Patuxay Monument

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic is a landlocked country in southeast Asia, bordered by Myanmar (commonly known in the west as Burma) and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, and Thailand to the west. The term Lao is most frequently used to refer to the dominant language and people of Laos. It is also a romanised form of the word Laos in the Lao language, the Thai language, and probably other Tai languages. It is sometimes used in English to refer to the country as well, but romanisation standards hold that “Laos” is the preferred spelling.

Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao

Table of contents

1 History
2 Politics
3 Provinces
4 Geography
5 Economy
6 Demographics
7 Culture


Laos’ early history was dominated by the wider Nan-chao kingdom, which was succeeded in the 14th century by the local kingdom of Lan Xang that lasted until its decline in the 18t century, after which Thailand assumed control of the separate principalities that remained. These then came under French influence during the 19th century and were incorporated into French Indochina in 1893. Following a Japanese occupation during World War II, the country became independent in 1949 as the Kingdom of Laos.

Political unrest in neighbouring Vietnam dragged Laos into the greater Second Indochina War which was a destabilising factor that contributed to civil war and several coups d’état. In 1975 the communist Pathet Lao movement overthrew the royal government and took control of the country, which they promptly renamed the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Initial closer ties to Vietnam and socialisation were replaced by a relaxation of economic restrictions in the late 1980s and the admission into ASEAN in 1997.


The only legal political party is the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP). The head of state is a president elected by parliament for a five-year term. The head of government is a prime minister appointed by the president, with parliamentary approval. 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 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 5-year terms. This unicameral parliament, expanded in 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 in February 2002 when the assembly was expanded to 109 members.

Laos is divided into 16 provinces (khoueng), 1 municipality* (kampheng nakhon), and 1 special zone** (khetphiset):

Laos Map

Louang Namtha
Louang Phrabang
Vientiane province
Xieng Khouang


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 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 local 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, other major cities include Louang Phrabang, Savannakhet and Pakse.

Laos is a country of rivers and mountains. More than ninety percent of the land is more than six hundred feet above sea level. The wet-rice-growing lowlands are located along the Mekong river, mostly in the southern part of the country. The northern terrain is creased and folded much like the accordion-pleated skirts worn by the girls of the Hmong hill tribes who live in the northern mountains. The highest mountain in Laos is Phu Bia (9,242 feet), once the stronghold of Hmong troops who fought Laotian and Vietnamese communists during the Vietnam War. The northern mountains, foothills of the Himalayan range, rise steeply from the V-shaped valleys, where streams tumble down toward the Mekong river.

The southern and central regions are bordered on the east by the peaks of the Annamite mountains, which are called Phu Luang in the Lao language. They run north to south along the length of the country, separating Laos from Vietnam. Most of the population is settled along the valleys of the Mekong or along the eleven other main rivers, which drain from the mountains into the Mekong on the western border.

There are are three major plateaus: the Bolovens in the southern province of Champasak, the Cammon in the central province of Khammouan, and the Plain of Jars on the Tran Ninh plateau in the northern province of Xiang Khuang. The Bolovens plateau is famous for its fertile volcanic soil, good for growing fruits and cash crops. The Plain of Jars poses a mystery. No one knows the origin of the hundred or more ancient stone jars found on this high plateau. They are bigger than a person and too heavy to move. Some say they were funeral urns for an ancient civilization. In one legend the jars were said to have been filled with liquor to celebrate the expulsion of Vietnamese invaders. The jars, the survivors of countless wars, stand as silent witnesses to Laotian history.


The government of Laos – one of the few remaining official communist states – began decentralising control and encouraging private enterprise in 1986. The results, starting from an extremely low base, were striking – growth averaged 7% in 1988-2001 except during the short-lived drop caused by the Asian financial crisis beginning in 1997.

Despite this high growth rate, Laos remains a country with a primitive infrastructure; it has no railroads, a rudimentary though improving road system, and limited external and internal telecommunications. Electricity is available in only a few urban areas. Subsistence agriculture accounts for half of GDP and provides 80% of total employment. The economy will continue to benefit from aid from the IMF and other international sources and from new foreign investment in food-processing and mining.


About half the country’s people are ethnic Lao, the principal lowland inhabitants and the politically and culturally dominant group. The Lao are descended from the Tai people who began migrating southward from China in the first millennium AD. Hill people such as the Hmong (Meo), Yao (Mien), Black Thai, Dao, and several Tibeto-Burman speaking peoples, have lived in isolated regions of Laos for many years. Mountain tribes of mixed ethnolinguistic heritage are found in northern Laos. Collectively, they are known as Lao Sung or highland Lao. In the central and southern mountains, Mon-Khmer tribes, known as Lao Theung or midslope Lao, 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 more 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) 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 is a small number of Christians and Muslims. 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.

Laotian music is dominated by its national instrument, the khaen (a type of bamboo pipe). Bands (mor lam) typically include a khaen player (mor khaen) alongside fiddlers and other musicians. Lam saravane is the most popular genre of Laotian music, but ethnic Laotians in Thailand have developed and internationally-best selling form called mor lam sing.

One significant archive of ancient Laotian culture is the Plain of Jars.

Source: Wikipedia and the University of Hawaii