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The Peoples? Democratic Republic of Laos is located in the center of Indochina, sharing borders with China to the North 416 kilometers, Myanmar to Northwest 236 kilometers, Thailand to the West 1,835 kilometers, Cambodia to the South 492 kilometers and Vietnam to the East 1,957 kilometers...

The Peoples? Democratic Republic of Laos is located in the center of Indochina, sharing borders with China to the North 416 kilometers, Myanmar to Northwest 236 kilometers, Thailand to the West 1,835 kilometers, Cambodia to the South 492 kilometers and Vietnam to the East 1,957 kilometers.

With a total area of 236,800 square kilometers, around 70% of Laos' terrain is mountainous, reaching a maximum elevation of 2,820 meters in Xieng Khouang Province. The landscapes of northern Laos and the regions adjacent to Vietnam, in particular, are dominated by rough mountains.

The Mekong River is the main geographical feature in the west and, in fact, forms a natural border with Thailand in some areas. The Mekong flows through nearly 1,900 kilometers of Lao territory and shapes much of the lifestyle of the people of Laos. In the South the Mekong reaches a breadth of 20 kilometers, creating an area with thousands of islands.

After decades of war and isolation, this landlocked and peaceful nation welcomes more and more curious visitors each day. Travelers to Laos, a place once known as the Land of a Million Elephants, are able to experience the many cultures and laid back hospitality of a relatively sparse population, whether in the cities or rural villages. Laos has also become a destination for those seeking outdoor fun, as the topography is covered with rivers, mountains, caves, and limestone formations. If you seek adventure, insight into a mystical place, or simply an enjoyable holiday, make Laos your destination.

Laos has a tropical climate with only two distinctive seasons. The rainy season lasts from early May until the end of September. The dry season runs from October to April. The average temperature is about 28 C/82 F, with the hottest temperatures at around 38 C/100 Foccurring in April. In the mountains, temperatures from December until February may dip down to 15 C/59 F.

Lao, a monosyllabic and tonal language, is the official native tongue. English, French are also widely spoken.

Ethnic Groups
Lao Loum (lowland) 68%, Lao Theung (upland) 22%, Lao Soung (highland) including the H?Mong and Yao 9%, ethnic Vietnamese and Chinese 1%

Festivals and Holidays

  • January 1 - New Year
  • April 13-15 - Lao New Year (Bun Pi Mai): this occasion is quite picturesque in Luang Prabang, with colorful costumes and elephant processions.
  • May 1 - International Labor Day
  • Mid-May - Visakha Busa: on the 15th day of the 6th lunar month ? this is considered the day of Buddha?s birth, enlightenment, and death.
    Beautiful ceremonies are centered on the wat.
  • End of Apr - Rocket Festival: This is the rain ceremony celebrated to instigate the rainy
    season for rice cultivation. Festivities include music, dance, folk theater, and bamboo rockets to open the skies.
  • Mid-October - End of Buddhist Lent and national boat races
  • Beginning of November - That Luang Festival in Vientiane
  • December 2 - National Day

One of the earliest known kingdoms of Laos was called Chenla, around the 5th century. Its capital was near Champasak, close to the Khmer temple of Wat Phu. This region is believed to be the birthplace of the Khmer people who migrated south. Others, including Tai people, migrated out of southern China around the 8th century. The nation?s Golden Age occurred during the 17th and 18th century under King Suriya Vongsa, when the capital of Vientiane became known as a major center for Buddhist learning. Laos became a French colony in 1893, was briefly under Japanese rule during WWII, then returned to the French before ultimately gaining independence in 1953. Despite attempting to remain neutral, Laos found itself stuck in the middle of the Cold War when strife crossed its borders and bombs rained down. Today, Laos is at peace and looking forward with investment projects and more tourists visiting than ever before.

Art & Culture
One of the trademarks of Laos is the diversity of its people and cultures. There are a number of traditional arts and crafts that represent their way of life. Lao has a rich cultural heritage with religious art and architecture forming the cornerstone of artistic traditions.

There exists across the country a plethora of distinctive monuments and architectural styles. One of the most notable structures is the That Luang, the great Sacred Stupa, in Vientiane. Its dome-like stupa and four-cornered superstructure is the model for similar monuments across Laos.

Stupas serve to commemorate the life of the Buddha and many stupas are said to house sacred Buddha relics (parts of Buddha's body).

Generally, Hinayana Buddhists cremate the dead body and then place the bones in the stupa, which are set around the grounds of temples, or wats. Different styles of architecture are evident in the numerous Buddhist Wats. Three architectural styles can be distinguished, corresponding to the geographical location of the temples and monasteries. Wats built in Vientiane are large rectangular structures constructed of brick and covered with stucco and high-peaked roofs. In Luang Prabang the roofs sweep very low and, unlike in Vientiane, almost reach the ground. These two styles are different from the wats of Xieng Khouang where the temple roofs are not tiered.

Lao religious images and art is also distinctive and sets Laos apart from its neighbors.
The Calling for Rain posture of Buddha images in Lao, for example, which depicts the Buddha standing with his hands held rigidly at his side, fingers pointing to the ground, cannot be found in other Southeast Asian Buddhist art traditions. Religious influences are also pervasive in classical Lao literature, especially in the Pha Lak, Pha Lam, the Lao version of India s epic Ramayana.
Projects are underway to preserve classic Lao religious scripts, which were transcribed onto palm leaf manuscripts hundreds of years ago and stored in wats. Another excellent example of the richness of Lao culture is in its folk music, which is extremely popular with the people throughout the whole country. The principle instrument is the Khaen; a wind instrument, which comprises a double row of bamboo-like reeds, fitted in a hardwood sound box. The khaen is often accompanied by a bowed string instrument or Saw. The national folk dance is the Lamvong, a circle dance in which people dance circles around each other so that ultimately there are three circles: a circle danced by the individual, another one by the couple, and a third one danced by the whole party.

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