National Geographic : 1987 Jun
LAOS 1987 STRATEGICALLY LOCATED, Laos forms a buffer zone between China, Thailand, and Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, U. S. planes routinely bombed the Ho Chi Minh Trail (top map, right), a vital route south through Laos for North Vietnamese troops and supplies. Plane-crash sites, marked below, indicate areas of the most intensive bombing. The population of Laos, spread thinly and unevenly across the country, consists of three main ethnic groups: the Lao Theung, highlanders; the Lao Soung, mountain tribes; and the valley-dwelling Lao Lum-half the population whose ancestors had migrated from China by the 13th century. M, IL Approximately five times as many Lao Lum live in northeastern Thailand. Border clashes between the two nations have erupted periodically, disrupting trade. POPULATION: 3.6 million. AREA: 236,800 sq km (91,430 sq mi). CAPITAL: Vientiane. MAIN CITIES: Savannakhet, Luang Prabang (former royal capital), Pakxe. RELIGION: Buddhism, traditional animist beliefs. AGRICULTURE: rice, corn, tobacco, coffee, cotton.