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Laos

History Lan Xang Laos traces its history to the kingdom of Lan Xang (Million Elephants), founded in the 14th century, by a Lao prince, Fa Ngum, who took over Vientiane with He made Theravada Buddhism the state religion and Lan Xang prospered. His ministers, unable to tolerate his ruthlessness, forced him into exile to the present-day Thai province of Nan in 1373, where he later died. Fa Ngum's eldest son, Samsenthai eigned for 43 years. After his death in 1421, Lan Xang collapsed into warring factions for the next 100 years.
French Laos

In the late 19th century, Luang Prabang was ransacked by the Chinese Black Flag Army. France rescued King Oun Kham and added Luang Phrabang to the 'Protectorate' of French Indochina. Shortly after, the Kingdom of Champasak and the territory of Vientiane were also added to the protectorate. King Sisavang Vong of Luang Phrabang became ruler of a unified Laos and Vientiane once again became the capital. Laos never had any importance for France[17] other than as a buffer state between British-influenced Thailand and the more economically important Annam and Tonkin. During their rule, the French introduced the corvee, a system that forced every male Lao to contribute 10 days of manual labor per year to the colonial government. Laos produced tin, rubber, and coffee, but never accounted for more than 1% of French Indochina's exports. By 1940, only 600 French citizens lived in Laos.[18] Following a brief Japanese occupation during World War II, the country declared its independence on 12 October 1945, but the French under Charles de Gaulle re-asserted control. In 1950 Laos was granted semi-autonomy as an "associated state" within the French Union. France remained in de facto control until 22 October 1953, when Laos gained full independence as a constitutional monarchy.

Independence

In 1955, the U.S. Department of Defense created a special Programs Evaluation Office to replace French support of the Royal Lao Army against the communist Pathet Lao as part of the U.S. containment policy.

In 1960, amidst a series of rebellions, fighting broke out between the Royal Lao Army and the Pathet Lao. A second Provisional Government of National Unity formed by Prince Souvanna Phouma in 1962 proved to be unsuccessful, and the situation steadily deteriorated into large scale civil war between the Royal Laotian government and the Pathet Lao. The Pathet Lao were backed militarily by the NVA and Vietcong. Laos was also dragged into the Vietnam War since parts of Laos were invaded and occupied by North Vietnam for use as a supply route for its war against the South. In response, the United States initiated a bombing campaign against the North Vietnamese positions, supported regular and irregular anticommunist forces in Laos and supported South Vietnamese incursions into Laos. In 1968 the North Vietnamese Army launched a multi-division attack to help the Pathet Lao to fight the Royal Lao Army. The attack resulted in the army largely demobilizing, leaving the conflict to irregular forces raised by the United States and Thailand. Massive aerial bombardment against Pathet Lao and NVA forces was carried out by the United States. It has been reported that Laos was hit by an average of one B-52 bombload every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, between 1964 and 1973. U.S. bombers dropped more ordnance on Laos in this period than was dropped during the whole of the World War II. Of the 260 million bombs that rained down, particularly on Xiangkhouang Province on the Plain of Jars, some 80 million failed to explode, leaving a deadly legacy.[19] Laos is the most heavily bombed country, per capita, in the world. Because it was particularly heavily affected by cluster bombs during this war, Laos was a strong advocate of the Convention on Cluster Munitions to ban the weapons and assist victims, and hosted the First Meeting of States Parties to the convention in November 2010. In 1975, the Pathet Lao, along with Vietnam People's Army and backed by the Soviet Union, overthrew the royalist Lao government, forcing King Savang Vatthana to abdicate on 2 December 1975. He later died in captivity. On 2 December 1975, after taking control of the country, the Pathet Lao government under Kaysone Phomvihane renamed the country as the Lao People's Democratic Republic and signed agreements giving Vietnam the right to station armed forces and to appoint advisers to assist in overseeing the country. Laos was requested in 1979 by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to end relations with the People's Republic of China, leading to isolation in trade by China, the United States, and other countries. From 1975 to 1996, the United States resettled some 250,000 Lao refugees from Thailand, including 130,000 Hmong.

Government and politics Laos is a communist single-party socialist republic. The only legal political party is the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP). The head of state is President Choummaly Sayasone, who is also the General Secretary of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party. The head of government is Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, who is also a senior member of the Politburo of Revolutionary Party. Government policies are determined by the party through the all-powerful eleven-member Political Bureau and the 61-member Central Committee. Important government decisions are vetted by the Council of Ministers. Laos's first, French-written and monarchical constitution was promulgated on 11 May 1947 and declared Laos to be an independent state within the French Union. The revised constitution of 11 May 1957 omitted reference to the French Union, though close educational, health and technical ties with the former colonial power persisted. The 1957 document was abrogated on 3 December 1975, when a communist People's Republic was proclaimed. A new constitution was adopted in 1991 and enshrined a "leading role" for the LPRP. In 1990, deputy minister for science & technology Thongsouk Saysangkhi resigned from the government and party, calling for political reform. He died in captivity in 1998.[24] In 1992, elections were held for a new 85-seat National Assembly with members elected by secret ballot to five-year terms. This National Assembly, which essentially acts as a rubber stamp for the LPRP, approves all new laws, although the executive branch retains authority to issue binding decrees. The most recent elections took place in April 2011. The assembly was expanded to 99 members in 1997, to 115 members in 2006 and finally to 132 members during the 2011 elections. Economy The Lao economy depends heavily on investment and trade with its neighbours, Thailand, Vietnam, and, especially in the north, China. In 2011, the Lao Securities Exchange began trading. In 2012, the government initiated the creation of the Laos Trade Portal, a website incorporating all information traders need to import and export goods into the country. Subsistence agriculture still accounts for half of the GDP and provides 80% of employment. Only 4.01% of the country is arable land, and a mere 0.34% used as permanent crop land,[53] the lowest percentage in the Greater Mekong Subregion.[54] Rice dominates agriculture, with about 80% of the arable land area used for growing rice.[55] Approximately 77% of Lao farm households are self-sufficient in rice.[56]

Laos is rich in mineral resources and imports petroleum and gas. Metallurgy is an important industry, and the government hopes to attract foreign investment to develop the substantial deposits of coal, gold, bauxite, tin, copper and other valuable metals. In addition, the country's plentiful water resources and mountainous terrain enable it to produce and export large quantities of hydroelectric energy The country's most widely recognised product may well be Beerlao which is exported to a number of countries including neighbours Cambodia and Vietnam. Tourism The tourism sector has grown rapidly, from 80,000 international visitors in 1990, to 1.876 million in 2010. Tourism is expected to contribute US$679.1 million to gross national product in 2010, rising to US$1,585.7 million by 2020. Laos has become popular with tourists for its relaxed style of living and for retaining elements of the "original Asia" lost elsewhere. The official tourism slogan is "Simply Beautiful". The main attractions for tourists include Buddhist culture and colonial architecture in Luang Prabang; gastronomy and ancient temples in the capital of Vientiane; backpacking in Muang Ngoi Neua and Vang Vieng; ancient and modern culture and history in The Plain of Jars region (main article: Phonsavan); Laos Civil War history in Sam Neua; Trekking and visiting hill tribes in a number of areas including Phongsaly and Luang Namtha; spotting tigers and other wildlife in Nam Et-Phou Louey; caves and waterfalls near Thakhek; relaxation, the Irrawaddy dolphin and Khone Phapheng Falls. Luang Prabang and Wat Phu are both UNESCO World Heritage sites, with the Plain of Jars expected to join them once more work to clear UXO has been completed. Major festivals include Laos New Year which is celebrated around 13–15 April and involves a water festival similar but more subdued than that of Thailand and other South-East Asian countries. The Lao National Tourism Administration, related government agencies and the private sector are working together to realise the vision put forth in the country's National Ecotourism Strategy and Action Plan. This includes decreasing the environmental and cultural impact of tourism; increasing awareness in the importance of ethnic groups and biological diversity; providing a source of income to conserve, sustain and manage the Lao protected area network and cultural heritage site. Laos is known for its silk and local handicraft product, both of which are on display in Luang Prabang's night market, among other places. Another speciality is mulberry tea.

Culture Theravada Buddhism is a dominant influence in Lao culture. It is reflected throughout the country from language to the temple and in art, literature, performing arts, etc. Many elements of Lao culture predate Buddhism, however. For example, Laotian music is dominated by its national instrument, the khaen, a type of bamboo pipe that has prehistoric origins. The khaen traditionally accompanied the singer in lam, the dominant style of folk music. Among the various lam styles, the lam saravane is probably the most popular.
Media

All newspapers are published by the government, including two foreign language papers: the English-language daily Vientiane Times and the French-language weekly Le Rénovateur. Additionally, the Khao San Pathet Lao, the country's official news agency, publishes English and French versions of its eponymous paper. Laos currently has nine daily newspapers, 90 magazines, 43 radio stations and 32 TV stations operating throughout the country.

Sport

The martial art of Muay Lao, the national sport, is a form of kickboxing similar to other styles of Southeast Asia such as Thai Muay Thai, Burmese Lethwei, Malaysian Tomoi and Cambodian Pradal Serey. Football in Laos has grown up to be the most popular sport for Lao people. Since the start of the League Lao Army FC (8 Titles) has been the most successful club with the highest championship wins.

Places to visit NORTHERN LAOS (approximately 750 km from Vientiane) Bordered by Myanmar, Vietnam and China, the northernmost part of Laos includes the provinces of Phongsaly, Luang Namtha and Oudomxay. Highlights of a visit to this mountainous region are the colorful markets and villages of more than 30 different

ethnic groups, such as Hmong, Iko, Khmu, Lanten, Mien, Samtao, Thai Daeng, Thai Lu. Since the late 16th century, the small town of Muang Sing has been a traditional Thai cultural nexus as well as a trade center attracting a large variety of hill tribes. With a stunning unspoiled nature, Luang Nam Tha province is also home to the 2,224 squarekilometers Nam Ha National Biodiversity Conservation Area and to the UNESCO Lao Nam Ha Eco-tourism Project.

LUANG PRABANG (390 km from Vientiane) The crown jewel of Laos and former Lanexang, Luang Prabang, at the confluence of the Nam Kham and the Mekong River, is perhaps the best-preserved traditional city in Southeast Asia. Magical and charming, it has maintained its long-standing reputation as a stronghold of Lao culture with its delightful mountain encircled setting, the lovely Royal Palace and more than 30 half-millennium old temples such as Vat Xienthong, Vat Visoun, Vat May and Vat Sene. Nearby are the sacred Pak Ou Caves housing thousands of statues representing Lord Buddha. In 1995 UNESCO voted Luang Prabang as a World Heritage City.

NORTHERN MEKONG (approximately 450 km from Vientiane) In the northwestern part of Laos, near the famous Golden Triangle, Houei Xay is a bustling trading port between Yunnan and Thailand. The region is famous for its precious stones (sapphires and rubies) and gold mining. Various hill-tribes’ villages can be visited from Houei Xay, including the colorful Lahu, Mien and Lanten. Houei Xay is a major entry point for visitors planning to travel down-river to Luang Prabang. Travelers usually stop overnight at Pak Beng, a rustic town-village that sits on a steep hillside with spectacular views over the Mekong River. An alternative option is to continue the cruise to the small port of Tha Suang and from there, to travel overland to Hong Sa, where Thai Lu villagers specialize in elephant breeding while women weave some of the most sumptuous Lao textiles. Elephant safaris to beautiful authentic Thai Lu villages and to the pristine White Elephant Forest can be organized.

PLAIN OF JARS (approximately 300 km from Vientiane) Among the most enigmatic sites in Laos is the Plain of Jars, a large area extending around Phonesavanh city in Xieng Khouang province, where several hundreds of huge jars of unknown origin are scattered about in over a dozen of groupings. The jars, carved from solid stone, vary in shape and in size, the biggest one weighing as much as six tons. The area, which was heavily bombed during the Indochina and Vietnam Wars, is home to a large Hmong community. Xiengkhouang province is also known for the

trekking tours and the home stay for the visit and discover the new plain of jars nearby the various minority villages.

VANG VIENG (160 km from Vientiane) This small provincial town nestles along a scenic bend of the Nam Song River. The main attraction is the karst topography lining the west bank of the river with sugar loaf hills and dramatic cliffs covered by lush vegetation and peppered by caves and caverns, including the famous Tham Xang cave. During the 19th century, Tham Xang cave, with an underground spring and a stunning view over the valley, was used as a bunker in defense against marauding Yunnanese.

VIENTIANE CAPITAL & VIENTIANE PROVINCE Vientiane is the capital of Laos. It is located on the bank of the Mekong river. Though the largest city in the country. Most travelers are fascinated by the city's exotic Eurasian setting. The confluence of several cultures has given Vientiane an appealing ambience. Treelined boulevards, French historical dwellings and Buddhists temples dominate the scene of central Vientiane and impart a unique character of timelessness. Vientiane's That Luang stupa is the most impressive and biggest stupa in Laos, featured on the Lao insignia. This stupa was constructed in 1566 by King Setthathirat. The Siamese damaged it badly during their invasion in 1828, but it was restored in the 1936s. In mid-November, religious rites as well as a fair are held here during the That Luang festival.

SAVANNAKHET (470 km from Vientiane) Khanthabouly, the provincial capital of Savannakhet, is a busy market place for trade withnearby Thailand. Numerous examples of French architecture tell of the town's importance during the colonial era. Khanthabouly's main attractions are its noteworthy temples such as the beautiful Vat Saya Phoum and That Inghang. The latter is the holiest edifice in southern Laos, housing a hollow chamber with a distinguished collection of Buddha images. Near Muang Phin, on the route to Vietnam, dinosaur remains are on display. They were discovered by a French scientist in the 1930s. Not as old as these prehistoric relicts, but of no less significance, is the northernmost example of Khmer art at Heuan Hin (stone

house). The buildings were constructed between 553 AD and 700 AD. Today little more than unrestored ruins remain. Visitors interested in the latest period of Lao history may want to visit the former Ho Chi Minh Trail, whose outer edges are next to Xepon, 170 km east of Khanthabouly. North and south along the trail, remnants of downed US helicopters, fighter planes and other war material can be seen. PAKSE – CHAMPASSAK (approximately 700 km from Vientiane) Pakse, the capital of the Champassak province, is located at the confluence of the Mekong and Sedone Rivers. It is the perfect gateway to the southern region and to the Boloven Plateau as well as an excellent starting point for excursions to the former royal capital of Champassak, situated 38 km from Pakse along the Mekong River. The preAngkorian Vat Phu Temple (6th-13th centuries), near Champassak, was listed as World Heritage by UNESCO in 2002 and the Vat Phu Archeological Museum opened doors in 2003 with more than 150 artifacts. Several Khmer sites associated with Vat Phu Temple can be found in the surroundings including Oum Moung Temple (9th century) on the opposite bank of the Mekong River. Nearby is Ban Khiat Ngong village with its enigmatic Phu Asa temple, which lies amidst the dense jungle of Xe Pien NBCA. Elephant riding through the forest to observe the abundant wildlife is a recommended option. KHONG ISLAND (815 km from Vientiane) Located at the southernmost point of Laos, next to the Cambodian border, the Siphandone region (Four Thousand Islands) is blessed by the most scenic section of the Mekong River and some impressive rapids including the magnificent Khone Phapheng Waterfall. Khong Island, with its lovely fishing villages, its serene monasteries and its lush vegetation offers a unique opportunity to experience the peaceful Lao way of life. In the dry season, when the river recedes, the Irrawaddy dolphins, one of the world’s rarest large mammal species, congregate at the base of rapids to hunt the fish that survive in the deep pools. BOLOVEN PLATEAU , SARAVAN , SEKONG, ATTAPEU (approximately 800 km from Vientiane) The Boloven Plateau straddles Saravan, Sekong, Champassak and Attapeu provinces. This fertile volcanic plateau, especially the Paksong area, is one of the country’s most important agricultural areas with coffee, tea and spice plantations as well as fruit orchards. Neighboring Vietnam, the Boloven Plateau was heavily bombed during the Vietnam War and the flotsam of the Ho Chi Minh Trail can be seen in several locations.

More than 13 ethnic groups of the Mon-Khmer family inhabit this remote region: Lavai, Laven, Alak, Nge, Katu, Katang … still maintain their centuries-old lifestyles, with several families living in huge longhouses, and practice a combination of animism and shamanism including buffalo sacrifices. Excursions to Tadlo or Tadfane Waterfalls offer visitors a glimpse into these ancestral ways of living. The area also boasts 50% natural forest cover. So far, only Phu Xieng Thong NBCA (about 40 km from Pakse) received protected status but the southeastern part of the plateau, rugged, wild and scenic, is home to pristine primary rainforests, abundant with wild life including rare species of birds and deer, tigers, elephants, leopards, monkeys and possibly even rhinos. Sources: http://www.discoveryindochina.com/laos/destinations/index.htm http://www.wikipedia.com/Laos

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