Laos is the smallest country in Indochina with just under 240,000 square kilometers, but famous for “The Land of Million Elephants”. Due to its typical landlocked characteristic, almost Laos’ terrain is mountainous, leading to diverse complexes of mountains, caves and waterfalls. Besides spectacular natural landscapes, Laos also has a deeply rich history, tradition and culture, which will not let any visitor down.
The Lao People’s Democratic Republic is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia. Its capital is Vientiane and the size is about more than 236,000 square. The population of Laos is approximately 7.3 million with 85% living in rural areas. Laos is one of the Southeast Asia’s most ethnically diverse countries with 47 ethnic minority groups with their own distinct customs, dialects and traditional groups, all of which still remained today. The government has divided Laos population into three main groups. The first one is the Lao Lum (lowlanders), consisting of ethnic Lao and Tay-Tai speaking people, making up 70% of population, mainly living along the Mekong River. The second is the Lao Theung (uplanders), including Mon-Khmer People, accounting for 20% of the population. The third is Lao Song (highlanders), consisting of a wide range of hill tribe groups such as Hmong, Yao, Haw, Akha and constituting 10% of the total population, living in the mountainous areas. Besides, there are Chinese and Vietnamese communities, small but economically significant role.
The national language is Lao, having a tonal language similarity to Thai but different written scripts.
Laos is a predominately Buddhist country, so Buddhism has an important influence on Lao society and culture. More than 67% of the Lao population follows the Theravadan school of Buddhism, in common with neighboring Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia. About 30% of population follows animist beliefs, the worship of animist spirits may be found in many corners of the country.
Laos is surrounded by five countries: Cambodia to the south, Vietnam to the East, Thailand to the west, China and Myanmar in the north and north-west respectively. Thanks to landlocked feature, about seventy percent of its geographic area is mountain ranges, highlands, plateau area. Besides, the mighty Mekong River flows along the borders with Thailand through nearly 1,900km of Lao territory and has been a lifeline for the country in terms of fish suppliers, transportation and agriculture. Its location has also made it a crossroad for trade and communication among neighboring states.
Laos has a typical warm, tropical climate with two distinct seasons – the rainy season from May through the end of September and the dry season from October to April. For the most part, Laos is hot throughout the year due to its latitude and altitude. From November to February, Laos has lower temperature and cooler climate, which drops to as low as 15ºC, even lower in mountains, in December and January. During this cool season, rainfall is the lowest in whole country. From Mid-February, there is a gradually increase in temperature to their highest levels, nearly 38ºC, in March to May. Then the wet season starts towards the end of this hot period to bring a change to the land.
The best time to visit Laos is from October to April when the weather is warm and dry. Especially, if clients take a river travel, November to January is the best one when water levels is enough high to easily pass cruise along Laos main waterway, Mekong River. May to July is a good period for visitors planning to discover mountainous northern provinces because of lower temperature thanks to higher altitude and reasonably low rainfall at this time.
The Lao people were a tribe originally from Yunnan, China, who was pushed south toward the border of the Khmer empire in the 13th century. The first Lao Kingdom was founded by Fa Ngum, A Lao warlord, called Lane Xang or “Land of a Million Elephants” with the capital in current-day Luang Prabang in 1353. In 18th century, Lane Xang entered a gradual period of decline because of civil war and conflicts with Burma, Siam (now Thailand), Vietnam and the Khmer kingdom. By the 19th century, the Siamese had invaded successful this kingdom and divided it into three principalities: Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Champassak. Then, the French defeated the Siamese and integrated all of Laos into the French Empire under direct rule, except for Luang Prabang, which was under French protection. The Franco-Siamese treaty of 1907 defined the present Lao boundary with Thailand.
Laos achieved independence in 1954, but only experiencing a short-term peace. In 1964, the American started bombing eastern Laos because Ho Chi Minh Trail passed through this region of Laotian territory. Consequently, there was a fighting between Communist Pathet Laos and Royal government. Despite a ceasefire signed in 1973, Pathet Laos take control in Laos to find the Laos People’s Democratic Republic in December 1975, thanks to North Vietnam’s support with a little opposition.
Airplanes: Thanks to air links, it is easier to visit Laos, especially departing Bangkok, Hanoi, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, visitors can take a cheap short flight to/from Laos or Luang Prabang.
Night buses: Similar to air lines, there is a road improve between Laos and surrounding regions, visitors can transfer between major cities of South East Asia to Laos (Vientiane, Pakse and Luang Prabang).
Train: Another way to come Laos is by train, which will bring tourists a different experience to enjoy this landlocked country.
Mount Phousi: Located in UNESCO-protected Luang Prabang, Mount Phousi (or Phu Si) is the heart of this charming city in both spirituality and geography. From the peak, visitors can catch an amazing panoramic view of Luang Prabang and tranquil valley at its bottoms, especially experience gorgeous sunsets here.
Kuang Si Falls: Far 29 kilometers south of Luang Prabang, Kuang Si Falls is the biggest waterfall here with highest drop reaching 50 meters. It is a gift of nature to this region with the large cascade of turquoise water dropping from the thick jungle above into sculpted limestone pools below.
Buddha Park: Situated in Laos’ capital, Vientiane, Buddha Park is a famous tourist attractions, which is a harmony blend of over 200 religious giant stone sculptures and unique spiritual value of both Hindu and Buddhist sculptures. It is said that Bunleua Sulilat, the creator of this park, believed that Buddhism and Hinduism came from the same origin, so he put the both sculptures of them together to create an innovative spectacle.
Vat Phou: Vat Phou was declared as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 because of its testimony to the ruins of a Khmer Hindu temple dating back from 5th century. Until now, it is still a remarkably well-preserved landscape more than 1,000 years old, expressing Hindu vision of nature and humanity relationship.
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Not as famous abroad as Thailand or Vietnam cuisine, Lao cuisine made impression on visitors on the other way with its distinctive taste to fermented fish sauce, lemongrass, coriander leaves, chili and lime juice. Some Laotian typical dishes are Ping Kai (grilled chicken) and Ping Pai (grilled fish). Glutinous or sticky rice is the staple food of Laos, and in Lao culture, the food is shared and eaten with hands to express their respect and loving. Besides, there are some typical drinks in Laos such as fruit juice, soft drinks, hot dinks (especially coffee), tea and beer.
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Laos is a non-industrial country, so its most famous goods are hand-crafted products. Almost of them are sold in limited quantities because they are made by hand only, and sold directly in the villages along the whole country by artisans. Visitors also can buy them in provincial markets but their rate will be a little bit higher. Other well-known products in Laos are silvers, arts and replica antiques.
Laos PDR provides visa exemption for 36 countries, E-visa for over 150 nationalities and Visa on arrival too. Besides, foreign travellers can come Lao Ambassador or Consulate to get Lao visa approval.
More detail about Lao Visa Requirements: click here