Facts in brief

1. With a population of around 5m, and a land the size of Britain, the Laos population density is less than 50 people per square mile. But, with mountains and forests, real densities in fertile lands are much higher

2. Returnees now outnumber those leaving the country – a reflection of the easing of conditions following the killing years of the Pathet Lao when about 10% of the population fled abroad

3. Although there are officially nearly 70 ethnic groups, they roughly split into four main descriptions: the dominant Lao Lum, who live in the low areas; the Leo Soung (hill tribes), who live in the highest areas, the Lao Theung, who live between; and the Leo-Thai people

4. Estimated age split: 45% are 14 or under; 52% between 16 and 64; 3% 65 and over 5.

5. Population growth: 39.93 births per 1,000 population; 12.56 deaths per 1,000

6. Life expectancy increasing. It now stands at 52 for men and 55 for women.

7. As many as 4 in 5 of the population are engaged in subsistence farming

8. The biggest crops are rice, cassava, soy beans and maize, with other crops including coffee, tobacco and sugar cane

9. Drugs The CIA World Handbook rates Laos as the third largest producer of opium and a staging route from drugs produced in Myanmar. But the amount is falling fast. A recent report identified the Golden Triangle as a major producer of chemical drugs

10. Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world with maybe 25% of its income coming from aid. Per capita GDP thought to be about $1,260 (787)

11. Nearly three in four of males can read but only one in two of females

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