Once an ancient kingdom, Laos is now one of the only Communist countries in the world. In 1975, the Communist Pathet Lao took control of the government and ended Laos's six century-old monarchy.
Laos began opening up to the world in the 1990s. The country started liberating foreign investment laws in 1986, and in 1997, Laos became a member of the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Thailand is its largest foreign investor. Laos’ economy was severely hit by the Asian currency crisis of 1997. The country is taking steps to become a member of the World Trade Organization over the next few years. It also has close ties with Vietnam, another communist state.
Laos's borders are defined by the Franco-Siamese Treaty of 1907. Most of Laos is a mountainous country, and less than five percent of the land can be used for agriculture. Rice is the staple, but farmers also grow fruits, spices and cotton along the fertile portions of the Mekong River. Although Laos was a part of the “Golden Triangle” -- the heroin producing region in Southeast Asia -- the government has nearly destroyed the growth of opium.
Laos is one of the poorest countries in East Asia. People living outside the capital often do not have electricity or other basic facilities. But Laos is building a huge electricity generating plant, the Nam Theun 2 power project. The plan is to export electricity to Thailand, and the revenue from that would boost the domestic economy.
The current president, Choummaly Sayasone, also leads the ruling communist Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP). He took over in June 2006 from the octogenarian president Khamtay Siphandon. The LPRP, which holds all but one of the seats in the assembly, is the only legal political party in Laos.
In the recent years there have been a number of small explosions in and around the capital. This may indicate that there is opposition to the communist party, although the government handles any dissent very harshly. The ethnic minority Hmong has been conducting a small rebellion since 1975. The government denies any abuses of the Hmong people.
Sources: BBC, International Crisis Group, CIA World Factbook.
Lao People’s Democratic Republic
Form of Government:
Year of Independence:
1949 (from France)
Buddhist 67%, Christian 1.5%, other and unspecified 31.5% (2005 census)
236,800 sq km (91,400 sq miles)
Lao (official), French (for diplomatic purposes), English, and various ethnic languages
55 years (men), 59 years (women) (UN)
1 new kip = 100 ath
Clothing, timber products, coffee, gold, copper, tin, electricity
GDP - Per Capita (PPP):
$2,100 (2008 est.)
International Dialing Code: