The only landlocked country in Southeast Asia was for a long time a forgotten land, remote, weak and surrounded by the stronger neighbours Siam/Thailand and Vietnam who dominated it. In the cold war, after the American Vietnam War, Laos became a communist state and was pretty much isolated to it's western neighbour Thailand, which was always on the American site in the post World War II era. There were tensions between the two countries who lead even several times to armed conflicts. These conflicts ceased in the years after the downfall of the Soviet Union and eastern Europe's communistic system. The way was free for a reformation a la China, the big, emerging neighbour in the north.
Little Laos, the country with the many hill tribes and some of the last thick rainforests in Southeast Asia started opening it's economy for foreign investment, mainly from China, Vietnam and Thailand. Late capitalism's hunger for profit in times of overaccumulation, overproduction and technical potentials never seen before performs a high-speed modernization of the no more that forgotten country. The forests fall, streets and big infrastructural networks are under construction. The countries capital Vientiane is under massive change, as well as it's provincial capitals. The quiet, remote and widely unknown country, the 'Jewel of the Mekong' (official tourist slogan), is eating up it's natural treasures in fast motion.
By the way: the country is in all-day-language often called 'Lao', and the official country name is 'Lao Peoples Democratic Republic'. On the other hand it appears officially in international affairs always as 'Laos'. Why are there two different terms for the same country?
Well, the term 'Laos' is meaned as the plural of 'Lao', so it comprehends several Laos to one united Lao. That dates back to the times of French colonialism, when France got three Laotian kingdoms under their control.
And, by the way: the 'national drink', rice whiskey, is also called 'lao'. 'Lao' also means 'alcohol'.
Image by Asienreisender, 2006