A map of Laos, show highland and lowland areas and vegetationLaos is a land of steep, forested mountains. The highest peaks are in the north, where the rugged landscape is criss-crossed by deep river gorges. In the east, the mountains of the Annam range mark the border with Vietnam, while in the west, the Mekong River creates a natural border with Thailand for much of its route. The green plains of the Mekong Valley are the only lowlands in Laos. They are home to most of the nation’s people, and where the capital, Viangchan (Vientiane), is located. Laos has a hot, tropical climate with a wet monsoon season between May and October.
Over 140 ethnic groups live in Laos. Just over half of the people are ethnic Lao, a group closely related to Thais. They live mainly in the lowlands. The uplands are home to hill peoples, including the Hmong and Yao. For many years Laos was under French rule, which ended in the 1950s, and French is still widely spoken.
Thousands of stone jars, some up to 3 m (10 ft) tall, are scattered across the Plain of Jars in Laos. Believed to be over 2000 years old, the jars were probably used as burial chambers.
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