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BETA: Laos

19.8563° N, 102.4955° E

| Fast Facts

| The country is officially known as the Lao People's Democratic Republic

| Laos is one of the five socialist states in the world

| Laos is bordered by Myanmar and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the southeast, and Thailand to the west and southwest. It is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia.

| Modern day Laos traces its historic and cultural identity to Lan Xang, which existed from the 14th century to the 18th century as one of the largest kingdoms in Southeast Asia.

| After a period of internal conflict, Lan Xang broke into three separate kingdoms: Luang Phrabang, Vientiane, and Champasak. In 1893, the three territories came under a French protectorate and were united to form what is now known as Laos. The country briefly gained independence in 1945 after Japanese occupation, but was recolonized by France until it finally won autonomy in 1949. Laos became independent in 1953, with a constitutional monarchy. But soon after the Vietnam War ended in 1975, the communist party, Pathet Lao, came to power, ending the civil war. Laos was then dependent on military and economic aid from the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991. Today, Laos is a one-party socialist republic, espousing Marxism–Leninism and governed by the Lao People's Revolutionary Party.

| The politically and culturally dominant Lao people make up 53.2% of the population, mostly in the lowlands. Mon-Khmer groups, the Hmong, and other indigenous hill tribes, which make up the rest of the population, mainly live in the foothills and mountainous areas.

| Laos' strategies for development are based on generating electricity from rivers and selling the power to its neighbors, namely Thailand, China, and Vietnam, as well as its initiative to become a "land-linked" nation, as evidenced by the construction of four new railways connecting Laos and neighbors. Today, Laos has one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

All facts from here.


| Fun Facts

| Laotians rank second in the world for average height, with the average person standing just 155.89 centimeters tall (that is 5 feet 1.37 inches)! Laos also has the youngest population of all countries in Asia, with around 70% of the population under 30 years old.

| Laos is one of the world's 5 remaining ‘communist' countries (alongside North Korea, China, Vietnam, and Cuba)

| Laos is the most heavily bombed place per capita. This is a result of US bombings during the Vietnam War, where for 9 years (1964-1973), the US dropped over 2 million tons of bombs across Laos – that's more than ALL of the bombs during World War II combined. And, unfortunately, around 30% of those bombs didn't explode.

| The Laotians are the highest consumers of sticky rice (khao niaow) in the world, eating more than 345 pounds (156 kilograms) a year, per person. Sticky rice has been around in Southeast Asia for at least 4,000 years, but a few hundred years ago rice farming methods changed, with most countries switching to growing non-glutinous white rice in the 18th century.

| Lao coffee is delicious and not as internationally famous as it should be. But it is in fact Laos’ biggest agricultural export. Both the Arabica and Robusta coffee varieties are grown in Laos, mostly on the Bolaven Plateau, which has cool temperatures and plenty of rain – which is ideal for coffee growing.

| Beerlao is the award-winning national beer of Laos. It is made from locally-grown Jasmine rice, malt imported from France or Belgium, and yeast and hops imported from Germany. Beerlao won the Monde Selection gold quality awards in both 2006 and 2010.

| Though the country is landlocked, there are still plenty of islands to explore. For example, if you head to Si Phan Don (literally known as “4,000 islands”) in Southern Laos, you’ll find serene sandy shores and plenty of adventure. Another neat thing about Si Phan Don is that it is completely car free - everyone gets around either by bike or on foot.

| With their rounded noses and upturned mouths, Irrawaddy dolphins seem to always be smiling. But unfortunately, this dolphin is now extremely rare - some believe there are only 60 left in the Mekong due to pollution and illegal electrofishing. Luckily, conservation initiatives are underway to help villagers save the population.

| The jungles of Laos are home to an abundance of wildlife, especially in the Nam Et-Phou Louey National Biodiversity Conservation Area (NBCA). Here you can find tigers (the only ones in Indochina), white-cheeked gibbons, sambar deer, leopards, Asian black bears, sun bears, and dhole (also known as Asiatic wild dog).

Fun facts from here and here.

| Top Adventures

| Explore the Vat Phou ruins: a majestic Khmer temple complex near the Cambodian border. Similar to Angkor Wat, this site dates back to the 11th or 13th centuries, it has an easterly orientation, and comprises several different structures. But one thing that sets the Vat Phou complex apart is a crocodile-shaped carved stone, which is suspected to be the site of human sacrifices. The ruins sit at the base of Mount Phou Khao, some 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from the Mekong River. Designated as a World Heritage Site in 2001, the ruins can be easily accessed from the large town of Pakse.

| Explore Kong Lor Caves: considered one of South Asia’s geological wonders, this massive cave in the southern part of the country is definitely worth exploring. The cave was formed by the Nam Hin Bun River, which runs through an entire mountain. Inside, there is a pool of water with a clear emerald-tinted glow that some locals believe is sacred. Travelers can hire a wooden boat and an experienced boatman to negotiate the sprawling caverns, which include massive passages with majestic stalactites and towering stalagmites.

Take on the Thakhek Loop: if you are looking to hop on a motorbike and ride around the countryside of Laos, then this might be the route for you. Measuring 475 kilometers, or 295 miles, this loop should take about 4 days to complete. Along the way you will be able to explore traditional Lao villages, caves (including Kong Lor Caves), tall limestone karsts, rice paddy fields and of course, waterfalls. Learn more about the route here.

| Adventure in Dong Hua Sao National Protected Area: located in the Champasak Province in southern Laos, this forested park rises from the Mekong River lowlands and encompasses 1,100 square kilometers or 420 square miles. The park is home to many animals, including the Siamese crocodile, hog deer and green peafowl, all of which are endangered. One of the must-see destinations in the park is the Tad Fane Waterfall, a double spouted set of falls that roll over the edge of a verdant green, forested cliff.

| Spend some time in Luang Prabang: This ancient, UNESCO-protected city was once the royal capital of the Kingdom of Laos. That was until 1975, when the Pathet Lao party took over after the civil war. Today, the city features beautifully preserved old temples and palaces, historic streets, and plenty of outdoor activities. We suggest taking a turn around the old city, wander the markets and eat traditional Laos food (and French style sandwiches), visit the National Museum and just spend time just soaking up the charming ambience of this beautiful little river town. Plus, if you ever wanted to float along the Mekong River, then this is a great place to give it a go.


More Information

History and culture of Laos:

More information on things to do and see in Laos:


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