Welcome to Laos

  • Laos, officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic, is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma and 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 13th to the 18th century


 Total area: 236,800 Sq km Population: 6,8 millions people

Laos, a landlocked nation that covers 236,800 square kilometers in the center of the Southeast Asian peninsula, is surrounded by Burma, Cambodia, China, Thailand, and Vietnam. Its location has often made it a buffer between more powerful neighboring states, as well as a crossroads for trade and communication. Migration and international conflict have contributed to the present ethnic composition of the country and to the geographic distribution of its ethnic groups.
Most of the western border of Laos is demarcated by the Mekong River, which is an important artery for transportation. The Khong falls at the southern end of the country prevent access to the sea, but cargo boats travel along the entire length of the Mekong in Laos during most of the year. Smaller power boats and pirogues provide an important means of transportation on many of the tributaries of the Mekong.
The eastern border with Vietnam extends for 2,130 kilometers, mostly along the crest of the Annamite Chain, and serves as a physical barrier between the Chinese-influenced culture of Vietnam and the Indianized states of Laos and Thailand. These mountains are sparsely populated by tribal minorities who traditionally have not acknowledged the border with Vietnam any more than lowland Lao have been constrained by the 1,754-kilometer Mekong River border with Thailand. Thus, ethnic minority populations are found on both the Laotian and Vietnamese sides of the frontier. Because of their relative isolation, contact between these groups and lowland Lao has been mostly confined to trading.
Laos shares its short--only 541 kilometers--southern border with Cambodia, and ancient Khmer ruins at Wat Pho and other southern locations attest to the long history of contact between the Lao and the Khmer. In the north, the country is bounded by a mountainous 423-kilometer border with China and shares the 235- kilometer-long Mekong River border with Burma.
Laos has a tropical monsoon climate, with a pronounced rainy season from May through October, a cool dry season from November through February, and a hot dry season in March and April. Generally, monsoons occur at the same time across the country, although that time may vary significantly from one year to the next. Rainfall also varies regionally, with the highest amounts-- 3,700 millimeters annually--recorded on the Bolovens Plateau in Champasak Province. City rainfall stations have recorded that Savannakhét averages 1,440 millimeters of rain annually; Vientiane receives about 1,700 millimeters, and Louangphrabang (Luang Prabang) receives about 1,360 millimeters. Rainfall is not always adequate for rice cultivation, however, and the relatively high average precipitation conceals years where rainfall may be only half or less of the norm, causing significant declines in rice fields. Such droughts often are regional, leaving production in other parts of the country unaffected. Temperatures range from highs around 40°C along the Mekong in March and April to lows of 5°C or less in the uplands of Xiangkhoang and Phôngsali in January.
Natural resources
Expanding commercial exploitation of forests, plans for additional hydroelectric facilities, foreign demands for wild animals and nonwood forest products for food and traditional medicines, and a growing population have brought new and increasing attention to the forests. Traditionally, forests have been important sources of wild foods, herbal medicines, and timber for house construction. Even into the 1990s, the government viewed the forest as a valued reserve of natural products for noncommercial household consumption. Government efforts to preserve valuable hardwoods for commercial extraction have led to measures to prohibit swidden cultivation throughout the country. Further, government restrictions on clearing forestland for swidden cropping in the late 1980s, along with attempts to gradually resettle upland swidden farming villages (ban) to lowland locations suitable for paddy rice cultivation, had significant effects on upland villages. Traditionally, villages rely on forest products as a food reserve during years of poor rice harvest and as a regular source of fruits and vegetables. By the 1990s, however, these gathering systems were breaking down in many areas. At the same time, international concern about environmental degradation and the loss of many wildlife species unique to Laos has also prompted the government to consider the implications of these developments.


Early History
HISTORICAL RESEARCH SHOWS that the rudimentary structures of a multiethnic state existed before the founding of the Kingdom of Lan Xang in the thirteenth century. These prethirteenth-century structures consisted of small confederative communities in river valleys and among the mountain peoples, who found security away from the well-traveled rivers and overland tracks where the institutions and customs of the Laotian people were gradually forged in contact with other peoples of the region. During these centuries, the stirring of migrations as well as religious conflict and syncretism went on more or less continuously. Laos's shortlived vassalage to foreign empires such as the Cham, Khmer, and Sukhothai did nothing to discourage this process of cultural identification and, in fact, favored its shaping.
In the thirteenth century--an historically important watershed- -the rulers of Louangphrabang (Luang Prabang) constituted a large indigenous kingdom with a hierarchical administration. Even then, migratory and religious crosscurrents never really ceased. The durability of the kingdom itself is attested to by the fact that it lasted within its original borders for almost four centuries. Today, the Lao People's Democratic Republic (LPDR, or Laos) covers only a small portion of the territory of that former kingdom.
Struggling for independence
Internecine power struggles caused the splitting up of Lan Xang after 1690, and the Lao and the mountain peoples of the middle Mekong Valley came perilously close to absorption by powerful neighboring rivals, namely Vietnam and Siam (present-day Thailand); China never posed a territorial threat. Only the arrival of the French in the second half of the nineteenth century prevented Laos's political disintegration. In a "conquest of the hearts" (in the words of the explorer and colonist Auguste Pavie)--a singular event in the annals of colonialism in that it did not entail the loss of a single Lao life--France ensured by its actions in 1893 that Laos's separate identity would be preserved into modern times. During the colonial interlude, a few French officials administered what their early cartographers labeled, for want of a better name, "le pays des Laos" (the land of the Lao, hence the name Laos), preserving intact local administrations and the royal house of Louangphrabang.
However, Laos's incorporation into French Indochina beginning in 1893 brought with it Vietnamese immigration, which was officially encouraged by the French to staff the middle levels of the civil services and militia. During the few months in 1945 when France's power was momentarily eclipsed, the consequences of this Vietnamese presence nearly proved fatal for the fledgling Lao Issara (Free Laos) government. The issue of Vietnamese dominance over Indochina remained alive into the postindependence period with the armed rebellion of the Pathet Lao (Lao Nation), who proclaimed themselves part of an Indochina-wide revolutionary movement. The Royal Lao Government grappled with this problem for ten years but never quite succeeded in integrating the Pathet Lao rebels peacefully into the national fabric.
By the 1960s, outside powers had come to dominate events in Laos, further weakening the Vientiane government's attempts to maintain neutrality in the Cold War. For one thing, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), the most powerful entity left in Indochina by the 1954 Geneva armistice and the exit of France, cast a large shadow over the mountains to the west. Also, the United States, which had exerted strong pressure on France on behalf of the independence of Laos, became involved in a new war against what it regarded as the proxies of the Soviet Union and China. Even then, however, high-level United States officials seemed unsure about Laos's claim to national identity, and Laos became the country where the so-called "secret war" was fought.
The democratic republic
In late 1975, months after the fall of Cambodia and the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) to the communists, the Pathet Lao came to power in Laos, proclaiming that Laos's territorial integrity as well as its independence, sovereignty, and solidarity with other new regimes of Indochina, would be defended. In a demonstration of this determination, Laos fought a border war with Thailand in 1988, and protracted negotiations were necessary to demarcate the border between the two countries. Internally, the regime proved ruthless in stamping out political and armed opposition. Only since the introduction of the New Economic Mechanism in 1986 has the government made some headway in the long and difficult process of bettering the lives of its citizens.

The society

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. 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 (Mien), 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 Thailand 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 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 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 studied by many, while English, the language of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has become increasingly studied in recent years.
85% of Lao People are Theravada Buddhist, 1.5% are Christian, and 13.5% are other or unspecified according to the 2005 census. The proportion of Buddhists could be as high as 98%; that religion remains one of the most important social forces in Lao.
Sticky Rice is a characteristic staple food and has cultural and religious significance to the Lao people. 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.
Lao music
Lao folk music, known as Lam, is extemporaneous singing accompanied by the khene. The Lao classical orchestra can be divided into two categories, Sep Nyai (or Mahori) and Sep Noi. The Sep Nyai is ceremonial and formal music and includes: two sets of gongs (kong vong), a xylophone (lanat), an oboe (pei or salai), two large kettle drums and two sets of cymbals (xing).
In the 1960s, Thai lam nu and lam ploen contributed to the development of lam luang, which is a form of song (and dance) which often has narrative lyrics. It's better to give than to received...
Heritage sites
The country has two World Heritage Sites: Luang Prabang and Vat Phou. The government is seeking the same status for the Plain of Jars.


The most popular time of year to visit the region is between November and April. With the exception of the mountainous colder parts of Yunnan and Myanmar, the weather is at its most comfortable during this time. However, this means that in some places, accommodation may be harder to find in the high season.
The hot season, from March to May is very dry, but in some places, During this time, some rivers are harder to navigate, and boat journeys in remote places may not be possible.
The rainy season, generally from June to September is for many people the best time to travel - despite the fact that it rains, it never gets that cold, and nearly all hotels and guesthouses have rooms available - often a lot cheaper than during the high season.
What to bring
Light clothing made from natural fibres is the best clothing for the region. You will find that all hotels, no matter how small offer a laundry service or can at least arrange someone to launder your clothes for you -in many cases, this may be out by hotel chambermaids free of charge. All towns have laundry services and will usually return your clothes to you within 24 hours. Please remember that you should normally wash your own undergarments. In the rainy season, clothes may take longer to dry.
Warm clothing - for the months of December and January, a light jacket is often necessary in the lowlands - more warm clothing may be needed if travelling in the highlands. Most towns have markets where you can buy a warm jacket for a fraction of the price you would pay at home. All Mekong countries sell sarongs of some form or another that can double as scarves, dressing gowns and towels.
People in the region dress modestly. Women visitors are not expected to wear skirts, but miniskirts and revealing shorts, may often be viewed as 'not polite'. The best plan is to dress modestly like the locals.
Footwear - bring sandals or slip ons to take off easily when entering temples. Flip flops can be bought very cheaply just about anywhere.
An small collapsible umbrella is sensible for the rainy season.
A flashlight is a good idea, in case of power cuts.
Electrical multi adaptor if you plan on bringing electrical appliances - there are many different types of plug sockets used in the region. For example, we know of hotels in the region built by Singaporean companies that use Singaporean (UK) standard plugs, rather than local standards - so be prepared!
Video tapes and camera film can be found in easily in Laos, but may be more difficult to come across in remote parts of the other countries. Specialist products are often hard to come by. We advise you to bring plenty of film and video tape.
Toiletries can be found in all towns, but outside major cities, they are limited in supply. We suggest you bring your own. In Laos, toiletries can be found everywhere.
Insect repellant can be found in towns, but many visitors have their own favorite brands - bring your own.
A first aid kit is a very good idea.
Mobile phones - some GSM roaming agreements exist in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. Check with your service provider before travelling.
Modems - beware of proprietory telephone systems that look standard frying both your modems and your notebooks. Check with the hotel if their telephone system can be used for modems.
Visa needed, requiring passport and two two-inch photos, valid for one month, cost US$30 and taking approx. 3 days to process. Visa on arrival also available at Wattay airport, Friendship bridge, Luang Prabang airport and at Chong Mek. (Entry formalities are likely to be relaxed further as tourism expands, so check with the nearest Lao embassy for latest information).
Please contact our visa team for more information regarding visa application for Laos.
Cash remains the most realistic way to take money into the region. The key currency is US dollars, but ensure that you take new edition currency as old edition $50 and $100 bills are often not accepted. Do not order local currency from your home country. All major airports have banks, and all banks accept US dollars.
Travellers cheques - are accepted in banks of major capital cities in the country. Please bring your original passport for exchanging the traveller cheques.
Credit cards -are widely accepted in Laos, but beware that smaller enterprises will surcharge if you use a credit card. Consider paying a sum into your credit card account to give you a positive balance that you can draw on overseas. Credit cards are accepted in major hotels in other countries.
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