Laos Geography

Laos Waterfall at Luang Prabang

Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia. It is often referred to as the “land of slowness” or “timeless country where the clocks tick even more slowly”, but you quickly notice that globalization does not stop at Laos either. The country is in a rapid process of change.

Country overview & natural area

According to computergees, the shooting star-shaped Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia. It is about 1200 kilometers from the northern tip of the northernmost province of Phongsaly to the four thousand islands in the south of the country, on the border with Cambodia. With an area of 236,800 square kilometers, it is roughly the size of the old federal states.

Official name: People’s Democratic Republic of Laos

Area: 236,800 kmĀ²

Residents: 7.2 million (estimated 2020)

Growth of population: approx. 1.45% / year (2015 census)

Seat of government: Vientiane

Official language: Laotian

Regional languages: Vietnamese, Chinese, approx. 80 other languages

The shooting star-shaped Laos stretches largely between the middle reaches of the Mekong and the Annamite Cordillera. Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia. The narrow, elongated southern part of the country is located on the Indochinese peninsula and borders in the east on Vietnam (2,130 km), in the south on Cambodia (541 km) and in the west on Thailand (1,754 km). The northern part of the country lies on the actual Southeast Asian mainland and borders in the north on the southern Chinese province of Yunnan (423 km) and in the north-west on Myanmar (235 km).

Laos extends from north to south over a length of about 1200 kilometers, from east to west over a width of about 140 (central Laos) to 400 kilometers (northern Laos). With an area of 236,800 square kilometers, Laos is roughly the size of the old federal states.

Basic data and further information about the country

The population of now almost 6.8 million is divided roughly equally between men and women. Around a third of the population is younger than 15 years old, and around half of the population is under 25 years old. Just under four percent are older than 65 years. Average life expectancy is around 65 years, women are 67 years old on average four years older than men (63 years). Women have an average of 2.7 children. Child mortality is still one of the highest in Southeast Asia, at 50 in 1,000 births.

Laos is the most sparsely populated country in Southeast Asia, with an average population density of around 29 people per square kilometer. The cities on the Mekong are more densely populated than average, in Vientiane about 200 people live in one square kilometer.

Laos has the lowest AIDS rate in the region at 0.3 percent.

Laos Waterfall at Luang Prabang

Natural space

The Mekong

Laos is characterized by the change between steep mountain ranges and narrow, deeply indented river valleys as well as plateaus and lowlands. About 50 percent of the country is densely overgrown with rain and monsoon forests. The Annamite Cordilleras run through the country in a north-south direction along the border with Vietnam. The highest mountain is Phu Bia with 2,819 m. The capital Vientiane is located in the lowlands on the Mekong, other larger cities are also located on the Mekong: Luang Prabang in the north and Savannakhet and Pakse in the south.

The Mekong, with its many tributaries, is considered the country’s lifeline and flows 1,898 km from the northwestern province of Luang Namtha, where it is also the border river to Myanmar, to the southern province of Champasak. Shortly before the Cambodian border, it branches out over a width of approx. 14 kilometers into a system of smaller canals with rapids and waterfalls. This unique microcosm with many small islands and rock formations gives the area the name “four thousand islands” (Siphandone in Lao). Due to a large number of rapids and low water levels during the dry season, the Mekong is not navigable all year round and only in parts.

Climate

The summer or southwest monsoon from May to October is associated with heavy rainfall and high humidity. The amount of precipitation can vary greatly from year to year and also regionally. On the Bolaven Plateau in the southern province of Champassak, up to 3,700 millimeters of precipitation falls annually, in Vientiane up to 1,800 millimeters.

Between November and February, the northeast monsoon creates a dry and cooler climate. That is the very pleasant “Laotian winter”. The months of March and April are hot and humid.