23 interesting facts about Laos

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The most interesting facts about Laos, from a tragic history, one of the world’s last communist states and a collection of over 2,100 stone jars.

Novice monks in Laos monks
Interesting facts about Laos include the tradition of boys becoming novice monks (Shutterstock)

Fast facts

Official name: Lao People’s Democratic Republic
Capital city: Vientiane
Population: 7,447,396
Area: 236,800 sq km
Major languages: Lao, French, English
Time zone: UTC+7 (Indochina Time)
– Source: CIA World Fact Book

Interesting facts about Laos

1. Laos is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia. A landlocked country is surrounded by land and does not have access to the open sea. Presently, there are 45 landlocked countries in the world as well as five partially recognised states.
– Source: CIA World Fact BookThe Telegraph

2. The first humans are believed to have inhabited Laos since at least 8000 BC when a Neolithic culture of hunter-gatherers emerged.
– Source: Lonely Planet

3. The Mekong River runs through Laos. At 4,350km, it is the longest river in Southeast Asia, the 7th longest in Asia, and the 12th longest in the world.
– Source: Britannica


The Mekong River
The Mekong River (Shutterstock)

4. Despite being landlocked, Laos is home to an area where the Mekong River spreads to a 14km-wide network of streams creating an archipelago of islands called Si Phan Don, which translates as Four Thousand Islands.
– Source: Rough Guides

5. Irrawaddy dolphins (known for their bulging forehead and short beak) used to be widely found in the Mekong River in Laos. Tragically, in 2016, the WWF announced that only three dolphins were left in Laos, meaning the species was “functionally extinct in Laos”.
– Source: WWF

6. In 1893, Laos became a French protectorate. It was briefly occupied by Japan in 1945, then the French resumed control in 1946.
– Source: BBC News

7. In 1954, Laos gained independence from France, although it immediately slipped into a civil war between the monarchy and communist forces.
– Source: BBC News

8. The Laos flag is horizontally striped red-blue-red with the red representing the blood of those seeking freedom and independence, and the blue representing the promise of future prosperity as well as the Mekong River. The central white disk references Japan’s flag, as the Japanese encouraged the Lao independence movement in the Second World War.
– Source: Britannica, CIA World Fact Book


The flag of Laos
The flag of Laos (Shutterstock)

9. During the Vietnam War from 1964 to 1973, the US carried out unprovoked bombing raids on the neutral country of Laos in an attempt to destroy North Vietnamese sanctuaries and disrupt the supply lines known as the Ho Chi Minh trail. The raid killed 200,000 civilians – one-tenth of the population of Laos.
– Source: History Channel

10. Laos is the most heavily bombed nation in history. It’s estimated that more bombs were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War than were dropped during the whole of the Second World War.
– Source: History Channel

11. Laos is still dealing with millions of unexploded bombs from these attacks. A third of the bombs dropped failed to explode on impact and have since killed or injured 20,000 people – an average of 500 victims a year.
– Source: The Guardian

12. Craters from the American airstrikes are often used as fishponds or for irrigating crops in rice fields in Laos.
– Source: National Geographic

13. Likewise, there are examples of excavated bomb casings being used in basic structures. The casings are also a form of valuable scrap metal.
– Source: National Geographic


14. During the American bombardment of Laos, a system of over 450 caves located sheltered up to 23,000 people. The caves had previously been used by communist forces as shelter.
– Source: Lonely Planet

A cave in Laos
A cave in Laos (Shutterstock)

15. In 1975, the Lao People’s Front overthrew the monarchy and took control of Laos proclaiming the Lao People’s Democratic Republic with the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) as the only legal political party. Years of isolation ensued.
– Source: BBC News

16. Today, Laos remains one of the world’s few communist states. The only others are China, Cuba, Vietnam and nominally North Korea (although technically its government doesn’t refer to itself as communist).
– Source: History Channel

17. Recently, the country has begun to open up and in 2016, President Barack Obama became the first sitting US president to visit Laos.
– Source: New York Times

18. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Plain of Jars is comprised of over 2,100 tubular-shaped stone jars that were used for funerals during the Iron Age from 500 BC to 500 AD.
– Source: UNESCO


The World Heritage Site of the Plain of Jars
The World Heritage Site of the Plain of Jars (Shutterstock)

19. Buddhism was introduced to Laos in the 13th or early 14th centuries. Around 60% of the population is Buddhist.
– Source: Lonely Planet

20. Every Buddhist male in Laos is expected to become a monk for at least a short period in his life. Ideally, this would be just after he finishes school but before he starts a career or marries. During this time they are known as a náirn or novices.
– Source: Lonely Planet

21. Laos has a nationwide curfew where nearly all bars, restaurants and nightclubs are expected to close by midnight. This is more strictly enforced in the UNESCO World Heritage Site town of Luang Prabang.
– Source: Rough Guide to Laos (2013) DK: London, The Independent

22. People in Laos greet each other by putting their hands together in a prayer-like manner known as the nop.
– Source: Lonely Planet

23. Laos was once known as Lan Xang which translates as “The Land of a Million Elephants.” Unfortunately, today there are thought to be just 800 elephants remaining, of which half are kept in captivity.
– Source: National Public Radio



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