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Laos and The Far East

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Laos, officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic, is a landlocked socialist republic communist state in southeast Asia, bordered by Myanmar (Burma) and the People's Republic of China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, and Thailand to the west. Laos traces its history to the Kingdom of Lan Xang or Land of a Million Elephants, which existed from the 14th to the 18th century. After a period as a French colony, it gained independence in 1949. A long civil war ended when the communist Pathet Lao came to power in 1975.

Private enterprise has increased since the mid-1980s, but development has been hampered by poor communications in the heavily forested and mountainous landscape. Most of the population of around 6 million practice subsistence agriculture. The country's ethnic make-up is extremely diverse, with only around 60% belonging to the largest ethnic group, the Lao.

Laos is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia and the thickly forested landscape consists mostly of rugged mountains, the highest of which is Phou Bia at 9,242 feet (2,817 m), with some plains and plateaus. The Mekong River forms a large part of the western boundary with Thailand, whereas the mountains of the Annamite Chain form most of the eastern border with Vietnam.

The climate is tropical and characterised by monsoons. There is a distinct rainy season from May to November, followed by a dry season from December to April. The capital and largest city of Laos is Vientiane, and other major cities include Luang Prabang, Savannakhet and Pakse.

In 1993, the government set aside 21% of the nation's land area as National Biodiversity Conservation Areas (NBCA), which may be developed into a national park system. If completed, it is expected to be the most comprehensive and one of the finest national park systems in Southeast Asia.

A number of animal species have been discovered or re-discovered in Laos in recent years. These include the striped or Annamite rabbit, the saola, and most recently the Laotian rock rat or kha-nyou.

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