Lao People’s Democratic Republic
Once known as the ‘land of a million elephants’, Laos is the only landlocked country in Asia, bordered by Burma, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. It became a French protectorate in 1893 and finally became an independent country in 1953 with a constitutional monarchy. This monarchy however was shortly ended by a long civil war. Today Laos is a single-party socialist republic whilst remaining strongly influenced by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the Vietnam People’s Army. The Laotian people make up roughly 60% of the population whilst indigenous groups and hill tribes account for 40% of the Laotian population.
It is a country that has a lot to offer whether it’s the underground river caves, the white-water rapids and jungle zip lines for thrill seekers, the beautiful forests for trekkers and nature lovers or the wonderful cuisine for the foodies!
The average temperature in Laos is around 29°C although in the cooler months, temperatures can drop to around 15-20°C. It has a tropical monsoon climate with its rainy season spanning from May to October. The dry season can be subdivided into two categories: the cool, dry season spanning from November to February and then the hot, dry season which lasts from March up to April.
High season in Laos tends to be from November to March when the temperatures are more agreeable, note that prices rise accordingly during this period too! July and August can be quite wet with high humidity but the landscape becomes especially greener during this time. The low season months can be found from April to June and September to October. April and May are especially hot, this is when temperatures are most likely to reach 40°C, the months of September and October can be incredibly wet as well.
Like its neighbours Cambodia and Thailand, Theravada Buddhism is the dominant form of religion in Laos and has a significant influence in Laotian culture, playing a role in its language, art, literature and performing arts.
It is a country that has managed to retain its authenticity and traditions, more so than some of its neighbours which are becoming increasingly modernised and succumbing to western influences in many ways.
The staple food in Laos is steamed sticky rice, which is thought to have originated in Laos. The Laotian people are thought of as the largest consumers of sticky rice in the world. Galangal (comparable to ginger), lemongrass, and padaek (fermented fish sauce) are all important ingredients in Lao cuisine.
Most of the towns and cities in Laos are easy to discover by foot but taxis and tuk-tuks are available for those who prefer not to walk.
Often called “minivans”, songthaew means “two rows” in Thai. They are a kind of pickup truck with a roof with benches in the back. This is a very local and authentic way to travel short distances in Laos and the most economic way as well.
Lao Airlines offers domestic flights and will get you anywhere within 40 minutes including destinations that would take a 12 hour bus ride to reach. Downside? It is costly as the airline’s routes are near-monopolized. The popular Vientiane-Luan Prabange flight costs around 200 USD one-way.
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