Laos, officially the Lao People's Democratic Republic, is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma and People's Republic of China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south and Thailand to the west. Laos traces its history to the Kingdom of Lan Xang or Land of a Million Elephants, which existed from the 13th to the 18th century.
After a period as a French protectorate, it gained independence in 1949. A long civil war ended officially when the Communist Pathet Lao movement came to power in 1975, but the protesting between factions continued for several years. Forty-four percent of the population live below the international poverty line of the equivalent of US$1.25 a day.