Geography of Laos

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Laos is a landlocked nation in Southeast Asia, northeast of Thailand, west of Vietnam, 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 Vietnam. 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.

Geographic coordinates: 18°00′N 105°00′E / 18°N 105°E / 18; 105

Contents

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 Vietnam 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 Vietnam and the Indianized states of Laos and Thailand. These mountains are sparsely populated by tribal minorities who traditionally have not acknowledged the border with Vietnam 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.

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