The Lao People’s Democratic Republic, known commonly as Laos, is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordering Thailand, Burma, China, Vietnam and Cambodia. Long an isolated country both geographically and economically, Laos has welcomed tourism and private enterprise in recent years. The New York Times rated Laos #1 in its list of “The 53 Places to Go in 2008“.
Despite its growth, Laos remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with a gross domestic product equal to less than 3% of neighboring Thailand, and less than 1% of the United States. About one-third of Laos’ population are living below the poverty line.
Laos was founded in the 14th century with the kingdom of Lan Xang, which means “Land of a Million Elephants.” The kingdom ruled until the 18th century, after which Laos came under Siamese (Thai) rule. After a period of French rule, Laos gained its independence in 1949.
From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance over Laos during 580,000 bombing missions—equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years. The bombing was an effort to fend off the Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese Army. It led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians within Laos.
In 1975, the Pathet Lao overthrew the Lao royalist government, establishing a communist regime and changing the country’s official name to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.