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Country Facts
Country Name: Laos
Geographical Area: 236,000 sq km
Population: 4.75 million
Capital City: Vientiane
People: Lao Loum (lowland Lao), Lao Theung (lower-mountain dwellers of mostly proto-Malay or Mon-Khm.
Language: Lao and Lao dialects, & French.
Religion: Buddhist, animist and spirit cults.
Government: Socialist republic.
Head of Gov.: Sisavat Keobounphan
Visas: Fifteen-day visas are available on arrival at Vientiane's International Airport and at the International Friendship Bridge.
Health Risks: Cholera, dengue fever, hepatitis, Japanese encephalitis, malaria, rabies, & typhoid.
Time Zone: UTC plus seven hours
Currency: Kip
Weights & measures: Metric
National Airport: Wattay (VTE), Vientiane
Laos's Background

The people’s Democratic Republic of Laos is located in the center of Indochina, sharing borders with China to the north, Thailand to the West, Cambodia to the south, and Vietnam to the east.

Cambodia shares 236.800 square kilometres, around 70% of its terrain is mountains,reaching a maximum elevations for 2820 m in the province of Xieng Khoung. The landscape of northern Laos and the regions adjacent to Vietnam in particular are dominated by hills.

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 River flows through nearly 1,900 km of Lao territory and shapes much of the lifestyle of the people of Laos. In the south the Mekong reaches a breadth of 14 km, creating an area with thousands of islands.

Laos enjoys a tropical climate with two distinct seasons, that is the rainy season from the beginning of May to the end of September.And the dry season is from October to throughout April.

The yearly average temperature is about 28 C, rising to a maximum temperatures of 38 C in April and May.In Vientiane minimum temperature of 19 C are to be expected in January. In mountainous areas. However, tempreatures drop to 14 to 15 C during the winter months and in cold nights easily reach the freezing point.

The average precipitation is highest in southern Laos, where the Annamite Mountains receive over 3000 mm annually. In Vientiane rainfall is about 1500 to about 2000 mm. And in the northern province only 1000 to about 1500 mm.

Laos has a total population of 4.6 million, 13% of whom live in Vientiane province. People share a rich ethnic diversity, compromising of group such as Hmong, Khmu, Yao, A Kha, Lu and Ikoh. Most of them have kept their custom, dialects and notional dress. In total, 47 different groups are accounted for in Laos. These can be classified into three broad groups, such as:

• Lao Lum or also known as the (lowlanders), who make up 70% of the population and predominantly live along the Mekong River.

•The Lao Theung or also known as the uplanders who compromise 20% of the population and live on the slopes and hills with an elevation of less than 1,000 meters.

•The Lao Soung or the Hill Tribes who constitute of 10% of the population live's in the mountain areas.

The population's density of Laos amounts to 19 people per square kilometers. This is a relatively small number compared to the country's neighbors which is 120 people per square kilometers in Thailand, and 200 people per square kilometers in China.

The country has long been occupied by migrating Thais (including Shans, Siamese and Lao) and slash-and-burn Hmong/Mien hill tribes. The first Lao principalities were consolidated in the 13th century following the invasion of south-west China by Kublai Khan's Mongol hordes. In the mid-14th century, a Khmer-sponsored warlord, Fa Ngum, combined a number of scattered principalities around Luang Prabang to form his own kingdom, Lan Xang ('a million elephants'). The kingdom initially prospered, but internal divisions and pressure from neighbours caused it to split in the 17th century into three warring kingdoms centred on Luang Prabang, Wieng Chan (Vientiane) and Champasak.

By the end of the 18th century, most of Laos came under Siamese (Thai) sovereignty but the territory was also being pressured by Vietnam. Unable or unwilling to serve two masters, the country went to war with Siam in the 1820s. This disastrous ploy led to all three kingdoms falling under Thai control. By the late 19th century, France had established French Indochina in the Vietnamese provinces of Tonkin and Annam. The Thais eventually ceded all of Laos to the French, who were content to use the territory merely as a buffer between its colonial holdings and Siam.

About 60% of Lao, mainly the lowland Lao and a sprinkling of Thai tribes, are Theravada Buddhists. Every Lao Buddhist male is expected to become a monk for a short period of his life, usually between school and starting a career or getting married. The main non-Buddhist religion is phii worship, a spirit cult which is officially banned.

The official language is Lao. Other than that languages such as French , English, Chinese , Thai and Vietnamese are also used widely.

The constitution of 1991 allows for a 99-member legislature, the Sapha Heng Xat (National Assembly), members of which are elected for 5-year terms and must (with the odd exception) belong to the ruling Lao People's Revolutionary Party. The assembly elects an executive president, also for a 5-year term. The president appoints a Prime Minister and Council of Ministers.

Buddhism first appeared in Laos during the eight century A.D as shown by both the Buddha image and the stone inscription found at the Ban Talat near Vientiane, now exhibited at the Museum of Ho Prakeo.

After the foundation of the unified kingdom of Lane Xang, King FaNgum ྮth 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 the 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 women can bee seen each morning giving alms to the monks, earing merit to lessen the number of their rebirth. Lao men are expected to become a monk for at least a short time in their lives.

Traditionally, they spent three months during the rainy season in a Vat, that is a Buddhist temple. But nowadays, most men curtail their stay to one or two weeks.

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