A French colony prior to 1953, Laos lies landlocked in southeast Asia. Heavily bombed during the Vietnam War, it fell in 1975 to communist insurgents, whose regime remains in power.
Geography: Largely forested mountains, broadening in the north to a plateau. Lowlands along the Mekong Valley.
Climate: Monsoon rains September–May. The rest of the year is hot and dry.
People and Society: There are over 60 ethnic groups. Lowland Laotians (Lao Loum) live along the Mekong River and are rice farmers. Upland and highland Laotians (Lao Theung and Lao Soung) traditionally employ environmentally damaging slash-and-burn farming, and grow illegal cash crops (notably opium). Government efforts to reform these practices are resisted.
The Economy: One of world’s least developed nations. Poor infrastructure. Gold, copper, electricity, timber, garments, and coffee are exported. Levels of foreign investment are rising.
Official Name: Lao People’s Democratic Republic
Date of Formation: 1953
Population: 6.32 million
Total Area: 91,428 sq. miles (236,800 sq. km)
Density: 71 people per sq. mile
Languages: Lao*, Mon-Khmer, other
Religions: Buddhist 85%, other (including animist) 15%
Ethnic Mix: Lao Loum 66%, Lao Theung 30%, Lao Soung 2%, other 2%
Government: One-party state
Currency: New kip = 100 at