Commonly referred to as the Lao People’s Democratic Republic or Lao PDR, Laos is a landlocked country located in South East Asia. It shares its borders with Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and China. About 70 per cent of the country’s terrain is mountainous, and the Mekong river runs on its western border.
The country has various great cities such as Luang Prabang and Vientiane, which combine both traditional Asian as well as French colonial architecture, culture and religion. Despite its small population, the country has 49 ethnic groups that are divided into four linguistic branches. Most of the Laos citizens practice Buddhism as their religion.
The country was first established in 1353 as a Khmer state by warlord Fa Ngum, who declared himself as King over Lane Xang. Years later, a succession dispute arose, and by 1694, the kingdom had been split into three. Several more fragments took place and the last fragment was taken over by the Siamese in 1885. Part of this fragment was again taken over by the French, who later set up Laos in 1907, as a unified territory. Laos was again occupied by the Japanese in 1945, who were later overthrown by the French. During the Vietnam war, the entire Laos region was bombed by the united states, and in 1975 after the war had ended, control of Vientiane was taken over by Pathet Lao, a French communist and things started changing for the better. Tourism is now becoming better each year.
While in Laos, guests can travel via bus, plane or boat depending on their destination and convenience. Lao Airlines is currently the state carrier and handles almost all the domestic flights. It is by far the best way to reach most parts of the country. However, flight cancellations and delays are still common in the region. There is also a highway that connects most of the towns within the country and road transport options include converted trucks, buses and minibuses. Local transport also consists of tuk tuks, jumbos as well as motorized wheelers. Songthaews (truck based vehicles with bench seats) are also available and are used to substitute local buses during short trips. Guests can also hire motorcycles and bicycles from bike rental companies either to explore the country’s capital or go on road tours. Boats can be found along the Mekong river and these may be used as shortcuts to road travel. Slowboats and speedboats can be used to access Thailand and other neighboring countries. Ferry boats are also available and they run from Vientaine to Luang Prabang and back. All boats depart early in the morning and journeys can however take several days depending on the time of the year.
Although the country is landlocked, there are several attractive spots that guests can visit including the Lao National Museum, Pha That Luang, Patuxai, Wat Si Saket and Wat Si Muang among others in Vientiane. Attractive sites in Luang Prabang include Wat Xieng Thong, the Henri Mouhot Gravesite as well as Haw Kham and the PakOu Caves. There is further information regarding these attractions on other sections of this guide.
One of the best times to visit Laos is usually between November and April when the place is neither too dry nor flooded.