Once upon a time, a furious dragon spat out a huge amount of water. As the land started to dry, some brown water made a channel and flowed to the horizon. Out of the mud on the banks, the first people evolved and they called the river Me Kong: the ‘big mother’. The country was referred to later as ‘the land of the Mekong’. Today we know it as Laos or the Lao People's Democratic Republic. Following the Vietnam War, it is also known to be the most heavily bombed country in the world. While the majority of the countries in Southeast Asia are developing and opening their frontiers to Westerners, it seems that Laos is still a riddle in the Asian jigsaw. The French colonialists may have best described Laos when they ruled Indochina: “The Vietnamese plant the rice, the Cambodians watch it grow, and the Lao listen to the pace of its growth”. In many ways, a trip to Laos is a trip to the ‘lost East’. Laos resembles how Thailand looked some 50 years ago. Today, after years of isolation from the outer world, Laos is slowly opening up and allowing visitors to explore its hidden secrets.


Location
: Southeast Asia. Border countries: Burma, Cambodia, China, Thailand, and Vietnam. Laos is landlocked.


Area
: 236,800 sq km.

Landscape
: mostly rugged mountains and some plains and plateaus. The lowest point is the Mekong River, 70 m, and the highest point is Phou Bia, 2817 m.


Climate
: tropical monsoon; rainy season May to November; dry season December to April.


Nationality
: Lao people are commonly divided according to the altitude at which they live. It is an artificial definition, created by the ruling party, and does not reflect on the rich and diverse ethnicities inhabiting the country, many having their own dialects and distinctive and colorful clothing. According to the government’s classification, the Lao people are divided into Lao Loum (low land), Lao Thai (part of the Lao Loum, originally from Thailand), Lao Thoeng (lower mountain, such as the Khmou people), and Lao Soung (higher mountain, such as the Hmong people). Approximate percentages are: Lao 55%, Khmou 11%, Hmong 8%, other (over 100 minor ethnic groups) 26%.


Population
: 6,834,345 (July 2009).


Languages
Lao (official), French, English, and various ethnic languages.


Literacy
: 68.7% of Laotians are literate: males 77% , females 60.9%.


Religion
: Buddhist 67%, Christian 1.5%, other and unspecified (as animistic) 31.5%.


Government
: communist state. The president and vice-president are elected by the National Assembly for five-year terms. The prime minister is nominated by the president and elected by the National Assembly for a five-year term.


Administrative subdivisions:
16 provinces and the capital city, Vientiane.


Civilization
: most Laotians are farmers, and the urban population is only 31% of the total. Rate of urbanization: the annual rate of change is 5.6%.


Telecommunications
: domestic and international services are increasingly available for private use. In almost any town in Laos you can find an internet center.  In remote areas, there is no internet and no signal.


Monetary unit
: kip (LAK).


Time Zone
: GMT (UTC) +7.