Forgotten World (107): Laos

Laos was originally known as Lan Xang (which means the Kingdom of a Million Elephants) when it was founded by the legendary Fa Ngum. It gained its independence from France in 1954, but became embroiled in the Vietnam war since the Ho Chi Minh trail ran through it. By the end of the Vietnam war, the American carpet bombing campaigns had given Laos the dubious distinction of being the most bombed country in the history of warfare. Some 3M tons of explosive were dropped on the country – one ton for every person. There are still tons of unexploded ordinance in the fields and jungles.
At the same time as the North Vietnamese took over South Vietnam, in Laos the Vietnamese-supported communist Pathet Lao took control of the country and detained all the members of the previous establishment, including the royal family, in so-called re-education camps where most of them died of malnutrition and ill-treatment. The ruling communist Lao People’s Revolutionary Party is still the only legal political party.
Slightly larger than Britain, Laos only has a population of 6M, so it is very sparsely inhabited, and some 80% of people are still involved in agriculture, so it is a very rural society. Outside the capital, many people live without electricity or access to basic facilities. But Laos is banking on the anticipated returns from a billion-dollar dam scheme, intended to generate electricity for export to Thailand, to boost its economy and infrastructure.