Before You Go
Travel Planning

Facts at a Glance
Myanmar (Burma)


Tuk-Tuks, Temples
and Thai Boxing

Ayutthaya -
the Ancient Capital

Phnom Penh and
The Killing Fields

Faces of the Jungle
Angkor Wat and
the Khmer Dancers

Temples Amid the Vines
Sunset on the City

Nong Khai
Joe's Lament

The Gateway to Laos

Luang Prabang
Kingdom of a Million Elephants
Bicycle Tour
The Pak Ou Caves

The Mekong
A Journey up the Mekong

The Golden Triangle
Opium Scales and
Tiger Skins

Chiang Mai
Wats, Wats
and a Backrub

Hilltribes, Inc.
Temple on the Hill

Facts at a Glance: Laos
(From the CIA World Factbook)


Location: Southeastern Asia, northeast of Thailand

Geographic coordinates: 18 00 N, 105 00 E

total: 236,800 sq km
land : 230,800 sq km
water: 6,000 sq km

Area (comparative): slightly larger than Utah

Land boundaries:
total: 5,083 km
border countries : Burma 235 km, Cambodia 541 km, China 423 km, Thailand 1,754 km, Vietnam 2,130 km

Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)

Climate: tropical monsoon; rainy season (May to November); dry season (December to April)

Terrain: mostly rugged mountains; some plains and plateaus

Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Mekong River 70 m
highest point: Phou Bia 2,817 m

Natural resources: timber, hydropower, gypsum, tin, gold, gemstones

Land use:
arable land : 3%
permanent crops: 0%
permanent pastures: 3%
forests and woodland: 54%
other : 40% (1993 est.)

Irrigated land: 1,250 sq km (1993 est.)

Natural hazards: floods, droughts, and blight

Environment - current issues: deforestation; soil erosion; a majority of the population does not have access to potable water


Population: 5,116,959 (July 1997 est.)

Age structure:
0-14 years: 45% (male 1,174,029; female 1,144,634)
15-64 years: 52% (male 1,277,175; female 1,354,220)
65 years and over: 3% (male 76,544; female 90,357) (July 1997 est.)

Population growth rate: 2.78% (1997 est.)

Birth rate: 41.25 births/1,000 population (1997 est.)

Death rate: 13.4 deaths/1,000 population (1997 est.)

Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (1997 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 94.3 deaths/1,000 live births (1997 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:
total population : 53.19 years
male: 51.63 years
female: 54.83 years (1997 est.)

Total fertility rate: 5.76 children born/woman (1997 est.)

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

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

Religions: Buddhist 60%, animist and other 40%

Languages: Lao (official), French, English, and various ethnic languages

definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 56.6%
male: 69.4%
female : 44.4% (1995 est.)


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

Government type: Communist state

National capital: Vientiane

Independence: 19 July 1949 (from France)

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

Executive branch:
chief of state : President NOUHAK PHOUMSAVAN (appointed 25 November 1992 by the Supreme People's Assembly to succeed KAYSONE PHOMVIHAN who died in office; elected by the new National Assembly 22 February 1993); Vice President SISAVAT KEOBOUNPHAN (since 20 April 1996 when the position of vice president was first created)
head of government : Prime Minister Gen. KHAMTAI SIPHANDON (since 15 August 1991); Deputy Prime Ministers KHAMPHOUI KEOBOUALAPHA (since 15 August 1991) and BOUNGNANG VOLACHIT (since 20 April 1996)


Economy - overview: 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/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.

GDP: purchasing power parity - $5.7 billion (1996 est.)

GDP - real growth rate: 7.5% (1996 est.)

GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $1,150 (1996 est.)

GDP - composition by sector:
agriculture: 56%
industry: 19%
services: 25% (1995 est.)

Inflation rate - consumer price index: 15% (1996 est.)

Labor force: 1 million-1.5 million
by occupation: agriculture 80% (1992 est.)

Unemployment rate: 5.6% in urban areas (1994 est.)

revenues : $218 million
expenditures: $379 million, including capital expenditures of $NA (1996 est.)

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

Industrial production growth rate: 7.5% (1992 est.)

Agriculture - products: sweet potatoes, vegetables, corn, coffee, sugarcane, cotton; water buffalo, pigs, cattle, poultry

total value: $240 million (f.o.b., 1996 est.)
commodities: electricity, wood products, coffee, tin, garments
partners : Thailand, Japan, France, Germany, Netherlands

total value: $570 million (c.i.f., 1996 est.)
commodities: food, fuel oil, consumer goods, manufactures
partners: Thailand, China, Japan, France, US

Debt - external: $2 billion (1995 est.)

Economic aid:
recipient: ODA, $NA

Currency: 1 new kip (NK) = 100 at

Exchange rates: new kips (NK) per US$1 - 4000 (June 1998), 961.00 (January 1997), 921.14 (1996), 804.69 (1995), 717.67 (1994), 716.25 (1993), 716.08 (1992)
note: as of September 1995, a floating exchange rate policy was adopted

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international: boundary dispute with Thailand

Illicit drugs: world's third largest opium producer (200 metric tons from some 25,250 hectares in 1996); heroin producer; increasingly used as transshipment point for heroin produced in Burma; illicit producer of cannabis