I am a landlocked country of about 6.5 million people. I am surrounded by 5 countries. My history traces back to the Kingdom of Lan Xang (Million Elephants). I most recently was ruled by France and received my independence in 1953. Today I am a single-party socialist republic; some may call me a communist state. My climate is tropical which includes a rainy monsoon season. My thickly forested landscape consists mostly of rugged mountains. One of my rivers is the Mekong. My highest peak is Phou Bia at 9,245 feet above sea level. In 1993, the government set aside 21% of the nation’s land area for habitat conservation preservation. I am one of four countries known as the “Golden Triangle”. This area grows opium poppies. I am divided into 16 provinces (Khoueng) and one prefecture (Kampheng nakhon) which includes the capital city.
The government has been accused of committing genocide against the country’s Hmong ethnic minority. The Constitution was amended in 2003 with key safeguards for human rights. However, Amnesty International has raised concerns that freedom of basic human rights (freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom to assemble) are quite restrictive. Subsistence agriculture still accounts for 80% of employment and half of the GDP. Rice is the primary crop with 77% of farm households self-sufficient in rice. Only 4% of my land area is arable and suitable for farming. Tourism is the fastest growing industry. My economy is hampered by “brain drain” caused by over 37% of my skilled workers immigrating to other countries. My plentiful water supply and mountainous terrain enables us to produce and export large quantities of hydroelectricity. Perhaps my most known product is Beerlao. It is a range of beers made from locally grown jasmine rice and German imported hops and yeast. My country is multiethnic. The different ethnic groups are divided primarily by altitude. The lowland people (60%) are primarily of the group that carries my country name. The midland people (30%) are dominated by the Khmers, while the highland people (10%) are mostly Hmong. The 100 plus small ethnic groups are interspersed with the 3 primary groups. My currency is the Kip. I am rich in mineral resources (coal, copper, gold, bauxite, and tin), but must import petroleum and gas. Much of the country lacks infrastructure. Railroads are almost non-existent and many remote villages may be reached only through unpaved roads that may not be accessible year-round.
Only slightly more than half of the population can speak the national language, the remainder speaks various ethnic minority languages. French is still commonly used in government, commerce, and education. Over 40% of the population does not have access to improved water sources. Life expectancy for males is 61 years and 65 years for females. However, a healthy life expectancy is only 54 years. The majority of my people are Buddhists (67%), while 31% have unspecified religions, and less than 2% are Christians. The literacy rate is around 73%. It is estimated that the primary school enrollment rate is 84%. My music is dominated by the national instrument, the khaen, a type of bamboo pipe. The khaen traditionally accompanies the singer in lam, the dominate style of folk music. Sticky rice is a staple in our diet. The national sport is Muay Lao, a form of kickboxing. However, soccer has become the most popular sport. Who am I?