"Known in antiquity as Lan Xang (Million Elephants) and by Indochina War-era journalists as the Land of a Million Irrelevants, this sparsely populated country is finally enjoying peace after nearly 300 years of war with Annam, Burma, China, Siam, France and the USA.
Traditionally the least developed and most enigmatic of the three former French Indochina states, Laos has emerged as the frontrunner in economic and political reform. Free markets and private foreign investment have been the norm since 1989, yet most development moves at a snail's pace. While Thailand speeds headlong in the 21st century, Cambodia suffers from deep internal divisions and Vietnam rapidly industrializes in order to provide work its teeming population, Laos seems content to remain an Asian backwater while slowly developing one of the most stable, low-profile economic and political systems in the region.
After nearly 20 years of virtual isolation, landlocked Laos has become more open towards the outside world, though the numbers of foreign visitors are kept down by tangles of red tape and a general lack of infrastructure. More blessing than a curse, the overall lack of foreign influence offers travelers an unparalleled glimpse of old South-East Asia. From the fertile lowlands of the Mekong valley to the rugged Annamite highlands, travelers who have made it to Laos - even if only for a few days in transit to or from Vietnam - are almost unanimous in their admiration of the country. Many visitors have found Laos to be a highlight of their South-East Asian journeys."
Introduction to Laos - Lonely Planet Guide to Laos
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