Facts about Laos

World Facts Index

LaosModern-day Laos has its roots in the ancient Lao kingdom of Lan Xang, established in the 14th Century under King FA NGUM. For 300 years Lan Xang had influence reaching into present-day Cambodia and Thailand, as well as over all of what is now Laos. After centuries of gradual decline, Laos came under the domination of Siam (Thailand) from the late 18th century until the late 19th century when it became part of French Indochina. The Franco-Siamese Treaty of 1907 defined the current Lao border with Thailand. In 1975, the Communist Pathet Lao took control of the government ending a six-century-old monarchy and instituting a strict socialist regime closely aligned to Vietnam. A gradual return to private enterprise and the liberalization of foreign investment laws began in 1986. Laos became a member of ASEAN in 1997.

Geography of Laos

Southeastern Asia, northeast of Thailand, west of Vietnam
18 00 N, 105 00 E
total: 236,800 sq km
water: 6,000 sq km
land: 230,800 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
0 km (landlocked)
Maritime claims:
none (landlocked)
tropical monsoon; rainy season (May to November); dry season (December to April)
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
Natural hazards:
floods, droughts
Environment current issues:
unexploded ordnance; deforestation; soil erosion; a majority of the population does not have access to potable water
Geography - note:
landlocked; most of the country is mountainous and thickly forested; the Mekong forms a large part of the western boundary with Thailand

Population of Laos

6,677,534 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years: 41.4% (male 1,324,207/female 1,313,454)
15-64 years: 55.4% (male 1,744,206/female 1,786,139)
65 years and over: 3.1% (male 89,451/female 111,024)
Median age:
18.9 years
Growth rate:
Infant mortality:
83.31 deaths/1,000 live births
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 55.49 years
male: 53.45 years
female: 57.61 years
Fertility rate:
4.68 children born/woman
noun: Lao(s) or Laotian(s)
adjective: Lao or Laotian
Ethnic groups:
Lao Loum (lowland) 68%, Lao Theung (upland) 22%, Lao Soung (highland) including the Hmong and the Yao 9%, ethnic Vietnamese/Chinese 1%
Buddhist 60%, animist and other 40% (including various Christian denominations 1.5%)
Lao (official), French, English, and various ethnic languages
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 52.8%
male: 67.5%
female: 38.1% 


Country name:
conventional long form: Lao People's Democratic Republic
local long form: Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao
Government type:
Communist state
Administrative divisions:
16 provinces (khoueng, singular and plural), 1 municipality* (kampheng nakhon, singular and plural), and 1 special zone** (khetphiset, singular and plural); Attapu, Bokeo, Bolikhamxai, Champasak, Houaphan, Khammouan, Louangnamtha, Louangphabang, Oudomxai, Phongsali, Salavan, Savannakhet, Viangchan*, Viangchan, Xaignabouli, Xaisomboun**, Xekong, Xiangkhoang
19 July 1949 (from France)
National holiday:
Republic Day, 2 December (1975)
promulgated 14 August 1991
Legal system:
based on traditional customs, French legal norms and procedures, and socialist practice
18 years of age; universal
Executive branch:
chief of state: President Lt. Gen. CHOUMMALI Saignason (since 8 June 2006); Vice President BOUN-GNANG Volachit (since 8 June 2006)
head of government: Prime Minister BOUASONE Bouphavanh (since 8 June 2006); Deputy Prime Ministers Maj. Gen. ASANG Laoli (since May 2002), Maj. Gen. DOUANGCHAI Phichit (since 8 June 2006), SOMSAVAT Lengsavat (since 26 February 1998), and THONGLOUN Sisoulit (since 27 March 2001)
cabinet: Ministers appointed by president, approved by National Assembly
elections: president and vice president elected by National Assembly for five-year terms; election last held 8 June 2006 (next to be held in 2011); prime minister nominated by president and elected by National Assembly for five-year term.
Legislative branch:
unicameral National Assembly (115 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms)
Judicial branch:
People's Supreme Court (the president of the People's Supreme Court is elected by the National Assembly on the recommendation of the National Assembly Standing Committee; the vice president of the People's Supreme Court and the judges are appointed by the National Assembly Standing Committee)
Political parties and leaders:
Lao People's Revolutionary Party or LPRP [CHOUMMALY Sayasone]; other parties proscribed
Political pressure groups and leaders:
noncommunist political groups proscribed; most opposition leaders fled the country in 1975


The government of Laos, one of the few remaining one-party Communist states, began decentralizing control and encouraging private enterprise in 1986. The results, starting from an extremely low base, were striking - growth averaged 6% per year in 1988-2007 except during the short-lived drop caused by the Asian financial crisis beginning in 1997. Despite this high growth rate, Laos remains a country with a underdeveloped infrastructure, particularly in rural areas. It has no railroads, a rudimentary road system, and limited external and internal telecommunications, though the government is sponsoring major improvements in the road system with support from Japan and China. Electricity is available in urban areas and in most rural districts. Subsistence agriculture, dominated by rice, accounts for about 40% of GDP and provides 80% of total employment. The economy will continue to benefit from aid from international donors and from foreign investment in hydropower and mining. Construction will be another strong economic driver, especially as hydroelectric dam and road projects gain steam. Several policy changes since 2004 may help spur growth. In late 2004, Laos gained Normal Trade Relations status with the US, allowing Laos-based producers to benefit from lower tariffs on exports. Laos is taking steps to join the World Trade Organization in the next few years; the resulting trade policy reforms will improve the business environment. On the fiscal side, a value-added tax (VAT) regime, slated to begin in 2008, should help streamline the government's inefficient tax system.

$12.8 billion (2007 est.)
GDP growth rate:
GDP per capita:
GDP composition by sector:
agriculture: 45.5%
industry: 28.7%
services: 25.8%
Inflation rate:
Labor force:
2.8 million
Labor force - by occupation:
agriculture 80% 
Electricity production by source:
fossil fuel: 1.4%
hydro: 98.6%
other: 0% 
copper, tin, and gypsum mining; timber, electric power, agricultural processing, construction, garments, tourism, cement
sweet potatoes, vegetables, corn, coffee, sugarcane, tobacco, cotton, tea, peanuts, rice; water buffalo, pigs, cattle, poultry
garments, wood products, coffee, electricity, tin
Export partners:
Thailand 29.5%, Vietnam 12.5%, France 6%, Germany 4.6% 
machinery and equipment, vehicles, fuel, consumer goods
Import partners:
Thailand 66%, China 9%, Vietnam 7% 
kip (LAK)

SOURCES: The CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State, Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress

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