Laos quick facts

16 03 2010

Laos (with a silent s at the end), the land of million elephants, is the home of 6.5 million people, 70% of which are ethnic Lao and 67% exercise Theravada Buddhism.  Laos is more than twice the size of Iceland or six times the size of Switzerland.  The official language in Laos is Lao accompanied by Lao script.

Laos is a land-locked country between Burma, China, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.  With building of new roads though, you can say that Laos is slowly becoming a land-linked country – a major transport hub between the ever growing economies of China, Thailand and Vietnam.

Laos is, like Vietnam, a communist country but the communist party has since the eighties been relaxing its grip on the whole society.  We weren’t aware of the communist regime at all apart from a few revolutionary flags around governmental buildings.  Laos now welcomes foreign investment and the citizens enjoy more freedom than ever before.  The lack of proper infrastructure is though still hindering progress in Laos even though the country has moved leaps and bounds in recent years.  The country is very mountainous and land travel takes a lot of time – as we have experienced.  Unfortunately water levels are getting lower and lower in the Mekong, after the building of several dams in China, making travel by boat difficult as well.

Rice production still makes up the biggest portion of Laos’ economy but they also grow coffee, tee and opium.  The country is rich in minerals like gold and copper and more areas are being mined every year.  The country is still pretty poor with about 30% of the population under the poverty line.

Laos has the honor of being the most bombed country on this earth.  I read somewhere that during the Vietnam war, the Americans hit Laos by an average of one B-52 bomb load every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, between 1964 and 1973.  That is more explosive power than was used in the whole of WWII.

The last fact is that apparently it is not allowed to play cards in Vientiane!  At least we were eating at this restaurant tonight and were playing “Kleppari” while waiting for our dinner when the manager came and told us that playing cards was not allowed in Vientiane?!?!?

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Cambodia – quick facts

11 02 2010

The Kingdom of Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary representative democracy, just like Thailand.  The countries inhabitants are closing in on 15 million and the vast majority (90%) is ethnic Khmer and the dominating religion is Theravada Buddhism.

Cambodia is about the size of Switzerland but quite flat and is dominated by the Mekong and a lake called Tonle Sap (Great Lake) that grows ten times its regular size during the wet season.  Rice production and other agricultural products make up the biggest portion of the economy with textile and garments production and tourism having a substantial impact as well.  There is hope that there is oil beyond Cambodia’s shores and with that comes fears that the oil profit will be snatched up by corrupted politicians and their compatriots.  The economy has been growing about 10% a year for the last few years but in nominal terms that is not much as the GDP per person (ppp) is about $2,000, half that of Thailand but only around $800 in nominal terms.

Cambodia has had a big problem with deforestation.  In seventies around 70% of Cambodia was covered with primary rainforest but that number is down to around 3% today.  We can definitely see that when driving around in Cambodia, everywhere we go there are just dry plains waiting for the wet season so that they can be used for rice production.  This is a big difference from Thailand where it was not uncommon to see “wooden”  furniture and houses made of concrete and then painted like wood because of the strict Thai laws regarding deforestation and timber production.  In Cambodia however we see a lot of beautiful beds, chairs and tables made from the finest hard-wood available.

1999 was the first full year of peace in 30 years in Cambodia and since then the economy has been growing fast, security is getting better and better, resulting in more tourism and increased foreign investment so Cambodia is definitely going places, which is fantastic.  I just hope that this all will benefit the general population because the people have been through so much in the past and still they are so sweet and gentle.