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Lao

Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao, officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic, is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma and China to the northwest, Viet Nam to the east, Cambodia to the south and Thailand to the west. Its population was estimated to be 6.8 million in 2009.

Laos traces its history to the Kingdom which existed from the 14th to the 18th century when it split into three separate kingdoms. In 1893, it became a French protectorate, with the three kingdoms, Kingdom of Luang Phrabang, Kingdom of Vientiane and Kingdom of Champasak, uniting to form what is now known as Laos. It briefly gained independence in 1945 after Japanese occupation, but returned to French rule until it was granted autonomy in 1949. Laos became independent in 1953, with a constitutional monarchy under Sisavang Vong. Shortly after independence, a long civil war ended the monarchy, when the Communist Pathet Lao movement came to power in 1975.

Laos is a single-party socialist republic. The capital city is Vientiane. Other large cities include Luang Prabang, Savannakhet and Pakse. The official language is Lao. Most people are Lao with a significant proportion of indigenous peoples as well. It is a rising power in providing electricity to neighboring countries such as Thailand, China and Viet Nam and the economy is accelerating rapidly with the demands for its metals. It is a member of the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), East Asia Summit and La Francophonie. Laos applied for membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1997.

Geography
Laos is a landlocked nation in Southeast Asia, northeast of Thailand, west of Viet Nam, that covers 236,800 square kilometers in the center of the Southeast Asian peninsula, is surrounded by Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, the People's Republic of China, Thailand, and Viet Nam. Its location has often made it a buffer between more powerful neighboring states, as well as a crossroads for trade and communication. Migration and international conflict have contributed to the present ethnic composition of the country and to the geographic distribution of its ethnic groups.

Topography
Most of the western border of Laos is demarcated by the Mekong River, which is an important artery for transportation. The Dong falls at the southern end of the country prevent access to the sea, but cargo boats travel along the entire length of the Mekong in Laos during most of the year. Smaller power boats and pirogues provide an important means of transportation on many of the tributaries of the Mekong.

The Mekong has thus not been an obstacle but a facilitator for communication, and the similarities between Laos and northeast Thai society - same people, same language - reflect the close contact that has existed across the river for centuries. Also, many Laotians living in the Mekong Valley have relatives and friends in Thailand. Prior to the twentieth century, Laotian kingdoms and principalities encompassed areas on both sides of the Mekong, and Thai control in the late nineteenth century extended to the left bank. Although the Mekong was established as a border by French colonial forces, travel from one side to the other has been significantly limited only since the establishment of the Lao People's Democratic Republic (LPDR, or Laos) in 1975.

The eastern border with Viet Nam extends for 2,130 kilometers, mostly along the crest of the Annamite Chain, and serves as a physical barrier between the Chinese - influenced culture of Viet Nam and the Indianized states of Laos and Thailand. These mountains are sparsely populated by tribal minorities who traditionally have not acknowledged the border with Viet Nam any more than lowland Lao have been constrained by the 1,754-kilometer Mekong River border with Thailand. Thus, ethnic minority populations are found on both the Laotian and Vietnamese sides of the frontier. Because of their relative isolation, contact between these groups and lowland Lao has been mostly confined to trading.

Laos shares its short - only 541 kilometers - southern border with Cambodia, and ancient Khmer ruins at Wat Pho and other southern locations attest to the long history of contact between the Lao and the Khmer. In the north, the country is bounded by a mountainous 423 - kilometer border with China and shares the 235 - kilometer - long Mekong River border with Burma.

The topography of Laos is largely mountainous, with the Annamite Range in the northeast and east and the Luang Prabang Range in the northwest, among other ranges typically characterized by steep terrain. Elevations are typically above 500 meters with narrow river valleys and low agricultural potential. This mountainous landscape extends across most of the north of the country, except for the plain of Vientiane and the Plain of Jars in the Xiangkhoang Plateau. The southern "panhandle" of the country contains large level areas in Savannakhét and Champasak provinces that are well suited for extensive paddy rice cultivation and livestock raising. Much of Khammouan Province and the eastern part of all the southern provinces are mountainous. Together, the alluvial plains and terraces of the Mekong and its tributaries cover only about 20% of the land area.

Only about 4% of the total land area is classified as arable. The forested land area has declined significantly since the 1970s as a result of commercial logging and expanded swidden, or slash - and - burn, farming.

Culture
Laos has its own distinct culture. Through Theravada Buddhism it has influences from India and has also influences from China. These influences are reflected throughout Laos in its language as well as in art, literature and the performing arts.

Lao way of life is very much influenced by the Buddhism as can be seen through the way that Lao people live and behave. They are taught to be patient and acceptance people. Buddhism was the only thing that bound people together and taught people to be good people and stay away from doing wrong things in the past when the law enforcement was not in place.

An important festival in Laos is Boun Pha Vet celebrated once a year. This is a two day Buddhist festival that involves the entire community. Traditionally the Boun Pha Vet is held in January or February depending on the moon cycle. During the ceremony the monks give a sermon of all chapters of the Maha Wetsandon Chadok, otherwise called the Great Birth Sermon.

Laotian music is dominated by its national instrument, the khaen (a type of bamboo pipe). Bands typically include a singer/rapper (mor lam) and a khaen player (mor khaen) alongside fiddlers and other musicians. Lam saravane is the most popular genre of Laotian music, but ethnic Lao in Thailand have developed an internationally-best selling form called mo lam sing.

One significant archive of ancient Laotian culture is the Plain of Jars in Xieng Khouang province.

The primary language in Laos is Lao, however there are other Laotian dialects spoken by the ethnic minority groups living in Laos. The Lao language is a very polite language with multiple tiers of politeness including common polite particles such as "Jao" and "Doi".

Laos has no copyright legislation, which is unusual compared to most other countries. A draft law based on the WIPO and TRIPS agreements has been prepared, and was expected to be enacted in 2010. As of 2011, it has not passed yet, according to the WIPO website.

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