Landlocked Laos is one of the world's few remaining communist states and one of East Asia's poorest.
A French colony until the 1953, the power struggle which ensued between royalists and the communist group Pathet Lao also saw the country caught up in the Vietnam War. Communist forces overthrew the monarchy in 1975, heralding years of isolation.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Laos began opening up to the world. But despite economic reforms, the country remains poor and heavily dependent on foreign aid.
Most Laotians live in rural areas, with around 80% working in agriculture mostly growing rice. The state has made no secret of its huge hydropower ambitions and its desire to become the "battery" of Southeast Asia.
The government anticipates that by 2025 hydropower will become the country's biggest source of revenue. But neighbours Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia have raised concerns about the environmental impact of its dam building projects along the Mekong River
Lao People's Democratic Republic
Population 6.7 million
Area 236,800 sq km (91,400 sq miles)
Major languages Lao, French
Major religion Buddhism
Life expectancy 65 years (men), 68 years (women)
President: Bounnhang Vorachit
Bounnhang Vorachit was appointed president by the National Assembly in April 2016. four months after being installed as head of the country's ruling Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP).
In his acceptance speech, the president said he would strive for "peaceful international policies, unity, friendship and cooperation".
He has since forged stronger relations with the United States, welcoming President Barack Obama on an official visit in September 2016, the first by a US president.
Mr Vorachit has held several senior cabinet posts including vice-president. As a teenager he joined the Pathet Lao armed movement which fought for Laos' independence.
The ruling LPRP exerts tight control over the media and the government owns most of the mainstream outlets.
Use of social media, particularly Facebook, is widespread. But press freedom bodies say the authorities monitor usage for content deemed negative and individuals have been punished for posting such material.
Some key dates in the history of Laos:
1893 - Laos becomes a French protectorate until 1945, when it is briefly occupied by the Japanese towards the end of the Second World War.
1946 - French rule over Laos is resumed.
1950 - Laos is granted semi-autonomy as an associated state within the French Union.
1953 - Independence restored after the end of French rule. Civil war breaks between royalists and the communist group, the Pathet Lao.
1975 - Pathet Lao - renamed the Lao People's Front - replaces the monarchy with a communist government.
1986 - Laos introduces market reforms.
1997 - Laos becomes member of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
2011 - New stock market opens in Vientiane.
2013 - Becomes a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).