Laos is the least developed and most enigmatic of the three former French Indochinese states. A ruinous sequence of colonial domination, internecine conflict and dogmatic socialism finally brought the country to its knees in the 1970s, and almost ten per cent of the population left. Now, after two decades of isolation from the outside world, this landlocked, sparsely populated country is enjoying peace, stabilising its political and economic structures and admitting foreign visitors - albeit in limited numbers due to a general lack of infrastructure
The lack of foreign influence offers travellers an unparalleled glimpse of traditional South-East Asian life. From the fertile lowlands of the Mekong River valley to the rugged Annamite highlands, travellers who have made it to Laos tend to agree that this country is the highlight of South-East Asia.
A SHORT PROFILE
Country: LANGXIANG ( millions of elephants )
Cities: The Capital is Vientiane municipality ( Vientiane province is another provincial administration. Luang Prabang, the Ancient Capital of last Kingdom is still maintaining traces of the old reigns. Other major cities are Savannakhet ( with 766,000 people ) and Champassaks ( with 572,000 people )
Population: It was estimated that, the population of Laos was 5.2 million and is growing at an annual 2.4%. The average population density is 21 per square kilometers, giving Lao the lowest population density in Asia. Around 85% of the population are farmers and live in rural areas. Over 70% (2,220,547) are engaged in productive work, and 936,870 are unemployed, a classification which includes students (69.4%), domestic workers (12.6%), the aged (14.6%). There are 576,758 people at work in towns, and 2,580,659 work in the countryside. There are 3 main ethnic categories: Lao Loum (low landers), Lao Thueng (lower mountain dwellers), and Lao Soong (high landers). The great majority of Lao are Buddhist
Area: Approximately 70% of its total area (236,800 square kilometers) comprises of mountain and plateaux areas. roughly the area of Italy or Japan
Land Borders: North to China, North West to Myanmar ( Burmar ), West to Thailand, South to Cambodia, East to Vietnam.
Sea Borders: Laos, one of the few countries in the world doesn't have sea border.
Climate: Laos has a warm and tropical climate with two seasons: the rainy season from the beginning of May to the end of September and the dry season from October to April. The average temperature 29 degree centigrade. Maximum temperature can reach up to 40 degree centigrade. Temperatures can drop to as low as 15 degrees or even lower in mountains.
In Vientiane minimum temperatures of 19 C are to be expected in January. In mountainous areas, however, temperatures drop to 14-15 C during the winter months, and in cold nights easily reach the freezing point.
The average precipitation is highest in southern Laos, where the Annamite mountains receive over 3000 mm annually. In Vientiane rainfall is about 1500-2000 mm, and in the northern provinces only 1000-1500 mm.
Generally, tourists are recommended to visit Laos during the months of November to March because these are cool months and rainfall is lower than other periods.
Geography: With over half of this landlocked country's 236,800sq. km densely forested, and 70% of it mountainous, it is hardly surprising that a profusion of rare flora and over 1,200 species of wildlife finds a home beneath its tropical canopy. Approximately 70% of its total area (236,800 square kilometers) comprises of mountain and plateaux areas.
The mighty Mekong in the west and the Annamite Mountains in the east offer natural borders to Thailand and Vietnam respectively. Almost all of the rivers and streams in Laos eventually end up feeding into the Mekong through one of its 15 tributaries, making a total of 2,400km of waterways and feeding the Mekong with more than half of its overall water flow.
Though averaging rainfalls of between 1360mm, in Luang Prabang, to 3700mm on the Boloven Plateau during the June to October monsoon season, Laos regularly suffers from water shortages in the low-lying Mekong Delta plains. This can adversely effect the rice crops that account for almost 80% of the country's agricultural land.
The country's highest peak, at 2,820m, can be found in the mountainous ranges of northeastern Laos, in the province Xiang Khouang, However, nearly equally as impressive are the mountains at the southern end of the Annamite range which reach heights of 2,600m. The Khammouanne and Bolaven plateaus dominate the central region of the Annamites.
Language: The official language used in Laos is Lao language. However, the usage of the language can differ from north and south. English, French and Russian are spoken in business or by some senior government officials. Many shopkeepers can understand basic English and French.
Religion: Buddhism first appeared in Laos during the eighth century A.D. as shown by both the Buddha image and the stone inscription found at Ban Talat near Vientiane, now exhibited at the Museum of Ho Prakeo. After the foundation of the unified Kingdom of Lane Xang, King FaNgum (14th century) declared Buddhism as the state religion and urged the people to abandon animism or other beliefs such as the cult of spirits. His policy meant to develop the Lao culture based on a common faith: the Theravada Buddhism. Today Theravada Buddhism is the professed religion of about 90% of Lao people. Buddhism is an inherent feature of daily life and casts a strong influence on Lao society. Lao woman can be seen each morning giving alms to monks, earing merit to lessen the number of their rebirth. Lao men are expected to become a monk for at least a short time in their lives.
Traditionally they spent three months during the rainy season in a Vat, a Buddhist temple. But nowadays most men curtail their stay to one or two weeks.
Government: The highest position in the Lao government is the President (Mr. H.E. Khamtay Siphandone), who is elected every five years by the National Assembly. This head of state also acts as the Commander in Chief of the country's armed forces. The highest executive organ in the Lao government is the Council of Ministers, this is headed by a Chairman, who also acts as Prime Minister (Mr. H.E. Bounnyang Vorachit), , with Vice Chairman ( Mr. H.E. Somsavath Lengsava ) overseeing the work of government ministers.
The country's 16 provinces (khoueng) are further divided into districts (muang) and villages (baan). Vientiane contains its own municipality - or kampheng nakhon - and the special zone of Xaisomboun, in the northeast of the province, was established in June 1994. A further special zone was set up in mid-1992 with the integration of two districts of Xaignabouri.
Economy: The economic structure of the Lao PDR consists of many sectors under different forms of ownership and economic organizational system, but these sectors are equal before law and operate under the management of the state with the view to freely cooperate and compete in their business activities.
Were it not for the persistent problems of regional flooding, drought and insect infestation, Laos would be permanently self-sufficient in food. 80% of the country's workforce is involved in subsistence agriculture, which makes up about half of the GDP, with glutinous rice the country's main agricultural produce. Also grown for local use are maize, cassava, pulses, groundnuts, fruits, sugar cane, and tobacco, while main exports include timber and wood products, garments, coffee, and tin, mainly to France, Germany, Thailand and Vietnam. Laos also has, largely untapped, reserves of tin, lead and zinc, as well as iron ore, coal and timber.
A member of both the Asian Development Bank and the Colombo Plan, which promotes economic and social development in Asia and the Pacific, Laos still struggles with a very basic infrastructure. Many roads are impassable during the monsoon and there are no railways. Only large urban areas have access to regular power supplies, while telecommunications are still very basic.
Festival and official Holidays: In Laos, working days are from Monday to Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. and form 2 p.m. till 5 p.m. A variety of festivals and religious ceremonies are observed throughout the whole year. The most important ones are listed below.
Even though often referred to as the Land of a Million Elephants, Laos borrowed this title from the translation of Lane Xang - the kingdom that, over six hundred years ago, spread throughout present day Laos, southern China and northeastern Thailand. The capital of Lane Xang was Luang Prabang, a name derived from the kingdom's palladium - the gold Phra Bang Buddha.
The Phra Bang, an 83cm, gold image of Buddha dispelling fear, was cast in Sri Lanka between the 1st and 9th centuries. It arrived in Lane Xang from Angkor in 1353 after its king, Fa Ngoum, asked his father-in-law, Jayavarman Paramesvara, the Khmer king, to help him spread Theravada Buddhism throughout his new kingdom. It became the kingdom's palladium, and remains a revered devotional object of the Lao people.
While housed in Vientiane, Siamese invaders twice looted the Phra Bang, in 1778 and 1827, and it was twice returned, as the Siamese king believed it would bring bad luck to his country. Returned to Luang Prabang in 1867, the palladium managed to survive the collapse of that kingdom and the city's subsequent sacking by Chinese Haw raiders in the 1890s. However, despite its tenacious relationship with Laos, the Phra Bang's whereabouts today are somewhat vague. It is reportedly locked in a deep vault and is brought out only during religious festivals. However, rumour has it that this Phra Bang is a fake and that the Pathet Lao traded the country's palladium for Soviet assistance during the seventies revolution.
Though nothing of Fa Ngoum's original great royal city has survived, Luang Prabang today is a small, peaceful town with a remarkably well-preserved combination of Lao and colonial French architecture, which led to UNESCO World Heritage designation in 1995. The former royal palace of Luang Prabang's last king - built for him by the French at the turn of the century - has been turned into a museum filled with memories of the country's grandiose history. Here, in a small chapel, can be found a copy of the Phra Bang - a last tenuous link to the once great Kingdom of a Million Elephants.
Luang Prabang is situated at the confluence of the Khan and Mekong rivers. It is surrounded
by green hills and impresses travelers with its gleaming temple roofs and crumbling French architecture.
The town is dominated by the Phu Si hill. On its slopes several wats can be visited, and it is peaked by a 24-metre high stupa, That Chomsi. The top of Phu Si affords astonishing views, especially during the serene sunsets, which are characteristic of Luang Prabang.
Wat Xiengthong, the most beautiful designed art. Closely observation we can see the three roofing, covered by the brown sheets. All designs are identified the art of Lanexang. Another interested thing are the small Buddha images. The aide of the temple which painted in and made by the different colors grasses. Looked very strange to eyes and show the Lord Buddha images.In front of the temple there is the cart for carry the coffin of the king Sri Savangvong and his family. This cart the base are red. Many designed have shown. The new art that Luang Prabang people are very pleased.
Wat Visoun is one temple is very important for the history because is the seat of Prabang Buddha images. The Buddha images for the after the black warriors destroyed Luang Prabang.
Another attractive site is That Makmo look like half of watermelon. It was destroyed many times by the black warriors to clear for the properties. It is seemed that the golden Buddha image and the silver wares could be found here in the restoration work in the year 1984 lunar calendar. These significant heritage from this place can be seen in the old place. In summary regarding to Wat Visoun from many times of restoration works, there are many art design of Thailu, Sip song Phanna, Thaiphuan, Muong Xieng Khouang and Lao Lanexang which are aried from other pagoda in Luang Prabang.
Wat Ou Tay is situated in Ban Ou Tay village, a short distance from the main road. According to local villagers, it was constructed over 500 years ago by. Payachakawatilasa, making it one of the eldest Pagoda's in Laos and the district of Gnot Ou.
Royal Palace Museum
The Royal Palace Museum was contracted 1904-1909 as King Sisavang Vong's palace. These days it functions as a museum. It houses the royal throne and some interesting royal artifacts. The building itself feature of French beaux-arts styles and traditional Lao motifs. The ground floor of the museum is divided into several halls and rooms that are displayed gifts from other countries to the Lao kings and collations of swords and Buddha images. The room to right of the entry hall, once the King's reception room, has walls covered with large-scale murals painted in 1930 by the French artist Alix de Fautereau. They depict scenes from traditional Lao life. A room in the rear of the former palace contains a small collection of traditional musical instruments and dancers masks used for performances of the great Indian and Southeast Asia epic the Ramayana.
New Year in Luang Prabang
The spectacular Kuang Si waterfall is situated 29 km south of Luang Prabang deep in the forest. The waters tumble over multi-tiered limestone formations into several cool, turquoise-green pools ideal for relaxation and swimming.
Equally fascinating are the Par Ou caves, which can be reached by a 2-hour boat trip upstream from Luang Prabang. They are located within the steep rock-cliff, which rises vertically from the waters of the Mekong River at the point where it meets with the Nam Ou River.
Tham Ting Cave is 40 km north of the city. The amazing to that place made the tourists to go upstream by boat about 2 hours. Within the cave there are many hands of rock. At very corner, the Buddha images are placed granted by the worshipers. There are the collected arts of many hundred years of the Buddhist people. At the present no on and guess how old the Buddha images year were. In front of the cave, the Nam Ou river meets the Mekong river can be compared that the north gate very important of the strategy. In addition to these, Tham Ting has important role in the old tradition where the king that arrived her in the Lao new year day.In front of Tham Ting, Pha Ene Mount is on the left bank of Nam Ou river. It looks like the bald rocky mount on the top. Its shape is alike the coffin called Phouphalong and this mount is also representing the legend of the love story of Kounlou and Nang Oua.
Fishing village Bane Pak Ou: On the eastern bank of the Mekong River opposite the caves of Tam Ting is Bane Pak Ou is a fishing village, which regularly supplies fish to the market in Luang Prabang.
Rice field The village grows rice in the paddy fields behind the village.
Sopping around the town The village is a peaceful place with a thriving elementary school small shops sell among other things