Laos, one of the world's few remaining communist states, is one of east Asia's poorest countries. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 it has struggled to find its position within a changing political and economic landscape. Communist forces overthrew the monarchy in 1975, heralding years of isolation. Laos began opening up to the world in the 1990s, but despite tentative reforms, it remains poor and dependent on international donations.
Laos Tourist Attractions
The government has implemented gradual economic and business reforms since 2005 to somewhat liberalize its domestic markets. Its longterm plans for reform include high-profile projects such as the Nam Theun 2 power project. Thailand is the largest foreign investor in Laos. While this support is badly needed, the dangers of exposing Laos's fragile economy to world trends are clear. Samoa
The Asian currency crisis of 1997 caused the national currency, the kip, to lose more than nine-tenths of its value against the US dollar. Laos is a landlocked, mountainous country, widely covered by largely unspoilt tropical forest.
Less than 5% of the land is suitable for subsistence agriculture, which nevertheless provides around 80% of employment. The main crop is rice, which is grown on the fertile floodplain of the Mekong River. Vegetables, fruit, spices and cotton are also grown.
Part of the region's heroin-producing "Golden Triangle", Laos has all but stamped out opium production. Outside the capital, many people live without electricity or access to basic facilities. But Laos is banking on the anticipated returns from a billion-dollar dam scheme, intended to generate electricity for export to Thailand, to boost its economy and infrastructure.
Several small bomb blasts in recent years in and around the capital, Vientiane, have suggested that opposition to the ruling party may be growing. But any public dissent is dealt with harshly by the authorities.
The country's human rights record has come under scrutiny. Laos denies accusations of abuses by the military against the ethnic minority Hmong. Hmong groups have been fighting a low-level rebellion against the communist regime since 1975.
Full name: Lao People's Democratic Republic
Population: 5.9 million (UN, 2007)
Area: 236,800 sq km (91,400 sq miles)
Major languages: Lao, French (for diplomatic purposes)
Major religion: Buddhism
Life expectancy: 63 years (men), 66 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 new kip = 100 ath
Main exports: Clothing, timber products, coffee, gold, copper, electricity
GNI per capita: US $440 (World Bank, 2006)
Internet domain: .la
International dialling code: +856