Despite its tiny population, Laos contains 49 ethnic groupings, or tribes, of which roughly three-quarters are Lao, Khmou, and Hmong. The majority of tribes are tiny, with some numbers as low as a few hundred people. The ethnic groupings are split into four linguistic branches: Lao-Tai (represented by eight tribes), Mone-Khmer (represented by 32 tribes), Hmoung-Loumien (represented by two tribes), and Tibeto-Chinese (represented by seven tribes).
Laos is officially Buddhist, and the golden stupa of Pha That Luang, which serves as the country’s emblem, has replaced the hammer and sickle on the sovereign seal. Even yet, animism is present, especially in the baci (also baasi) ritual, which is held to tie the 32 guardian spirits to the participant’s body before a long trip, after a severe sickness, the birth of a child, or other important occasions.
Women must wear the unique phaa sin, a long sarong available in a variety of regional designs, according to Lao tradition; nevertheless, numerous ethnic minorities have their own dress styles. A frequent sight is a conical Vietnamese-style cap. Men nowadays dress in Western fashion and only wear the phaa biang sash on special occasions. Although the “phaa sin” is still the required dress in government workplaces, ladies nowadays often wear Western-style clothes (not only for those who work there, but also for Lao women just visiting).
From 80,000 foreign tourists in 1990 to 1.876 million in 2010, the tourism industry has expanded at a fast pace. In 2010, tourism is projected to contribute US$679.1 million to the GDP, increasing to US$1.5857 billion by 2020. Tourism employed one out of every 10.9 people in 2010. International visitor and tourist products export profits are projected to account for 15.5 percent of overall exports in 2010, or US$270.3 million, rising to US$484.2 million (12.5 percent of total) in 2020.
“Simply Beautiful” is the national tourist motto. The Plain of Jars region (main article: Phonsavan); ancient and modern culture and history in Muang Ngoi Neua and Vang Vieng; trekking and visiting hill tribes in a number of areas include Buddhist culture and colonial architecture in Luang Prabang; gastronomy and ancient temples in Vientiane; backpacking in Muang Ngoi Neua and Vang Vieng; ancient and modern culture and history in The Plain of Jars region (main article: Phons For this mix of architecture and history, the European Council on Trade and Tourism named the country the “World Best Tourist Destination” for 2013.
The Plain of Jars is likely to join Luang Prabang and Wat Phu as UNESCO World Heritage Sites after further work to remove UXO is finished. Lao New Year is celebrated around the 13–15 April and includes a water celebration similar to those of Thailand and other Southeast Asian nations, although with a more muted tone.
The Lao National Tourism Administration, associated government agencies, and the business sector are collaborating to bring the country’s National Ecotourism Strategy and Action Plan to fruition. This includes reducing tourism’s environmental and cultural impact, raising awareness of the importance of ethnic groups and biological diversity, generating revenue to conserve, sustain, and manage the Lao protected area network and cultural heritage sites, and emphasizing the need for tourism zoning and management plans for sites that will be developed as ecotourism destinations.
Laos is renowned for its silk and indigenous handicrafts, which may be found, among other places, in Luang Prabang’s night market. Mulberry tea is another specialty.
Laos is Southeast Asia’s sole landlocked nation, straddling latitudes 14° and 23°N (with a tiny region south of 14°) and longitudes 100° and 108°E. Its densely wooded environment is mainly made up of steep mountains, the tallest of which is Phou Bia at 2,818 meters (9,245 feet), with some flats and plateaus thrown in for good measure. The Mekong River forms most of the western border with Thailand, while the Annamite Range mountains constitute the majority of the eastern border with Vietnam, and the Luang Prabang Range forms the northern border with the Thai highlands. The Xiangkhoang Plateau in the north and the Bolaven Plateau in the south are the two plateaux. The monsoon pattern influences the climate, which is tropical.
From May to November, there is a distinct rainy season, followed by a dry season from December to April. Because the latter two months of the climatologically defined dry season are significantly hotter than the first four, local legend maintains that there are three seasons (rainy, cold, and hot). Vientiane is the capital and biggest city of Laos, with Luang Prabang, Savannakhet, and Pakse being additional important cities.
The government of Laos set aside 21% of the country’s land area for habitat protection preservation in 1993. The nation is one of four in the “Golden Triangle” opium poppy producing area. According to the UNODC fact book Opium Poppy Growing in Southeast Asia, published in October 2007, the poppy cultivation area in South East Asia was 15 square kilometers (5.8 square miles), down from 18 square kilometers (6.9 square miles) in 2006.
The country of Laos is divided into three regions: north, center, and south.
There are three different seasons in Laos. The hot season lasts from March through May, with temperatures reaching up to 40°C. The somewhat milder wet season lasts from May to October, when temperatures hover around 30°C, tropical downpours are common (particularly in July and August), and the Mekong floods occur on occasion.
The dry season, which lasts from November to March and with temperatures as low as 15°C (or even zero in the highlands at night), is known as “high season” (when the most tourists are in the country). However, as the dry season draws to a close, the northern portions of Laos — essentially anything north of Luang Prabang — may become very foggy as farmers burn their crops and forest fires rage.
The word “Laotian” does not always mean “Lao language,” “Lao ethnic group,” “Lao language,” or “Lao traditions.” It is a political term that encompasses non-ethnic Lao communities in Laos and refers to them as “Laotian” due to their political citizenship. With a median age of 21.6 years, Laos has the youngest population of any Asian country.
In 2012, the population of Laos was projected to be 6.5 million, distributed unevenly throughout the nation. The majority of the population lives in the Mekong River and its tributaries’ basins. In 2008, the capital and biggest city, Vientiane prefecture, had approximately 740,010 inhabitants. The country’s population density was 27 people per square kilometer.
Laotians are often classified according to their altitude (lowlands, midlands, and higher highlands), which roughly corresponds to ethnic groupings.
Lao Loum (lowland people)
More over half of the population, or 60%, is ethnic Lao, the country’s main lowland residents and the country’s politically and culturally dominating group. The Tai language group started moving southward from China in the first millennium CE, and the Lao are part of that group. Other “lowland” tribes, which make up the Lao Loum with the Lao people, account for 10% of the population.
Lao Theung (midland people)
Mon-Khmer tribes known as Lao Theung or mid-slope Laotians prevail in the middle and southern highlands. The Lao Loum refer to them as Khmu, Khamu (Kammu), or Kha to indicate their Austroasiatic roots. The latter, which means’slave,’ is, nevertheless, regarded derogatory. They were northern Laotians’ indigenous people. Some Vietnamese, Chinese, and Thai minorities still live in the country, especially in the towns, although many fled when the country gained independence in the late 1940s, relocating to Vietnam, Hong Kong, or France. The Lao Theung make up approximately 30% of the population.
Lao Soung (highland people)
For many years, Laos’ hill people and minority cultures, such as the Hmong, Yao (Mien), Dao, Shan, and various Tibeto-Burman language peoples, have resided in remote areas of the country. The Lua and Khmu people, who are indigenous to Laos, are among the mountain/hill tribes of mixed ethno/cultural-linguistic heritage located in northern Laos. The Lua people are now considered endangered. Lao Soung, or upland Laotians, is their collective name. Only around ten percent of the population is Lao Soung.
According to the 2005 census, 67 percent of Laotians are Theravada Buddhists, 1.5 percent are Christians, and 31.5 percent are other or unidentified (mainly Satsana Phi practitioners). In Laos, Buddhism has long been one of the most powerful societal forces. Since its arrival to the nation, Theravada Buddhism has coexisted harmoniously with indigenous polytheism.
Laos’ economy is highly reliant on investment and commerce with Thailand, Vietnam, and, particularly in the north, China. Pakxe’s development has also been fueled by cross-border commerce with Thailand and Vietnam. Despite the fact that the government is still nominally communist, the Obama administration in the United States proclaimed Laos to be no longer a Marxist–Leninist state in 2009, and removed restrictions on Laotian businesses obtaining US Export-Import Bank funding. The Lao Securities Exchange started trading in 2011. The government launched the Laos Trade Portal in 2012, a website that has all the information merchants need to import and export products into the nation.
Subsistence agriculture still accounts for half of GDP and employs 80% of the workforce. Only 4.01 percent of the nation has arable land, with only 0.34 percent of it being utilized for permanent crops, the lowest proportion in the Greater Mekong Subregion. Rice is the most important crop in agriculture, accounting for approximately 80% of all arable land. Around 77 percent of Lao agricultural families are rice self-sufficient.
Between 1990 and 2005, rice output rose by 5% year, and Lao PDR reached a net balance of rice imports and exports for the first time in 1999, thanks to the creation, release, and broad acceptance of improved rice varieties, as well as economic reforms. In the Greater Mekong Subregion, Lao PDR may have the most rice types. Since 1995, the Lao government has collaborated with the International Rice Research Institute of the Philippines to gather seed samples from each of Laos’ tens of thousands of rice varieties.
The IMF, ADB, and other international agencies provide development assistance, as well as foreign direct investment for the development of society, industry, hydropower, and mining (most notably of copper and gold). Tourism is the country’s fastest-growing sector. Brain drain has hindered Laos’ economic growth, with a skilled emigration rate of 37.4 percent in 2000.
Laos has abundant mineral resources, yet it imports petroleum and natural gas. Metallurgy is a significant sector, and the government is hoping to attract international investment to help exploit large reserves of coal, gold, bauxite, tin, copper, and other precious metals. Furthermore, the country’s abundant water resources and hilly topography allow it to generate and export significant amounts of hydroelectric electricity. Around 8,000 megawatts of the total potential capacity of 18,000 megawatts has been pledged for sale to Thailand and Vietnam.
Beerlao, which is sold to a number of countries, including Cambodia and Vietnam, may be the country’s most well-known product. The Lao Brewery Company produces it.
With Foreign Direct Investments, Laos’ mining sector has gotten a lot of attention (FDI). Since 2003-04, this industry has made major contributions to Laos’ economic situation. More than 540 gold, copper, zinc, lead, and other mineral deposits have been discovered, investigated, and exploited.