Capital and Major Cities:
Capital: Vientiane, 853,000 population
Luang Phrabang, 50,000
Laos has a single-party communist government, in which the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) is the only legal political party. An eleven-member Politburo and a 61-member Central Committee make all laws and policies for the country. Since 1992, these policies have been rubber-stamped by an elected National Assembly, now boasting 132 members, all belonging to the LPRP.
The head of state in Laos is the General Secretary and President, Choummaly Sayasone. Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong is the head of government.
The Republic of Laos has approximately 6.5 million citizens, who are often divided according to altitude into lowland, midland, and upland Laotians.
The largest ethnic group is the Lao, who live mainly in the lowlands and make up approximately 60% of the population. Other important groups include the Khmou, at 11%; the Hmong, at 8%; and more than 100 smaller ethnic groups that total about 20% of the population and comprise the so-called highland or mountain tribes. Ethnic Vietnamese also make up two percent.
Lao is the official language of Laos. It is a tonal language from the Tai language group that also includes Thai and the Shan language of Burma.
Other local languages include Khmu, Hmong, Vietnamese and over 100 more. Major foreign languages in use are French, the colonial language, and English.
The predominant religion in Laos is Theravada Buddhism, which accounts for 67% of the population. About 30% also practice animism, in some cases alongside Buddhism.
There are small populations of Christians (1.5%), Baha'i and Muslims. Officially, of course, communist Laos is an atheistic state.
Laos has a total area of 236,800 square kilometers (91,429 square miles). It is the only land-locked country in Southeast Asia.
Laos borders on Thailand to the southwest, Burma (Myanmar) and China to the northwest, Cambodia to the south, and Vietnam to the east. The modern western border is marked by the Mekong River, the region's major arterial river.
There are two major plains in Laos, the Plain of Jars and the Plain of Vientiane. Otherwise, the country is mountainous, with only about four percent being arable land. The highest point in Laos is Phou Bia, at 2,819 meters (9,249 feet). The lowest point is the Mekong River at 70 meters (230 feet).
The climate of Laos is tropical and monsoonal. It has a rainy season from May to November, and a dry season from November to April. During the rains, an average of 1714 mm (67.5 inches) of precipitation falls. The average temperature is 26.5°C (80°F). Average temperatures over the year range from 34°C (93°F) in April to 17°C (63°F) in January.
Although the economy of Laos has grown at a healthy six to seven percent annually almost every year since 1986, when the communist government loosened central economic control and allowed private enterprise. Nonetheless, more than 75% of the work force is employed in agriculture, despite the fact that only 4% of the land is arable.
While the unemployment rate is only 2.5%, approximately 26% of the population live below the poverty line. Laos's primary export items are raw materials rather than manufactured goods: wood, coffee, tin, copper, and gold.
The currency of Laos is the kip. As of July, 2012, the exchange rate was $1 US = 7,979 kip.