THE LAO PEOPLE’SDEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC

 
Capital: Vientiane
Profile:
The Lao People's Democratic Republic, is a landlocked country in southeast Asia, bordered by Burma (Myanmar) and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, and Thailand to the west.
Administrative Divisions:
Laos is divided into sixteen provinces (qwang) and Vientiane Capital (Na Kone Luang Vientiane):
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 Capital    
14. Vientiane Province
15. Xaignabouli     
16. Xiangkhoang         
17. Xekong
The country is further divided into districts (muang).
History
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 protectorate, it gained independence in 1949. A long civil war ended officially when the communist Pathet Lao movement came to power in 1975 but the protesting between factions continued for several years.
Economy
Private enterprise has increased since the late 1990s when economic reforms including rapid business licensing were introduced. The economy of Laos grew at 7.2% in 2006, 35th fastest in the world. Eighty percent of the employed practice subsistence agriculture.
The government of Laos 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 drop caused by the Asian financial crisis beginning in 1997. 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. The Lao economy is heavily dependent on investment and trade with its larger and richer neighbors, Thailand, Vietnam, and, especially in the north, China. Pakxe has also experienced growth based on cross-border trade with Thailand and Vietnam.
Much of the country, however, lacks adequate infrastructure. Laos has no railways, although a short link to connect Vientiane with Thailand over the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge is currently under construction. The major roads connecting the major urban centres, in particular Route 13 South, have been significantly upgraded in recent years, but villages 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 use has become widespread in urban centres. In many rural areas electricity is unavailable or offered only during scheduled periods. Songthaews (pick-up trucks with benches) are used in the country for long-distance and local public transport.
The Nam Ou River is an important transportation route 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. Only 4.01% of Laos is arable land, and only 0.34% of the country is planted with permanent crops. Rice dominates agriculture, with about 80% of the arable land area used for growing rice. Approximately 77% of Lao farm households are self-sufficient in rice. 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. 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%. This increase in production has been valued at $8 million to $19 million per year. 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.
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.
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.
Culture
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.
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. The people of Laos have a reputation for being very kind and welcoming to all visitors.
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, 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.
The country has two World Heritage Sites: Luang Prabang and Vat Phou. The government is seeking the same status for the Plain of Jars.
People
The Lao are an ethnic subgroup of Tai/Dai in Southeast Asia. The vast majority of Lao people live in either Laos (approximately 4 million) or Thailand (approximately 19 million, 18.7 million Isan Lao and 0.4 million immigrant Lao). The Lao of Thailand are concentrated in the Isan region, although there are many migrant workers from Isan working in other parts of the country, especially in Bangkok. Many Lao speakers in Thailand prefer the term Isan to Lao, but there remain many close cultural bonds between the Thai and the Lao people.
Pha That Luang in Vientiane, the national symbol of Laos.
Pha That Luang in Vientiane, the national symbol of Laos.
Wattay International Airport in Vientiane.
Wattay International Airport in Vientiane.