The Peoples Democratic Republic of Laos is located in the center
of Indochina, sharing borders with China to the North 416 kilometers,
Myanmar to Northwest 236 kilometers, Thailand to the West 1,835
kilometers, Cambodia to the South 492 kilometers and Vietnam to
the East 1,957 kilometers.
With a total area of 236,800 square kilometers, around 70% of
Laos' terrain is mountainous, reaching a maximum elevation of
2,820 meters in Xieng Khouang Province. The landscapes of northern
Laos and the regions adjacent to Vietnam, in particular, are dominated
by rough mountains.
The Mekong River is the main geographical feature in the west
and, in fact, forms a natural border with Thailand in some areas.
The Mekong flows through nearly 1,900 kilometers of Lao territory
and shapes much of the lifestyle of the people of Laos. In the
South the Mekong reaches a breadth of 20 kilometers, creating
an area with thousands of islands.
The Lao P.D.R. is located in the heart of the Indochina Peninsula
in Southeast Asia. It lies between latitude 14 to 23 degrees North
and longitude 100 to 108 degrees East. It is the only Southeast
Asian country without direct access to the sea, stretching North
to South 1,700 kilometers.
Laos encompasses a total of 236,800 square kilometers with the
terrain characterized by three distinct regions - mountains, plateaus,
and plains. The mountains and plateaus make up three-quarters
of the total area.
High mountains rising to an average height of 1,500 meters dominate
the Northern region. The three highest mountains in the country
are all located in the Phou Ane Plateau in Xieng Khouang Province.
They are Phou Bia at 2,820 meters, Phou Xao at 2,690 meters and
Phou Xamxum at 2,620 meters. The Phou Luang (Annamite Range) stretches
from Southeast on the Phouane Plateau down to the Cambodian border;
the others are the Nakai Plateau in Khammouane Province and the
Bolaven Plateau in Southern Laos, which is over 1,000 meters above
The plain region consists of large and small plain areas distributed
along the Mekong River. The Vientiane Plain, the largest, is situated
on the lower reaches of the Nam Ngum River. The Savannakhet Plain
is situated on the lower reaches of the Sebangfai River and Sebanghieng
River, while the Champasack Plain on the Mekong River stretches
out to the Thai and Cambodian borders. Blessed with rich and fertile
soil, these plains represent one quarter of the total area known
as the granaries of the country.
The Lao PDR is criss-crossed with a myriad of rivers and streams.
The largest is the Mekong River, flowing for 1,898 kilometers
from the North to the South, with 919 kilometers of the river
forming the major portion of the border with Thailand. It is estimated
that some 60% of all the water entering the Mekong River system
originates in Laos. These rivers and streams provide great potential
for hydropower development with 51% of the power potential in
the lower Mekong basin contained within Laos.
The time in Laos is 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMS
Most of the year is hot and humid. Laos enjoys a tropical climate
with two distinct seasons. The rainy season is from the beginning
of May to the end of September, and the dry season is from October
through April. The yearly average temperature is about 28 degrees
Celsius, rising to a maximum of 38 degrees Celsius during April
In Vientiane a minimum temperature of 19 degrees Celsius is to
be expected during January. In mountainous areas, however, temperature
drops to as low as 14-15 degrees Celsius during the winter months,
and during cold nights, can easily reach the freezing point. The
average precipitation is highest in Southern Laos, where the Annamite
Mountains receive over 3,000 mm. annually. In Vientiane rainfall
is about 1,500-2,000 mm., and in the Northern provinces only 1,000-1,500
- The best time to visit Laos is between November and April.
- The hot season from March to May is very dry and certain river
trips are not possible.
Flora and Fauna
Laos has one of the most pristine natural landscapes in Southeast
Asia. An estimated half of its woodlands consist of primary forest,
in particular the tropical rainforest. Unlike the vegetation that
grows in the climate of Europe and the United States, tropical
rainforest is composed of three vegetative layers. The top layer
features single-trucked, high-reaching trees called dipterocarps.
The middle canopy consists of hardwood such as teak. Beneath,
small trees, grass and sometimes bamboo can be found.
In addition to its fascinating vegetation, Laos plays host to
a diverse animal kingdom. Several exotic mammals are endemic such
as leopard cats, Javan mongoose, goat antelopes as well as rare
species of gibbons and linger, Malayan sun bear, Asiatic black
bear and gaur. The discovery of the Saola Ox, a breed of deer-antelope,
in Vietnam a few years ago caused a great sensation. This extremely
rare animal inhabits the Eastern border regions of Laos. It is
thought that these remote areas probably still hide other unknown
In Southern Laos, near Khong Island, Irrawaddy dolphins inhabit
the Mekong River. While many species of wildlife are shy and can
rarely be seen, spectators will generally be able to spot the
dolphins in Springtime when the water level of the Mekong is lowest.
Laos is also rich in resident and migrating birds. One of the
more notable ones is the rare Green Peafowl. Lao religious images
and art is also distinctive and sets Laos apart from its neighbors.
The Calling for Rain posture of Buddha images in Laos, for example,
which depicts the Buddha standing with his hands held rigidly
at his side, fingers pointing to the ground, can not be found
in other Southeast Asian Buddhist art traditions. Religious influences
are also pervasive in classical Lao literature, especially in
the Pha Lak, Pha Lam, the Lao version of Indias epic Ramayana.
Projects are underway to preserve classic Lao religious scripts,
which were transcribed onto palm leaf manuscripts hundreds of
years ago and stored in Wats.
Stone tools discovered in Houaphanh and Luang Prabang provinces
attest to the presence of prehistoric man in the hunter-gatherer
stage in Lao territory from at least 40,000 years ago. Agriculturist
society seemed to appear during the 4th millennia B.C. as evidence
has been found by archeologists. Burial jars and other kinds of
sepulchers have revealed a complex society in which bronze objects
appeared around 1500 B.C. and iron tools were known since 700
The proto-historic period is characterized by contact with Chinese
and Indian civilizations. Between the fourth and eighth century,
communities along the Mekong River began to form into townships,
called Muang. This development culminated in the formation of
the Lane Xang (million elephant) Kingdom in 1353 by King Fa Ngum
and established Xieng Thong (now known as Luang Prabang) as the
capital of Lane Xang Kingdom.
The Kingdom was further expanded by King Fa Ngum's successors,
one of the most notable being King Setthathirath who ruled from
1548-1571. He moved the capital to Vientiane and built the That
Luang Stupa, a venerated religious shrine, and a temple to house
the Pra Keo, the Emerald Buddha.
In the 17th Century, under the reign of King Souliyavongsa, the
Lane Xang Kingdom entered it's most illustrious era. The country
established first contacts with Europeans. In 1641, a Dutch merchant
of the East India company, Geritt Van Wuysthoff, and later, the
Italian missionary Leria de Marini, visited the Kingdom of Lane
Xang and described Vientiane as the "most magnificent city
of Southeast Asia".
This golden age was followed by in-fighting for the throne, which
led to the break-up of Lane Xang into the three kingdoms: Vientiane,
Luang Prabang and Champasack. All of these civil wars weakened
the kingdom, thus creating opportunities for new foreign aggressors
The unsuccessful challenge of the Siamese by King Anouvong resulted
in the virtual destruction of Vientiane. The Siamese took the
Emerald Buddha to Bangkok where it remains today.
Laos was put under the French administration in 1893. To recover
its full rights and sovereignty, the Lao people started fighting
against the French regime. Under the leadership of the Communist
Party of Indochina (founded in 1930), the struggle for self-determination
and independence gained importance. Finally, the long period of
military and political upheaval culminated with the International
Conference and the Geneva Agreement on Indochina in 1954 where
the independence of Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia were recognized.
The situation worsened during the Vietnam War, even though the
Geneva Accord of 1962 had recognized the neutrality of Laos and
forbade the presence of all foreign military personnel. By bombing
the portion of the Ho Chi Minh Trail across Laos, US forces dropped
more bombs on Laos than they did worldwide during World War II
Laos remains the most heavily bombed nation in history. This was
particularly the case in Houaphanh and Xieng Khouang Provinces,
where international teams are still clearing the terrain of unexploded
ordinances (UXOs) and people continue to suffer from the legacy
In 1975, under the leadership of the Lao Peoples Revolutionary
Party, victory was achieved. After the Lao people gained power
in a bloodless take-over, establishing the People's Democratic
Republic on December 2nd. It was the culmination of a successful
struggle for national liberation and a reinstatement of independence.
At present the multi-ethnic Lao people are making efforts to defendant
develop Laos in line with the new policy of the Party and government
in order to lead the country to progress and prosperity.
People and population
- Population: 5.5 million.
- Density: 23 people/square kilometer.
- The population consists of 49 ethnic groups, in 4 main linguistic.
1) The Lao-Tai Family includes 08 ethnic groups: Lao, Phouthai,
Tai, Lue, Gnouane, Young, Saek and Thai Neua.
2) The Mon-Khmer Family includes 32 ethnic groups: Khmu, Pray,
Singmou, Khom, Thene, Idou, Bid, Lamed, Samtao, Katang, Makong,
Try, Trieng, Ta-oi, Yeh, Brao, Harak, Katou, Oi, Krieng, Yrou,
Souai, Gnaheune, Lavy, Kabkae, Khmer, Toum, Ngouane, Meuang and
3) The Tibeto-Burmese Family includes 07 ethnic groups: Akha,
Singsali, Lahou, Sila, Hayi, Lolo and Hor.
4) The Hmong-Loumien category has 02 main tribes: Hmong and Loumien
(Yao).These multi-ethnic people are scattered across the country
each with their own unique traditions, culture and language.
The official language is Lao. Other languages used are French,
English. Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese.
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 Hor Pra keo Museum.
After the foundation of the unified Kingdom of Lane Xang, King
Fa Ngum (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: 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, earning merit to lessen the
number of their rebirths. It is expected that every Lao man will
become a monk for at least a short time in his life.
Traditionally, men spent three months during the rainy season
in a Wat (Buddhist temple). Today, however; most men curtail their
stay to one or two weeks.
Visiting and entering temples
When visiting temples (call "Wat") you must be dressed
decently and remove your shoes before you enter the religious
buildings. Avoid wearing short and sleeveless shirts. Be deferential
in front of objects in the pagodas.
When entering a Wat or a private home, it is customary to remove
ones shoes. In Lao homes raised off the ground, the shoes are
left at the stairs. In traditional homes, one sits on low seats
or cushions on the floor. Men usually sit with their legs crossed
or folded to one side, women prefer solely the latter. Upon entering,
guests may be served fruit or tea. These gestures of hospitality
should not be refused.
Since the head is considered the most sacred part of the body
and the soles of feet the least, one should not touch a persons
head nor use ones foot to point at a person or any object. Moreover,
men and women rarely show affection in public. It is also forbidden
for a woman to touch a Buddhist monk.
Laotian food is based on fish, buffalo meat, pork, poultry and
especially herbs. It is always being freshly prepared and not
being preserved. Other than sticky rice, which can be eaten either
sweet or sour, or fermented and is eaten with fingers, Laotian
food is very rich in vegetables and is often browned in coconut
Rice is the staple of Laotian food. Lap is a traditional dish.
It consists of minced meat accompanied by citronella, onions,
and spices and mixed with a fish sauce and roasted rice. Lap means
"happiness and luck". The sticky rice is always served
with the hot sauce or a spicy fish or shrimp based sauce.
Laotian cooking not only uses cultivated vegetables, but often
wild fruit or vegetables picked from the forests are used as well.
Laotian food has a unique flavor and some dishes can be spicy
to the un accustomed foreigner. Clothing During the hot season,
January to April, bring light clothes in cotton and linen, sunglasses
and a hat all year long. Sunscreen and bug repellant is also recommended.
From November to December, the cold season, it is a good idea
to bring warm clothing such as sweaters and jackets for the morning
and evening, and even more so if you are visiting the mountainous
regions of the North. From May to October, during the rainy season,
it is best to have waterproof clothing. It is best to wear easily
removable shoes or sandals when visiting the temples.
Visa is the most common. Master Card and American Express are
accepted at most banks in the larger towns (such as Vientiane
and Luang Prabang), and in the big hotels, restaurants and souvenir
Films can be found in shops in the larger towns, also if you need
a digital download service for your digital camera it is also
Silk and cotton fabrics, objects made from wood (sculptures, cut-out
figures), pottery and traditional instruments are part of the
rich tapestry of Laotian craftsmanship.
Lao people are frank, open and friendly, and they possess a strongly
developed sense of courtesy and respect. Everyone who adheres
to the latter will receive a warm welcome.
The generally accepted form of greeting among Lao people is the
Nop. It is performed by placing ones palms together in a position
of praying at chest level, but not touching the body. The higher
the hands, the greater the sign of respect. Nonetheless, the hands
should not be held above the level of the nose. The nop is accompanied
by a slight bow to show respect to persons of higher status and
age. It is also used as an expression of thanks, regret or saying
good-bye. But with western people it is acceptable to shake hands.
The feet form the inferior part of the body (as much spiritually
as physically). You must never indicate or touch another person
or object with your foot.