|The Lao People's Democratic Republic is situated
in southeast Asia. This landlocked country is surrounded by China to the
north, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, and Thailand and Myanmar
(Burma) to the west. Laos is divided into 16 provinces and one municipality.
The capital city is Vientiane, with a population of less than 500,000 people.
Laos is a largely mountainous country. The highest point in Laos is in the north: Phou Bia at 2,817 metres. Running north and south along the border with Vietnam is the Annamite chain of mountains. This mountain chain includes many high plateaus covered with grassland. To the west of the mountains is a lowland area, drained by numerous rivers. Many are tributaries of the Mekong River, which forms a natural border with neighbouring Thailand. The river and its tributaries provide the main source of water, food and livelihood for the Laotians who live near them.
|About half of the land is covered by forests. Teak, rosewood and other hardwoods grow in Laos. In the past, unrestricted logging reduced the country's forests. Environmental problems have also been caused by slash-and-burn forest clearing. This practice involves cutting down trees, burning the wood and using the land for farming for a few years, before moving to another area to repeat the process. Land cleared in this way can be farmed only for a few years and takes decades to recover. This farming method causes soil erosion and dries up rivers. Recently the Laotian government has developed a plan to deal with conservation and forest renewal.||
|The north has a hot summer and cool winter. The
central and southern areas are situated in tropical and subtropical zones.
Laos has a monsoon climate with two main seasons: the rainy season is from
May to October and the dry season from November to April. The climate and
temperature are excellent for rice farming. However, natural hazards such
as floods, droughts and blights occur frequently.
Elephants, tigers, monkeys and cobras live in the forests. Freshwater fish are abundant in the rivers. A rare species of freshwater dolphin lives in the Mekong River in an area known as Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands) in southern Laos. In recent years, zoologists have discovered a previously unknown mammal in the Annamite mountains. This horned animal, which is related to the ox, is called a nyang in Laos.