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Location: Southeastern Asia, northeast of Thailand
Area: slightly larger than Utah State, U.S.A.
Total area: 236,800 sq km land area: 230,800 sq km
Climate: tropical monsoon; rainy season (May to November); dry season (December to April)
Terrain: mostly rugged mountains; some plains and plateaus
Natural resources: timber, hydropower, gypsum, tin, gold, gemstones



Population: 4,837,237 (July 1995 est.)

  • 0-14 years: 45% (female 1,084,615; male 1,111,928)
  • 15-64 years: 51% (female 1,280,142; male 1,199,149)
  • 65 years and over: 4% (female 86,390; male 75,013) (July 1995 est.)

 Population growth rate: 2.84% (1995 est.)


  • noun: Lao(s) or Laotian(s)
  • adjective: Lao or Laotian

Ethnic divisions:

  • Lao Loum (lowland) 68%
  • Lao Theung (upland) 22%
  • Lao Soung (highland) including the Hmong ("Meo") and the Yao (Mien) 9%
  • Ethnic Vietnamese/Chinese 1%


  • Buddhist 60%
  • animist and other 40%


  • Lao (official), French, English, and various ethnic languages (Tai, Hmong and Lao Thung)
  • Lao is the native language of the Lao Loum.


The first Laotian kingdom was established in 1353 by Fa Ngum. When it became a French protectorate in 1893, Laos consisted mainly of 3 principalities of Vientiane, Luang Prabang (Louanghphrabang) and Champassak. The French wanted Laos as a buffer between Vietnam and Siam (Thailand) and established Laos border in treaties with Siam. In 1949, Laos regained it's sovereignty as a constitutional monarchy under king Sisavong Vong. The Pathet Loa, aided by North Vietnam, gained strength as a rival to the royalty and became part of 1962 coalition government, headed by Prince Souvanna Phouma. The Pathed Loa withdrew in 1964 and took control of the country in 1975, sending royalty into exile.


  • age 15 and over can read and write (1992)
  • total population: 50% (male: 65% female: 35%)




  • conventional long form: Lao People's Democratic Republic
  • conventional short form: Laos
  • local long form: Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao
  • local short form: none

Type: Communist state

Capital: Vientiane

Independence: 19 July 1949 (from France)

National holiday:

National Day, 2 December (1975) (proclamation of the Lao People's Democratic Republic)

Constitution: promulgated 14 August 1991


three horizontal bands of red (top), blue (double width), and red with a large white disk centered in the blue band




The government of Laos - one of the few remaining official Communist states - has been decentralizing control and encouraging private enterprise since 1986. The results, starting from an extremely low base, have been striking - growth has averaged 7.5% annually since 1988. Even so, Laos is a landlocked country with a primitive infrastructure. It has no railroads, a rudimentary road system, and limited external and internal telecommunications. Electricity is available in only a few urban areas. Subsistence agriculture accounts for half of GDP and provides 80% of total employment. The predominant crop is rice. In non-drought years, Laos is self-sufficient overall in food, but each year flood, pests, and localized drought cause shortages in various parts of the country. For the foreseeable future the economy will continue to depend on aid from the IMF and other international sources; aid from the former USSR and Eastern Europe has been cut sharply. As in many developing countries, deforestation and soil erosion will hamper efforts to maintain the high rate of GDP growth. 

National product: GDP - purchasing power parity - $4 billion (1994 est.)

National product real growth rate: 8.4% (1994 est.)

National product per capita: $850 (1994 est.)

Exports: $277 million (f.o.b., 1994 est.)

  • commodities: electricity, wood products, coffee, tin, garments
  • partners: Thailand 57%, Germany 10%, France 10%, Japan 5% (1991)

Imports: $528 million (c.i.f., 1994 est.)

  • commodities: food, fuel oil, consumer goods, manufactures
  • partners: Thailand 55%, Japan 16%, China 8%, Italy 4% (1991)


tin and gypsum mining, timber, electric power, agricultural processing, construction

Exchange rates:

new kips (NK) per US$1 - 717 (1994 est.), 720 (July 1993). 710 (May 1992), 710 (December 1991), 700 (September 1990), 576 (1989)

North Korea
South Korea

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