• Hue Citadel, Vietnam

  • Royal Palace, Phnompenh, Cambodia

  • Angkor, Cambodia

  • Mekong Delta, Vietnam

  • That Luang, Laos

  • Quan Ba Hills, Ha Giang, Vietnam

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Laos , officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic, is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma and China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, and Thailand to the west. Its population was estimated to be around 6.5 million in 2012.

Independence

In 1955, the U.S. Department of Defense created a special Programs Evaluation Office to replace French support of the Royal Lao Army against the communist Pathet Lao as part of the U.S. containment policy.

In 1960, amidst a series of rebellions, fighting broke out between the Royal Lao Army and the Pathet Lao. A second Provisional Government of National Unity formed by Prince Souvanna Phouma in 1962 proved to be unsuccessful, and the situation steadily deteriorated into large scale civil war between the Royal Laotian government and the Pathet Lao.

On 2 December 1975, after taking control of the country, the Pathet Lao government under Kaysone Phomvihane renamed the country as the Lao People's Democratic Republic and signed agreements giving Vietnam the right to station armed forces and to appoint advisers to assist in overseeing the country. Laos was requested in 1979 by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to end relations with the People's Republic of China, leading to isolation in trade by China, the United States, and other countries.

Government and politics

The Lao People's Democratic Republic, along with China, Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam, is one of the world's five remaining socialist states espousing communism. The only legal political party is the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP). The head of state is President Choummaly Sayasone, who is also the General Secretary of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party. The head of government is Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, who is also a senior member of the Politburo of Revolutionary Party. Government policies are determined by the party through the all-powerful eleven-member Political Bureau and the 61-member Central Committee. Important government decisions are vetted by the Council of Ministers.

Infrastructure

The main international airports are Vientiane's Wattay International Airport and Luang Prabang International Airport with Pakse International Airport also having a few international flights. The national airline is Lao Airlines. Other carriers serving the country include Bangkok Airways, Vietnam Airlines, AirAsia, Thai Airways International, and China Eastern Airlines.

Much of the country lacks adequate infrastructure. Laos has no railways, except a short link to connect Vientiane with Thailand over the Thai–Lao Friendship Bridge. A short portage railway, the Don Det–Don Khon narrow-gauge railway was built by the French in Champasak Province but has been closed since the 1940s. In the late 1920s, work began on the Thakhek–Tan Ap railway that would have run between Thakhek, Khammuan Province and Tan Ap Railway Station, Quang Binh Province, Vietnam through the Mua Gia Pass. However, the scheme was aborted in the 1930s. The major roads connecting the major urban centres, in particular Route 13, have been significantly upgraded in recent years, but villages far from major roads can be reached only through unpaved roads that may not be accessible year-round.

There is limited external and internal telecommunication, but mobile phones have become widespread in urban centre. In many rural areas electricity is at least partly available.Songthaews (pick-up trucks with benches) are used in the country for long-distance and local public transport.

Tourism

Laos has become popular with tourists for its relaxed style of living and for retaining elements of the "original Asia" lost elsewhere. The official tourism slogan is "Simply Beautiful". The main attractions for tourists include Buddhist culture and colonial architecture in Luang Prabang; gastronomy and ancient temples in the capital of Vientiane; backpacking in Muang Ngoi Neua and Vang Vieng; ancient and modern culture and history in The Plain of Jars region (main article: Phonsavan); Laos Civil War history in Sam Neua; trekking and visiting hill tribesin a number of areas including Phongsaly and Luang Namtha; spotting tigers and other wildlife in Nam Et-Phou Louey; caves and waterfalls near Thakhek; relaxation, the Irrawaddy dolphin and Khone Phapheng Falls at Si Phan Don or, as they are known in English, the Four Thousand Islands; Wat Phu, an ancient Khmer temple complex; and the Bolaven Plateau for waterfalls and coffee.

Luang Prabang and Wat Phu are both UNESCO World Heritage sites, with the Plain of Jars expected to join them once more work to clearUXO has been completed. Major festivals include Laos New Year which is celebrated around 13–15 April and involves a water festival similar but more subdued than that of Thailand and other South-East Asian countries.

The Lao National Tourism Administration, related government agencies and the private sector are working together to realise the vision put forth in the country's National Ecotourism Strategy and Action Plan. This includes decreasing the environmental and cultural impact of tourism; increasing awareness in the importance of ethnic groups and biological diversity; providing a source of income to conserve, sustain and manage the Lao protected area network and cultural heritage sites; and emphasising the need for tourism zoning and management plans for sites that will be developed as ecotourism destinations. FruitFriends is a non-profit organisation promoting tourism through immersion programs and this with minimal impact on environment and culture.

Laos is known for its silk and local handicraft product, both of which are on display in Luang Prabang's night market, among other places. Another speciality is mulberry tea.

Languages

The official and dominant language is Lao, a tonal language of the Tai linguistic group. However only slightly more than half of the population can speak Lao, the remainder speaking various ethnic minority languages, particularly in rural areas. The written language is based on Khmer writing script. Languages like Khmu and Hmong are spoken by minorities, particularly in the midland and highland areas.

French is still commonly used in government and commerce and over a third of Laos' students are educated through the medium of French with French being compulsory for all other students. Throughout the country signage is bilingual in Laotian and French, with French being predominant. English, the language of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), has become increasingly studied in recent years.

Culture

Theravada Buddhism is a dominant influence in Lao culture. It is reflected throughout the country from language to the temple and in art, literature, performing arts, etc. Many elements of Lao culture predate Buddhism, however. For example, Laotian music is dominated by its national instrument, the khaen, a type of bamboo pipe that has prehistoric origins. The khaen traditionally accompanied the singer in lam, the dominant style of folk music. Among the various lam styles, the lam saravane is probably the most popular.

Sticky Rice is a characteristic staple food and has cultural and religious significance to the Lao people. Sticky rice is generally preferred over jasmine rice, and sticky rice cultivation and production is thought to have originated in Laos. There are many traditions and rituals associated with rice production in different environments, and among many ethnic groups. For example, Khammu farmers in Luang Prabang plant the rice variety Khao Kam in small quantities near the hut in memory of dead parents, or at the edge of the rice field to indicate that parents are still alive.