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Country Information

Highlights of history

14th century  Chao Fa Ngum declares himself King of Lan Xang, Kingdom of a million elephants. Buddhism becomes state religion. Luang Prabang is made the capital
16th century King Photisarat movs the capital to Wieng Chan (Vientiane). He subdues the kingdom of Lanna. His son Setthathirat orderes the construction of That Luang, the largest Buddhist stupa in Laos. 
17th century King Sulinya Vongsa rules for 57 years, regarded as Laos' golden age. 
18th century End of Lan Xang era. River valley around Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Champasak represent three independent kingdoms. Burmese armies overrun northern Laos and annex the Luang Prabang kingdom. The Siamese take Champasak kingdom and expand their influence further north. 
19th century      . unsuccessful war with Siam. Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Champasak become Siamese sattelite states. Xieng Khouang and Hua Phan agree to Siamese protection. French protectorship is installed in Luang Prabang. Later, the French control the area east of the Mekong river.

1896  The colonial territory in the today's boundaries is formed
1941 World War II / Japan occupies French Indochina
1945 Laos is again declared a french protectorate
1949 Laos is declared an independant associate state in the French Union and becomes member of UN
1953 Full sovereignty (Franco Laotian Treaty), constitutional monarchy
1957 The Royal Lao Government and The Lao Patriotic Front (LPF) formed a coalition government (National Union), Rise of the vietnamese-supported "Pathet Lao" liberation movement
1958 Fall of the National Union
1961 PL and North Vietnamese hold northern and eastern Laos, backed by the USSR
1962 14-nation conference in Geneva signs an agreement to prevent a superpower confrontation. A  Second coalition government is formed.
1964 Indochina war until 1973
1975 The Lao People's Revolutionary Party is declared ruling party of Lao People's Democratic Republic (LPDR). Kaysone Phomvihane becomes Prime Minister
1992                 . Khamtay Siphandone becomes Prime Minister after the death of Phomvihane. Nouhak Phoumsavan is appointed President
1998 Sisavat Keobounphan becomes Prime Minister in February
1998 Khamtay Siphandone becomes President


Political Situation

After the 1975 takeover, Laos is ruled by the communist LPRP. The national motto is Peace, Independance, Democracy, Unity and Prosperity.

Prime Minister Khamtay Siphandone is also Secretary-General of the Politburo, the Permanent Secretariat and the Central Committee, thus giving him the key role in Lao political affairs. He received political training in Hanoi, the Vietnamese influence is strong.

Since 1975, about 360.000 Lao citizens (about 10% of the population) escaped the government changes across the Mekong into Thailand. Many of them today still live in refugee camps in northern Thailand or in other countries.

Unlike other communist governments, the Lao P.D.R. didn't outlaw religion. It was a wise choice, as Buddhism is the shape and texture of the country.

Although existing in Laos, dissent and rebel activity is at low level, as the government more and more opens the country to political and economical freedoms.

Geography and People

Copyright Lonely Planet

  The total area is 236.800 sq km. Mountains and plateaus cover well over 70% of the country, more than half of the country is forest and woodland. The Mekong river plays a major role, running a third (1500 km) of it's total lengh through Laos. Landlocked Laos shares borders with Burma, Cambodia, China, Thailand and Vietnam.Today about 5 million people live in Laos. The population density in Laos is very low with only 19 people per sqare kilometer (Germany 246, Great Britain 237, Thailand 120). The county's ethnic mix consists of 68 different minorities. About half the population are Lao Loum (low-land Lao). The three main ethnic groups are distinguished by the height they live at, the time they migrated to Laos and by other cultural and traditional characteristics. The bigger part of the population lives at subsistence level in small villages scattered throughout the country.

Theravada (Hinayana) Buddhism is the dominating religion in Laos.


Despite its mineral, wood and hydroelectric power resources Laos is one of the poorest countries in South-East Asia. Agriculture, fishing and forestry provide 80% of the jobs. About 7% of total land area is used for agriculture, most of it for family owned rice plantations, mainly in the Mekong river valley and its fertile floodplains. Other cash crops are cotton, tobacco, fruits, vegetables, tea, coffee. Opium probably still is the country's biggest export earner. For many of the northern hilltribes opium is, although the government supports crop substitution programmes, the only source of income.

Wood products are important for export. Due to the lack of infrastructure, exploitation of mineral resources is still on a very low level. Electricity from the Nam Ngum dam is sold to Thailand, many additional hydropower plants are planned.

Compared to Thailand or Vietnam, the number of tourists is still relative low, but tourism is already an important economical factor for the country. After the "Visit Laos Year 1999" numbers of foreign visitors are expected to rise sharply.

Laos has been and still is dependant on foreign aid, in some years more than 50% of the national budget.
Economy after the 1975 communist takeover wasn't really working well. After some years free enterprise was partly allowed at village level.
In 1989, private foreign investment was allowed. Private land ownership is guaranteed by constitution and many people were given back seized land and houses. The results have been striking - growth has averaged 7.5% annually since 1988.

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