Laos is the least developed and most enigmatic of the three former French Indochinese states. A ruinous sequence of colonial domination, internecine conflict and dogmatic socialism finally brought the country to its knees in the 1970s, and almost ten per cent of the population left. Now, after two decades of isolation from the outside world, this landlocked, sparsely populated country is enjoying peace, stabilising its political and economic structures and admitting foreign visitors - albeit in limited numbers due to a general lack of infrastructure
The lack of foreign influence offers travellers an unparalleled glimpse of traditional South-East Asian life. From the fertile lowlands of the Mekong River valley to the rugged Annamite highlands, travellers who have made it to Laos tend to agree that this country is the highlight of South-East Asia.
A SHORT PROFILE
Country: LANGXIANG ( millions of elephants )
Cities: The Capital is Vientiane municipality ( Vientiane province is another provincial administration. Luang Prabang, the Ancient Capital of last Kingdom is still maintaining traces of the old reigns. Other major cities are Savannakhet ( with 766,000 people ) and Champassaks ( with 572,000 people )
Population: It was estimated that, the population of Laos was 5.2 million and is growing at an annual 2.4%. The average population density is 21 per square kilometers, giving Lao the lowest population density in Asia. Around 85% of the population are farmers and live in rural areas. Over 70% (2,220,547) are engaged in productive work, and 936,870 are unemployed, a classification which includes students (69.4%), domestic workers (12.6%), the aged (14.6%). There are 576,758 people at work in towns, and 2,580,659 work in the countryside. There are 3 main ethnic categories: Lao Loum (low landers), Lao Thueng (lower mountain dwellers), and Lao Soong (high landers). The great majority of Lao are Buddhist
Area: Approximately 70% of its total area (236,800 square kilometers) comprises of mountain and plateaux areas. roughly the area of Italy or Japan
Land Borders: North to China, North West to Myanmar ( Burmar ), West to Thailand, South to Cambodia, East to Vietnam.
Sea Borders: Laos, one of the few countries in the world doesn't have sea border.
Climate: Laos has a warm and tropical climate with two seasons: the rainy season from the beginning of May to the end of September and the dry season from October to April. The average temperature 29 degree centigrade. Maximum temperature can reach up to 40 degree centigrade. Temperatures can drop to as low as 15 degrees or even lower in mountains.
In Vientiane minimum temperatures of 19 C are to be expected in January. In mountainous areas, however, temperatures drop to 14-15 C during the winter months, and in cold nights easily reach the freezing point.
The average precipitation is highest in southern Laos, where the Annamite mountains receive over 3000 mm annually. In Vientiane rainfall is about 1500-2000 mm, and in the northern provinces only 1000-1500 mm.
Generally, tourists are recommended to visit Laos during the months of November to March because these are cool months and rainfall is lower than other periods.
Geography: With over half of this landlocked country's 236,800sq. km densely forested, and 70% of it mountainous, it is hardly surprising that a profusion of rare flora and over 1,200 species of wildlife finds a home beneath its tropical canopy. Approximately 70% of its total area (236,800 square kilometers) comprises of mountain and plateaux areas.
The mighty Mekong in the west and the Annamite Mountains in the east offer natural borders to Thailand and Vietnam respectively. Almost all of the rivers and streams in Laos eventually end up feeding into the Mekong through one of its 15 tributaries, making a total of 2,400km of waterways and feeding the Mekong with more than half of its overall water flow.
Though averaging rainfalls of between 1360mm, in Luang Prabang, to 3700mm on the Boloven Plateau during the June to October monsoon season, Laos regularly suffers from water shortages in the low-lying Mekong Delta plains. This can adversely effect the rice crops that account for almost 80% of the country's agricultural land.
The country's highest peak, at 2,820m, can be found in the mountainous ranges of northeastern Laos, in the province Xiang Khouang, However, nearly equally as impressive are the mountains at the southern end of the Annamite range which reach heights of 2,600m. The Khammouanne and Bolaven plateaus dominate the central region of the Annamites.
Language: The official language used in Laos is Lao language. However, the usage of the language can differ from north and south. English, French and Russian are spoken in business or by some senior government officials. Many shopkeepers can understand basic English and French.
Religion: Buddhism first appeared in Laos during the eighth century A.D. as shown by both the Buddha image and the stone inscription found at Ban Talat near Vientiane, now exhibited at the Museum of Ho Prakeo. After the foundation of the unified Kingdom of Lane Xang, King FaNgum (14th century) declared Buddhism as the state religion and urged the people to abandon animism or other beliefs such as the cult of spirits. His policy meant to develop the Lao culture based on a common faith: the Theravada Buddhism. Today Theravada Buddhism is the professed religion of about 90% of Lao people. Buddhism is an inherent feature of daily life and casts a strong influence on Lao society. Lao woman can be seen each morning giving alms to monks, earing merit to lessen the number of their rebirth. Lao men are expected to become a monk for at least a short time in their lives.
Traditionally they spent three months during the rainy season in a Vat, a Buddhist temple. But nowadays most men curtail their stay to one or two weeks.
Government: The highest position in the Lao government is the President (Mr. H.E. Khamtay Siphandone), who is elected every five years by the National Assembly. This head of state also acts as the Commander in Chief of the country's armed forces. The highest executive organ in the Lao government is the Council of Ministers, this is headed by a Chairman, who also acts as Prime Minister (Mr. H.E. Bounnyang Vorachit), , with Vice Chairman ( Mr. H.E. Somsavath Lengsava ) overseeing the work of government ministers.
The country's 16 provinces (khoueng) are further divided into districts (muang) and villages (baan). Vientiane contains its own municipality - or kampheng nakhon - and the special zone of Xaisomboun, in the northeast of the province, was established in June 1994. A further special zone was set up in mid-1992 with the integration of two districts of Xaignabouri.
Economy: The economic structure of the Lao PDR consists of many sectors under different forms of ownership and economic organizational system, but these sectors are equal before law and operate under the management of the state with the view to freely cooperate and compete in their business activities.
Were it not for the persistent problems of regional flooding, drought and insect infestation, Laos would be permanently self-sufficient in food. 80% of the country's workforce is involved in subsistence agriculture, which makes up about half of the GDP, with glutinous rice the country's main agricultural produce. Also grown for local use are maize, cassava, pulses, groundnuts, fruits, sugar cane, and tobacco, while main exports include timber and wood products, garments, coffee, and tin, mainly to France, Germany, Thailand and Vietnam. Laos also has, largely untapped, reserves of tin, lead and zinc, as well as iron ore, coal and timber.
A member of both the Asian Development Bank and the Colombo Plan, which promotes economic and social development in Asia and the Pacific, Laos still struggles with a very basic infrastructure. Many roads are impassable during the monsoon and there are no railways. Only large urban areas have access to regular power supplies, while telecommunications are still very basic.
Festival and official Holidays: In Laos, working days are from Monday to Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. and form 2 p.m. till 5 p.m. A variety of festivals and religious ceremonies are observed throughout the whole year. The most important ones are listed below.