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A long, thin, landlocked country in south‐east Asia, bordering China and Myanmar (Burma) on the north, Thailand on the west, Cambodia on the south, and Vietnam on the east.


Laos is mostly high and hilly, with evergreen forest, this terrain also supporting maize. The Mekong River runs through the north of the country, down the western boundary, and through it again in the south; and its wide valley, swept by a summer monsoon, is ideal for rice growing.


The Lao economy is mainly agricultural, rice being the chief crop and coffee an export crop. The forests are rich in teak wood, a major export to Thailand at the cost of the destruction of much forest land. High‐grade tin is mined. The development of hydroelectric power has made exports of electrity to Thailand the largest export. Industry is very limited but includes food‐processing and textiles.


The Lao, originating in southern China, were driven south by Mongol pressure. In 1354, following a period of Khmer rule, they set up the Buddhist kingdom of Lanxang (‘Million Elephants’), which for a time was very powerful. Laos broke up into rival kingdoms in the 18th century and gradually fell under Siamese (Thai) domination before Siam was forced to yield its claim to France in 1893. Occupied by the Japanese during World War II, it emerged briefly as an independent constitutional monarchy (1947–53), but was undermined by guerrilla war as a result of the increasing influence of the communist Pathet Lao as a political force in the mid‐1950s. A coalition government was established under Prince Souvanna Phouma in 1962, but fighting broke out again soon after, continuing into the 1970s, with Laos suffering badly as a result of involvement in the Vietnam War. A ceasefire was signed in 1973 and a year later Souvanna Phouma agreed to share power in a new coalition with the Pathet Lao leader, his half‐brother Prince Souphanouvong (1902–95); but by 1975 the Pathet Lao were in almost complete control of the country and on 3 December the monarchy was finally abolished and the People's Democratic Republic of Laos established, which, under Kaysone Phomvihane (Prime Minister 1975–92), maintained close links with Vietnam. In 1989 there began some relaxation of his regime and moves to restructure the economy. A new constitution was promulgated in 1991, which envisaged a strong presidency, but no relaxation of control by the Lao People's Revolutionary Party. In 1992 Kaysone was elected President, but died later that year; he was succeeded by Nouhak Phousavanh. The USA restored full diplomatic relations and in May 1992 an IMF loan was negotiated. In 1995 the USA lifted its embargo on aid donations to Laos. Khamtay Siphandone became President in 1998. There were border clashes with Thailand throughout the 1990s.

Source: MAPS IN MINUTES™ © RH Publications (1997)




236,800 sq km (91,400 sq miles)


5,924,000 (2005)


1 kip = 100 at


Buddhist 48.8%; tribal religions 41.7%; non‐religious 4.3%; Christian 2.1%

Ethnic Groups:

Lao 53.0%; Mon‐Khmer 23.0%; Tai 13.0%; Miao (Hmong) and Man (Yao) 10.0%


Subjects: World History.

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