Laos was officially named Lao People’s Democratic Republic when it became a Communist state in 1975. It is the world’s 82nd largest country with a total area of 236,800 square kilometers and a population of just about 7 million people. Being landlocked and situated in one of the most remote places in Southeast Asia made it possible for the country to be more culturally and architecturally preserved than other countries in the region. Here are some of the most interesting facts about Laos.
1. It is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia
Laos is bordered by 5 countries around it such as Cambodia, People’s Republic of China, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, and Vietnam. It is the only country in Southeast Asia without access to any world ocean, an interesting fact about Laos.
2. Coffee is Laos’ major agricultural export
The livelihood of the majority of Laotians is highly dependent on agricultural farming. The biggest agricultural export the country has is coffee. It was the French who brought the plants during its colonization and it proved to be a perfect match with Laos’ volcanic soil and high altitude.
3. Southeast Asian’s oldest modern human fossil was discovered in this communist country
Back in 2009, paleontologists were able to dig up parts of a modern skull and jaw in the Tam Pa Ling or popularly known as Cave of the Monkeys in Laos. The radiocarbon and luminescence dating done to the bones indicate that it was 46,000 to 51,000 years old. It proved that hominids or ancient people were able to wander from Africa to Asia through inland rivers not just through coastlines.
4. Laos has the biggest waterfalls in Southeast Asia and the widest in the world
One of Laos’ main attractions is the Khone Falls or Khone Papeng. Some refer to it as the “Niagara of the East” because of its massive size, a fun Laos fact. The highest point is about 21 meters high and measures at 35,367 feet in width, making it not only the biggest in the Southeast Asian region but also the widest in the world too.
5. It is the most bombed country in the world
There is an area in Laos particularly that of Phou Bia that people are not allowed to enter not for religious or cultural reasons but for safety reasons. During the Vietnam War, the United States army dropped 2 million bombs for a period of 9 years. Thirty percent of the bombs did not detonate and rendered the lands unusable and unsafe. There were numerous accounts were people especially children were either killed or maimed because of accidental discovery of these bombs.
6. Laos has a huge gold-covered Buddhist stupa
In the heart of Laos, a golden Buddhist stupa called “Pha That Luang” can be found. Unlike other fancy monuments with gold paint, this temple is covered all over with real gold, an interesting fact about Laos. Records show that it was built by King Setthathirath in 1566 when he made Vientiane the country’s capital, but it was destroyed by Siamese invaders. The French decided to rebuild it, but was again destroyed during another war. The current stupa was rebuilt after World War II in its original glory. Local legends tell that in the 3rd century, an ancient temple was erected on the same spot by Buddhist monks to enshrine a relic of Buddha’s breastbone.
7. Laotians celebrate New Year in April
Due to their religious beliefs, New Year celebration in Laos starts every year in April 13 and lasts until April 15. They consider the 13th as the last day of the previous year, the 14th as the day of no day which means neither old nor new, and the 15th as the beginning of New Year.
8. It is home to endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins
Irrawaddy dolphins or popularly known in Laos as “The smiling faces of Mekong” are nearly extinct. The rounded noses and upturned mouths of these dolphins made them look like they are always smiling hence the nickname. The Mekong River has around 60 of these adorable animals and they are under the protection of the villagers with the help of the government, an interesting fact about Laos.
9. Laos has thousands of ancient mysterious massive stone jars
Thousands of huge jars dating back to 500 BC and 800 AD were found scattered in Xiangkhoang Plateau’s central plain in Laos. No one can tell exactly what they were used for. Some experts believed that they were primarily used as burial jars as some human remains were found inside some of the jars. There are others who said that these ancient jars were used for storing water during the dry season.
10. It has two UNESCO world heritage sites, Luang Prabang and Vat Phou
The first site is situated in the northern central of Laos. Thirty-three villages of the city of Luang Prabang are well-preserved architectural fusion of both the old traditional Lao culture and the French colonial designs. The second site, a remarkably intact Vat Phou, is located at the far south. They are ruins of old Khmer city from the 11th century but there are also ancient temples and structures dating back to the 5th century.
11. Laos is one of the last few Communist countries in the world
At the end of the civil war in 1975, a communist government started ruling Laos. Its official name is Lao People’s Democratic Republic. The red communist flag with the hammer and sickle can be seen alongside Laos’ national flag everywhere in the country. Other remaining communist countries are China, Cuba, North Korea, and Vietnam.
12. This communist state has a midnight curfew
The people of Laos sleep early and the businesses there are mandated to close at 12 midnight, an interesting Laos fact. Tourists are warned of this law when they arrive. It is not strictly enforced on the people but more on the businesses.
13. Laos boys, aged 8 to 20, become apprentice monks for 3 months
Traditionally, boys between the ages of 8 to 20 are expected to experience a Buddhist monk life for 3 months. Instead of the 227 rules that fully ordained Buddhist monks follow, these boys are only required to follow 10 rules.
Laos is considered one of the least developed nations in the world. Most people are in rural areas and living a simple life. With no direct access to any world ocean, it is heavily dependent on agriculture as a source of income and foreign aid. Even so, travelers love to wander on its many trails and experience the culture of the olden times.
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