General Information about Lao P.D.R.
Laos is a landlocked country in the center of Indochina sharing its borders with Cambodia to the south,Thailand to the west, Vietnam to the east and China and Mynmar( Burma ) in the north and north-west respectively.
Seventy percent of its total land area(236,800 square kilometers) comprises mountain and plateau area.The Annamite chain of mountains stretches along part of the border with Vietnam and averages 1,200 meters in height. The mighty Mekong river, one of the longest rivers in the world, flows along the borders with Thailand. The river flows through nearly 1,900 kilometres of Lao territory and has always been a lifeline for the country in terms of fish supplies, transportation routes and agriculture.Several hydro-electric facilities, situated on the tributaries of the Mekong, generate electricity for export to Thailand.
Laos enjoys a warm, tropical climate with two distinct seasons -the rainy season from the beginning of May to the end of September and the dry season from October through to April.Temperatures and rainfall very considerably throughout the year and also according to latitude and altitude.from November February the temperatures are lower and cool breezes bring a pleasant and refreshing change from the humidity of the rainy season. Temperatures drop to as low as 15 C (or well below that in the mountains) in December and January. During this Cool season, rainfall is at its lowest. From mid February the temperatures gradually increase to their highest levels, close to 38 C, in March to May. The rains start towards the end of this hot period too bring a welcome relief to the land.
Probably the best time travel in Laos is between November and February -the temperatures and rainfall are lower.May to July is a good period for those planning to travel in the mountainous northern provinces. The higher altitudes mean temperatures will be lower and at this times the rainfall is still reasonably low. Popular times for tourists are December to February and August.
Laos has one of the most pristine eclogy in South East Asia with an estimated half of its woodlands being primary monsoon forest. The forest grows in three layers- a top canopy of tall, majestic trees, a middle layer of hardwood trees such as teak and a lower growth of small trees, bushes and sometimes bamboo. Laos also hosts a diverse selection of exotic and rare animals. Leopard cats, Javan mongoose, goat-antelopes, rare gibbons and Asiatic black bears are just some of the mammals which can be found all over the country. The remote areas of the country are almost certainly home to many unknown species. Laos is also rich in both resident migratory birds.
Socialist, one party government. The Lao people's Democratic Republic was established in 1975 and since the instigation of new forward-thinking economic policies and their imminent entry into ASEAN, Lao PDR has seen rapid growth and development in the last 10 years. New infrastructures and services have transformed the capital, Vientiane into a thriving and prosperous city with a great deal to offer visitors. The provincial areas of the country are also seeing flourishing change and development.
The official language of Lao PDR is Lao. The local versions of Lao can differ substantially from north and south and many of the ethnic minority groups do not speak Lao at all. English and French are also spoken in business or by some senior government officials. In Vientiane, many shop owners speak little English or French. Both languages as well as limited German and Japanese are spoken in hotels and other services in the most popular tourist destinations.
The estimated population of Lao PDR is 4.6 million(1994) of which about 250,000 people live in the capital, Vientiane. The rest of the country is very sparsely populated, compared with other Asian countries, with 85% of people living in rural areas. New comprehensive research shows classification of 47 ethnic groups. So far, no one gives a complete list of 68 ethnic groups. These are divided into three main ethnic categories -Lao Loum ( Lao landers ), Lao Theung ( lower mountain dwellers ) and Lao Soung ( highlanders ). The Lao Loum, the largest group, have traditionally been subsistence rice growers along the Mekong river while the Lao Theung live on the mountain slopes, bartering with their produce of coffee, tobacco, mountain rice and cotton. The Lao Soung comprise hill tribes originally from Burma, Tibet and southern China who live high up in the mountains raising animals and producing opium crops. The latter two groups are animist ( believing in earth spirits ) but about 60% of population are Theravada Buddhists.
About 60% of the population are Theravada (or Hinayaan ) Buddhists. Although Hinayaan Buddhism was introduced into the country in the 14th century, Mahayaan is supposed to be known by Laotians as the beginning of the Silk Roads, long before they came into the land forming the Lang Xang Kingdom. But Buddhism was very slow to spread in Lao and there was quite a reluctance by those holding animist beliefs to adopt its doctrines. Nonetheless, today Buddhism is an inherent feature of daily life and costs a strong influence on Lao society. Most Lao Buddhism try to gain 'merit' for a better next life by giving donations to temple and through regular worship. The temple are important places of private worship and also provide many opportunities for social gatherings. The Laos believe that if you do good then you will receive good things and similarly, if you do evil then evil will come to you.
Almost every Lao Buddhist male becomes a monk for a short period of time usually before they marry and many young boys spend long periods as novices in temples, earning their families 'merit'. Buddhism has played a vital role in the cultural development of Lao PDR and has greatly influenced thoughts and behavior of a large percentage of population. Visitors Laos will regularly see the splendid sight of monks in their distinctive saffron robes during the early morning alms rounds or walking into town under the shade of large black umbrellas. The many temples throughout the country will provide visitors with moments of great tranquillity and beauty.
Architecture - Lao boasts a great variety of distinctive monuments and architectural styles. One of the most notable sites is That Luang, the Great Sacred Stupa, in Vientiane and which, like all other stupa around the country, serves to commemorate the life of the Buddha. The architectural style of Lao's Buddhist temples, or vats, can be distinguished by their location. Temples in Vientiane are usually large rectangular structures with high peaked roofs. In the ancient capital, Luang Prabang temple roofs sweep very low. North of Vientiane in Xieng Khouang, the temple roofs are not tiered
Art- Religious images and art are also very distinctive and set Laos apart from her neighboring countries. The "Calling for Rain" posture of Buddha images in Lao, for example, which depicts Buddha standing with his hands held rigidly at his side, fingers pointing to the ground, cannot be found elsewhere in South East Asian countries.
Literature - Many ancient lao Buddhist manuscripts are still in evidence and are currently being preserved. Transcribe on to palm leaf centuries ago, these treasures are still stored in temples throughout the country. Religious influences are also apparent in classical Lao literature. Thao Houng Thao Cheuang and Sinxay are two of the best Lao literary works.
Music and Dance - The richness of Lao culture is never more evident than its delightful folk music which is extremely popular throughout the country. The main instrument played is the distinctive Khaen, a long wind instrument consisting of a double row of bamboo-like reeds fitted into a hardwood soundbox. The Khaen is usually accompanied by a bowed string instrument called saw. These instruments, together with cymbals, drums and a wooden xylophone-like instrument, provide the delightful accompaniment to the national folk dance, Lamwong, in which dancers dance in couple and slowly and gracefully describe circles or vong.
Relics discovered in several provinces of Laos confirm that humans inhabited the area as early as 10,000 years ago. Between the fourth and eighth century communities coming from China began to form into townships along the Mekhong river. The development culminated in the formation of the Lan Xang (million elephants) kingdom in 1353 by King Fa Ngum who had been raised by the Khmer in Angor Wat, Cambodia. He grouped these townships and made his capital in modern day Luang Phabang.
The kingdom was expanded by his successors and most notable by King Setthathirath who ruled from 1548-1571. He moved the capital to Vientiane and built That Luang Stupa, which is now a national symbol of the country. The seventeenth century was the beginning of the kingdom's most illustrious era and saw early European contact with traders and missionaries. A struggle for the throne broke kingdom into three separated kingdoms and this witnessed the end of a glorious period during which Vientiane was described as the most magnificent city in South East Asia. The Siamese (Thai Kingdom) invasion of Vientiane in 1828 was unsuccessful but left the city all by destroyed.
Laos was colonized by the French in about 1893 and after a considerable struggle for self-determination under the leadership of the Communist Party of Indochina its independence was recognized in 1954. A coalition government was formed between left and right-wing factions after the Pathet Lao claimed some northern provinces. But when the election for the National Assembly in 1958 produced a majority for the Pathet Lao in two provinces, an US--Fuelled reaction led to the arrest of Pathet Lao ministers and Parliamentarians. Afterwards politics were characterized by a rapid series of coups and rigged elections.
The situation worsened during the Vietnam war although the Geneva Accord of 1962 had recognized the neutrality of Laos and forbaded the presence of all foreign military personnel. By bombing the portion of the Ho Chi Minh trail crossing Laos, US forces dropped more bombs on Laos than they did world-wide during World War II. On a per capita basis Laos is the most heavily bombed nation in history. Especially in Huaphan and Xieng Khoung provinces, where international teams are still clearing the terrain of unexploded ordinance, people still suffer the legacy of the war.
In 1975, the Pathet Lao finally gained power in a bloodless take-over, establishing the People's Democratic Republic on 2 December. It was the culmination of a successful struggle for national liberation, and reinstatement of total independence.
The people, party and government are moving together to lead the country to progress and prosperity.
The Kip is the official currency of Lao PDR and the most used bank notes are currently in denominations of 1,000, 500 and 100 kip. Thai baht and US dollars can be readily exchanged at a variety of authorized private exchange bureaus and it has recently become possible to use Visa, American Express and MasterCard at many major hotels and restaurants. Most domestic and foreign banks in Vientiane allow cash withdrawals on Visa credit card or Master Card. Small shops and stalls usually aonly accept cash. On journey's to remote areas it is advisable to take a good supply of Kip with you.
Laos shares the same time with Thailand and is seven hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT or Universal Time).
Government offices are open from 8-11 am and 2-5 PM, Monday to Friday, but stalls, shops and other private companies and business are usually open at lunch and for a little longer in the afternoon. Banks and government offices are closed on the weekend. Sunday is a holiday for many shops and other private businesses.
There are several Lao banks, including Banque pour le Commerce Exterieur Lao and the Vientiane Commercial Bank, but may major Thai banks are also represented in Vientiane.
International Direct Dialing (IDD) is available and the efficient telephone system is undergoing constant improvements. The Vientiane Post Office, the International Telephone Office, hotels and other locations provide telephone, facsimile, telegraph and telex services. Various email services are provided by a number of businesses in Vientiane. The international dialing code for Lao PDR is +856 and the area code for Vientiane is 21.
Lao PDR uses 220-volt (50 HZ) power outlets for use with either two-pronged round or flat plugs.
Purified bottled water is readily available as the tap water is still not considered safe for drinking.
No vaccinations are required to enter Laos. It is not recommended to drink the tap water and fresh fruit and vegetables should always be washed thoroughly with purified water.
Special attention should be paid to insectborne diseases, such as dengue fever and malaria, by using a good-quality insect repellent, wearing appropriate clothing and, in rural areas, taking malaria prophylacties. The more remote a destination is, the more careful you should be.
There are several clinics, staffed by experienced and well-trained doctors, which can provide routine and emergency medical attention to visitors. The international clinic (Fa Ngum road next to Mahosot hospital) and the clinic at the French Embassy are two notable examples.
The unique and fascinating handicrafts available in Lao PDR allow visitors to take some special reminders of their travels in this beautiful country. A rich selection of silk and cotton textiles, exquisite silver and gold jewelry, handmade baskets, intricate carvings and traditional musical instruments and utensils are just some of the delights awaiting visitors on the markets.
The textiles and fabrics produced in the country are all hand woven on small looms in villages with long traditions in the craft. Styles, designs and patterns vary according to the area in which they were made. Hill tribe weavers and textile craftspeople produce distinctive and beautiful fabric and cloth products.
Carvers work in wood, bone and stone and produce work depicting scenes from both religious stories and everyday life. The craftsmen make a great variety of goods and are only too happy to produce special order items as well..
Bargaining-although most shops have fixed prices for goods the price of fabrics, carvings and some jewelry may be negotiable with careful, good-humored bargaining.
Tipping is not usual but may be expected at some of the more exclusive hotels and restaurants.
Visitors travelling to Laos as tourists required a visa and a valid passport. Visas can be obtained in several different ways. An easy way is to book a tour to Laos with an authorized travel agency abroad. This agency will provide you with the necessary form and help you to apply for your visa at the nearest Lao embassy (a lost of these are provided in this brochure). You can also contact the local tour operators directly. If you book a tour to Laos and you are a resident of a country that does not have a Lao embassy or in case of urgency, you can obtain the visa upon arrival at the international border checkpoint using a service provided by local travel agencies. Of course, you will need to be carrying documentary evidence that your visa has already been approved. Visitors can also obtain transit visas which allow a maximum stay of five days. This type of visa is useful if you are travelling to other Asian destinations, for example, from Hanoi to Bangkok.
Arrival by air
The only port of arrival by air is Vattay Airport in Vientiane. Regular flights arrive from Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Minh City, Chiang Mai, Kunming, Yangon, Kuala Lumbur and Singapor.
Arrival by Road
Rod access is possible from neighboring countries. From Thailand it is possible to enter at Houexay in Bokeo Province, Pakse via Ubon Rachathani (Chommeck) and by the Mittaphab friendship bridge near Vientiane. China can be reached by road at Boten in Luagh Namtha province. Border crossings for Vietman are at Laksao in Borikhamsay province and at Dand Savanh in Savannakhet province. Currently no road entry is possible from Burma (Myanmar) or Cambodia.
Arrival by Train
Although there is currently no rail connection to Laos, an extention of the Bangkok-Nongkhai railway is scheduled to start operating in the near future.
Travel by air
Travelling by air is far the most convenient way of getting around to see the country. Loa Aviation had daily flights from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, Savannakhet, Xieng Khouang, Pakse, Houexay and Uodomsay. There are also regular flights to Luang Namtha, Sayabouri, Sammneua, Thakkek, Sravane, Laksao, Muangkhong and Attapeu.
For the latest information about flight schedules and routes visit a good travel agent abroad or contact Lao Aviat9on Head Office directly at 2 Pangkham Road, V
Travel by road
Laos has 18,863 km of roads, approximately 2,500 km of which are asphalted. The most important road is Route No 13 which runes north to south, from China to Cambodia. It links Pak Mong the north with Khong in the south. The stretch between Luang Prabang and Khong is serviced by regular buses and can be recommended for adventurous travelers. Bus travel is inexpensive. Buses leave Vientiane from the bus stations opposite the Morning Market and opposite the That Luang Market.
Travel by boat
Not all of the 1,900 km of rivers which flow through Laos are navigable but long stretches of the Mekong river provide visitors with many opportunities for boat trips.
"Essentila Laos" Magazine. Co-published by Mrs Soumana Loire P.O. Box 6813 Vientiane--Laos P.D.R. and Deparment fo Publishing Libray and Advertising, Ministry of Information and Culture, Sithathirath Road. P.O. Box 122 Vientiane--Laos P.D.R.
Supervision of production: Mr. Khamseng Soundara, Director General: Department of Publishing Library and Advertising
Text: Dr. Chanthphilith Chiemsisouraj, Deputy Director General: Department of Publishing Library and Advertising
Editor: Mrs. Soumana Loire
Creation: Mr. Pratrick Loire
Photographers: Mr. Micheal Huteau and Mr. Patrick Loire
Creative Art Director: Mr. Sanouk Khanha
2002 SEAsite Laos. Overview