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Updated on January 16, 2012

Laos has a tropical monsoonal climate with annual average temperatures ranging from 26°C in the north to 28°C in the south. Rainfall varies considerably according to elevation and exposure to the southwest monsoon, but most areas receive 1,500-2,500 mm annually.

Laos has three seasons: a hot, wet season (June-October), when the country is under the influence of the southwest monsoon; a cool, dry season (November-February), when the monsoon comes from the northeast; and a transitional hot, dry season (March-May).

More than two-thirds of the country is covered with dense subtropical forests. In the north high altitude montane species of trees predominate, but lower slopes in the south have deciduous broadleaved varieties. In drier areas such as the Xieng Khouang and Bolovens plateaus the forests give way to savanna-like vegetation. Sayaboury province on the Thai border has valuable teak forests and there are commercially exploitable dipterocarp forests in the south. Large areas of forest, however, are being destroyed by shifting cultivation.

The People

In 1995 a census was held and the population was numbered at 4,574,848. A 2009 estimate puts it at 6,800,000.

So with an average of 26.7 persons per km2 (69.2 per square mile), Laos is a very thinly populated country. Heavier concentrations are found only in the small areas of lowland. About one-third of the population is under 15 years of age, and the annual rate of increase is about 2.4%.

Ethnically about 60% of the population are Lao, the descendants of the Lao-Thai tribes that migrated southward from China, probably during the 13th century. Sino-Tibetan peoples such as the Meo and Yao predominate in the mountainous areas, where they live by slash-and-burn agriculture. The Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai minorities are concentrated in the towns.

The population is predominantly rural, living in small communities of up to 120 families. Nestling in dense bamboo groves, the villages are surrounded by extensive paddy (rice) fields. Towns are few and usually small. The largest is Vientiane, the capital (754,000 in 2009). Other towns include Savannakhet (about 120,000), a transshipment town on the Khong and the commercial center of south central Laos; Pakse (about 70,000), the marketing center of the south; and Luang Prabang, the former royal capital. Thakhek (Muang Khammouan) is a market center on the Khong and has a cement plant.

Beliefs and Culture

Hinayana (Theravada) Buddhism is the national religion, and Buddhist shrines and temples abound. Both Vientiane and Luang Prabang are sometimes called the "Cities of a Thousand Temples." In the north, ancestor worship survives, and many of the mountain tribes are animist. There is a small Christian (Roman Catholic) community.

Lao is the official language, but French is also spoken. Pali (Nang Xu Tham) is the language of the priests. Education has still to reach the mass of the people, but the minimal literacy rate is rapidly increasing- 73% is officially claimed.


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    • marshacanada profile image

      marshacanada 6 years ago from Vancouver BC

      I spent a very lovely time here hiking in the forests and touring Laos a few years ago. The food is great, the people polite and lively. Luang Prabang is worth a long visit because of its beauty,great shopping,Buddist temples, art and culture and peaceful atmosphere between two rivers.

      The small population of Laos is partly because of the deaths and destruction during the Vietnam war. The sparce forests are because US bombers dropped thousands of bombs on this innocent country during the Vietnam war leading to deforestation, starvation etc.

      During a village to village treck I commented on the lovely bamboo forests but total lack of birds. Our village guide said: " Before the Vietnam war our village was in a massive teak and hardwood forest full of birds and wildlife, but after the bombing and napalm there were no trees and no birds or wild animals. They bombed our village down to the red earth."

    • MummyDearest profile image

      Eileen 6 years ago from Kildare, Ireland

      I love Laos. I was only in Vientiane for work initially and I fell in love with the peaceful and laid back lifestyle and went back for a holiday. I still can't get over the fact that I paid only 20cents usd for 1 big bag (around 10pcs) of steam sweet potatoes which I shared with a van full of people and still had left overs.

      A must try is Beer Lao! I understand that it is the best beer in South East Asia..I loved it anyway!