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Laos (English pronunciation: Lao: Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao, officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic, is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma and People's Republic of China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south and Thailand to the west. Its population was estimated to be 6.8 million in 2009.
Laos traces its history to the Kingdom which existed from the 14th to the 18th century when it split into three separate kingdoms. In 1893, it became a French protectorate, with the three kingdoms, Kingdom of Luang Phrabang, Kingdom of Vientiane and Kingdom of Champasak, uniting to form what is now known as Laos. It briefly gained independence in 1945 after Japanese occupation, but returned to French rule until it was granted autonomy in 1949.
Laos became independent in 1954, with a constitutional monarchy under Sisavang Vong. Shortly after independence, a long civil war ended the monarchy, when the Communist Pathet Lao movement came to power in 1975.
Laos is a single-party socialist republic. The capital city is Vientiane. Other large cities include Luang Prabang, Savannakhet and Pakse. The official language is Lao. Most people are Lao with a significant proportion of indigenous religion as well. It is a rising power in electricity to neighboring countries such as Thailand, China and Vietnam and the economy is accelerating rapidly with the demands of its metals. It is a member of the Asia Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), East Asia Summit and La Francophonie. Laos applied for membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1997.
Facts all about Laos
Laos is a single-party socialist republic. The capital city is Vientiane. Other large cities include Luang Prabang, Savannakhet, and Pakse. The official language is Lao. Laos is a multiethnic country with the politically and culturally dominant Lao people making up approximately sixty percent of the population, mostly in the lowlands. Various Mon-Khmer groups, the Hmong, and other indigenous hill tribes, accounting for forty percent of the population, live in the foothills and mountains. Laos' "strategy for development is based on generating electricity from its rivers and selling the power to its neighbours", namely Thailand, China, and Vietnam. Its economy is accelerating rapidly with the demands for its metals. It is a member of the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA) Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), East Asia Summit, and La Francophonie.
When you should to visit Laos?
Laos has a tropical monsoon climate, with a pronounced rainy season from May through October, a cool dry season from November through February, and a hot dry season in March and April.
The best time for visiting most of Laos is between November and February, when it rains the least and is not too hot. It’s also Laos’s main season for both national and regional bun (festivals).
Getting around Laos and popular cities
Getting Around by Air
Laos Airlines (website: www.laos-airlines.com) runs domestic air services from Vientiane to Houayxai, Luang Nmatha, Luang Prabang, Oudomxai, Sam Neua and Sayabouti in the north and Pakse and Savanakhet in the south. Private charter flights are also available through Westcoast Helicopters (website: www.laowestcoast.laopdr.com).
Around by Water
The Mekong and other rivers are a vital part of the country’s transport system. The choice is between irregular (and very basic) slow ferries and exciting but noisy and hazardous speedboats. Both services run from Vientiane to Luang Prabang and Luang Prabang to Huay Xai. Ferries often depart early in the mornings and can take several days, whilst speedboats run more regularly and take approximately eight hours for each leg of the journey. Times and prices alter according to demand. There are regular jet boats trips along the river, run by Lao River Exploration Services (website: www.jetboat.laopdr.com). Boats can also be hired privately.
Around by Road
Traffic drives on the right. Many of the roads have been paved in recent years, including the main highway from the Thai border at Savannakhet to the Vietnamese border. However, few main roads are suitable for all-weather driving. In the north of the country, there is a road link between Vientiane and Luang Prabang, and from Vientiane to Nam Dong and Tran Ninh.
Bus: Services link all major towns and cities. Buses can vary from air-conditioned to the more traditional type to the converted pickup truck.
Car hire: It is not recommended to hire cars in Laos as driving standards are low. However, it is possible to hire cars with a driver through hotels or tourist agencies.
Documentation: International Driving Permit recommended, although it is not legally required.
Note: If you are on a strict timescale, it is advisable to prearrange travel outside Vientiane with a tour company to avoid unforeseen delays and costs.
Around Towns and Cities
There is a mixture of old and metered taxis in Vientiane that can usually be located at Wattay Airport, the Friendship Bridge and the Morning market. Taxis can also be hired for approximately US$20 per day. Converted motorcycles, known as tuk-tuks or jumbos, are available in all major towns and cities and are perfect for shorter journeys around town. Bargaining is expected. Motorcycles and bicycles can be hired for the day in Vientiane, Luang Prabang and other places frequented by backpackers.
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