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General information

6 million people with more than 60 ethnic groups

Laos is definitely a ‘green’ country; luxurious vegetation, mountains and forests interspersed, here and there, with deforested areas which are a proof of human presence. Numerous species find refuge in these unexploited areas, some of which are still to be discovered. Others are becoming extinct, because of man’s excesses mainly from China or Vietnam …

Geography

Journeys in these surroundings take on a feeling of adventure. However, neither bus nor canoe (the two most usual means of communication) are quick ; travelling in this country takes time, a lot of time.

- surface area: 236 800 km2 (France : 549 000 km2)
- capital: Vientiane
- number of regions: 18
- number of districts: 142
- number of villages: 11 386
- length of borders: 4 700 km
- bordering countries: Burma, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand
-  % of forests: 82% (of which 63% are subtropical)
-  % of mountains: 70%
- length of the Mekong river passing through Laos: 1865 km (out of the total 4374 km)

Climate

Most of the time, the sky is blue, wind is nonexistent or very light and comes from a North-Easterly direction. Natives get up at dawn so as to be able to give donations to the monks on their daily request for alms. The weather is mild at that time of day. At Louang Prabang, the temperature climbs suddenly around 10-11 o’clock when the sun breaks through the morning mist.

It gets very hot around 1h to 3h o’clock in the afternoon, then the sun again becomes milder and proposes sunsets of magnificent colours, which reflected in the waters of the Mekong become a lovely tint of orange...

- type of climate: tropical
- wet and hot seasons: April to September (rain is frequent during the night in July to August, spectacular monsoon thunderstorms)
- dry and cool seasons: From October to March
- average temperature: 28 degrees
- cold nights in December to January: 14-15 degrees in Luang Prabang

Population

Laotians are of a calm constitution which is well illustrated in their favourite saying: "Bo Phen Yang", which means "no problem". Laos has never known development equivalent to our Western countries, and has stayed mainly poor, happy, and free, just like they were 50 years beforehand and just like they are described by the author, Larteguy, in his book "Bronze drums" : they like simple things, appreciate ’now’ more than anything else, just like it is advised in Buddhist philosophy, they don’t worry about the uncertainty and improbability of tomorrow. They are a smiling, welcoming, and unconcerned people.

All the people from the Indochina peninsula are not the same, and travellers are often very pleasantly surprised, subjugated by the charm that radiates from Laos, by the tranquillity that reigns there, as well as the atmosphere of abundance and meditation.

- number of inhabitants: 5,218 million (FEL* source)
- density per km2 : 22,8 inhabitants/km2
- number of inhabitants in Vientiane : 130 000 (600 000 including the outskirts)
- life expectancy: 50 years
- population under 20 years of age: 54%
- average size of a family: 6,1 people
- yearly increase of the population: 3%
- rural population: 85%
- percentage of primary schooling: 72% (FEL* source)
- average rate of literacy: 58 %; men: 64 % / women: 42 % (FEL* source)
- access to drinking water: 51 % (FEL* source)
- rate of infantile mortality: 82 ‰ before 1 year of age (FEL* source)
- number of French residents: 1000 (FEL* source)
- rate of exchange (in January 2011): 1 US dollar = 8 000 kip

Economy (FEL* source)

Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world. There is now an irrigation plan which has increased irrigation from 18 to 100.000 hectares.

- GDP (Gross Domestic Product): 1,56 billion US $
- distribution of GDP: Agriculture: 51,8% - Industry and mines: 22,3% - Services: 25,3%
- average income per inhabitant: Less than 1 euro per day
- number of civil and military bureaucrats: 129 000
- manpower in the army: 37 000
- type of products: Agriculture, timber, small craftsmanship. Very little industry
- rice production: 52% of the GDP
- opium production: 118 tons on 17.250 hectares (3rd world producer)
- public expenditure: 20% of the GDP
- public proceeds: 10% of the GDP
- debt: 90% of the GDP
- International help (1998): 281 million US $ (18% of the GDP)
- French help (1998): 12 million US $
- total importations to Laos: 528 million US $
- total exportations from Laos: 338 million US $

FEL* : French Embassy in Laos