon), and one special zone (ketpisade):

1. Attapu 2. Bokeo 3. Bolikhamxai 4. Champasak 5. Houaphan 6. Khammouan 7. Loung Namtha 8. Louangphabang 9. Oudomxai 10. Phongsali 11. Salavan 12. Savannakhet 13. Vientiane (municipality) 14. Vientiane 15. Xaignabouli 16. Xaisomboun (special zone) 17. Xekong 18. Xiangkhoang

The country is further divided into districts (muang).



Map of Laos
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 Bia 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 characterised by monsoons. There is a distinct rainy season from May to November, followed by a dry season from December to April. The capital and largest city of Laos is Vientiane, and other major cities include Luang Prabang, Savannakhet and Pakse.

In 1993, the government set aside 21% of the nation's land area as National Biodiversity Conservation Areas (NBCA), which may be developed into a national park system. If completed, it is expected to be the most comprehensive and one of the finest national park systems in Southeast Asia.

A number of animal species have been discovered or re-discovered in Laos in recent years. These include the striped or Annamite rabbit, the saola, and most recently the Laotian rock rat or kha-nyou.



Buses connect the major cities.
Buses connect the major cities.
Songthaews are pick-up trucks with benches. They are used for long-distance and local public transport.
Songthaews are pick-up trucks with benches. They are used for long-distance and local public transport.

The government of Laos – one of the few remaining official socialist states – began decentralising control and encouraging private enterprise in 1986. The results, starting from an extremely low base, were striking: growth averaged 6% in 1988-2004 except during the short-lived drop caused by the Asian financial crisis beginning in 1997. As in many developing countries, the major urban centers have experienced the most growth. The economies of Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Savannakhet in particular have experienced significant booms in recent years. Laos' economy is heavily dependent on investment and trade with its larger and richer cousin, Thailand. Pakxe has also experienced growth.

Much of the country, however, lacks adequate infrastructure. Laos has no railways, although a short link is planned to connect Vientiane with Thailand over the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge. The major roads connecting the major urban centres, mainly forming Route 13, have been significantly upgraded in recent years, but villages that are far from major roads are accessible only through unpaved roads that may not be accessible year-round. There is limited external and internal telecommunication, particularly of the wire line sort, but mobile cellular phone usage has become widespread in urban centres. In many rural areas electricity is either not available or offered only during scheduled periods.

A ferryboat on the Nam Ou river. Rivers are an important means of transport in Laos.
A ferryboat on the Nam Ou river. Rivers are an important means of transport in Laos.

Subsistence agriculture still accounts for half of GDP and provides 80% of total employment. Laos has the lowest percentage of arable land and permanent crop land in the Greater Mekong Subregion [2]. Only 4.01% of Laos is arable land, and only 0.34% of the country is planted with permanent crops[3]. Rice dominates agriculture, with about 80% of the arable land area used for rice production[4]. Approximately 77% of Lao farm households are self-sufficient in rice[5]. Through the development, release and widespread adoption of improved rice varieties; and through economic reforms, Lao PDR achieved a net balance of rice imports and exports for the first time in 1999 [6]. Between 1990 and 2005, rice production increased from 1.5 million tons to 2.5 million tons; an average annual growth rate of more than 5%[7]. This increase in production has been valued at $8 million to $19 million per year[6]. 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 (IRRI) to collect seed samples of each of the thousands of rice varieties found in Laos [8].

The economy receives aid from the IMF and other international sources and from new foreign investment in food-processing and mining, most notably of copper and gold. Tourism is the fastest growing industry in the country. However, economic development in general is hampered by a serious case of brain drain. A 2005 World Bank study reported that 37% of educated Laotians lived abroad, putting the country in fifth place for worst brain drain.

In late 2004, Laos gained Normal Trade Relations status with the US, allowing Laos-based producers to face lower tariffs on their exports; this may help spur growth.



A street market in Luang Prabang.
A street market in Luang Prabang.

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 China in the first millennium AD. A further 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 Lua (Lua), Hmong (Miao), Yao (Mien), Tai dumm, Dao, Shan, and several Tibeto-Burman speaking peoples have lived in isolated regions of Laos for many years. Mountain tribes of mixed ethno/cultural-linguistic heritage are found in northern Laos. 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 and Chinese 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. In a similar vein the word "Lao" can also describe the people, cuisine, language and culture of the people of Northeast Thailand (Isan), Northern Thailand (Chiangmai) and (Chiangrai) who are ethnic Lao.

The predominant religion 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. Midslope and highland Lao speak an assortment of tribal languages. French, once common in government and commerce, has declined in usage, while knowledge of English, the language of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has increased in recent years.



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.

Wat Ho Pra Keo, Vientiane.
Wat Ho Pra Keo, Vientiane.

The country has two World Heritage Sites: Luang Prabang and Wat Phou. The government is seeking the same status for the Plain of Jars.

The People's Republic of China has recently allowed its citizens to travel more freely to Laos. As such, Chinese tourists are expected to account for 25% of the total number of visitors to Laos (up from only a few percent) in 2006. Pressures to modernize tourist infrastructure, particularly to cater to package tourism, are expected to significantly impact Luang Prabang and other culturally important Laotian cities.

Rice is the staple food and has cultural and religious significance. There are many traditions and rituals associated with rice production in different environments, and among many ethnic groups. For example, Khamu 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[9].



All newspapers are published by the government, including two foreign language papers: the English-language Vientiane Times and the French-language 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, serving the tourist market, are now common in the major urban centres. However, the government strictly censors content and controls access.

Satellite television dishes, beaming content from Thailand, are common throughout Laos. Many Laotians access the outside world through Thai television programs.


International rankings

Organisation Survey Ranking
Heritage Foundation/The Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom 149 out of 157
Reporters Without Borders Worldwide Press Freedom Index 156 out of 167
Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 111 out of 163
United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index 133 out of 177

See also

Leaders of ethnic minorities in Laos


Notes and references

  1. CIA World Factboook 2006
  2. About Greater Mekong Subregion at Asian Development Bank
  3. CIA World Factbook
  4. Rice, the fabric of life in Laos
  5. Genuinely Lao
  6. 6.0 6.1 The Green Revolution comes to Laos
  7. Genuinely Lao
  8. A Race Against Time
  9. An Evaluation of Synthesis of Rice

External links

French Colonial Empire []
I- Former French protectorates and colonial possessions:
Africa & Indian Ocean: Maghreb (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia) | Arguin Island (off Morocco) | French West Africa (Côte d'Ivoire, Dahomey, French Sudan (Mali), Guinea, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Upper Volta) & French Togoland & James Island (The Gambia) | French Equatorial Africa (Chad, Gabon, Middle Congo, Oubangui-Chari) | French Somaliland (Djibouti) | Comoros (Anjouan- Grande Comore- Mohéli) | Madagascar | Mascarene Islands : Ile de France (Mauritus) & Seychelles
The Americas (French colonization of the Americas): New France (Acadia, Louisiana, Quebec, Terre Neuve) | Inini | Berbice | Haiti & Saint-Domingue | Tobago | Virgin Islands (part) | France Antarctique (part of Brazil) | France Équinoxiale (part of Brazil)
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Oceania: New Caledonia | New Hebrides (now Vanuatu)
II- Present overseas territories and possessions:
Americas: French Guiana | Guadeloupe | Martinique | Saint-Pierre and Miquelon | Oceania: French Polynesia | New Caledonia | Wallis and Futuna | Indian Ocean: Mayotte | La Réunion (Mascarene- formerly Île Bourbon)
See also: French colonisation of the Americas | Chartered company | French East India Company
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